Remote workers are key contributors to business. More employees are opting to work at home to save commute time, to address child care issues, and just because they find it’s more productive. Forty-three percent of the U.S. workers surveyed said they spend at least some of the time working remotely. And remote workers are spending more time out of the office, with 31 percent saying they work four or five days a week out of the office as opposed to 25 percent in 2012. Businesses clearly benefit from the remote workforce. Research shows that remote workers are happier, more productive, and feel more valued. It also shows that remote workers tend to provide more detailed information to their managers. Hiring remote workers also allows businesses to find the best qualified employees and save on office resources.
At the same time, remote workers can feel more isolated. Many remote workers will argue that isolation is the point of working remotely, and the lack of interruptions is what makes them more productive. However, working off site isolates remote workers from the team in the office. The success of any business project requires collaboration, and to be a productive contributor, remote workers need to be connected to the team. Technology is available to enable remote employees to contribute via email, telephone, teleconference, and video conference.
The real challenge is creating a corporate culture of inclusion.
That’s why more companies are using team-building ideas to bring remote workers back into the fold.
Here are six team-building ideas for you to consider to improve collaboration among your employees and to help remote workers become an integral part of the office:
- Hold regular group meetings – Okay, we know that many employees consider meetings a waste of time, but meeting fatigue is largely a myth. Research shows that 69 percent of workers attend five or fewer meetings each week, and 86 percent say meetings are necessary. The secret is well structured meetings, with a well defined agenda and a chance for everyone to participate. Schedule regular meetings and include remote workers, not only as attendees but as active participants. You might even consider rotating the meeting chair so everyone, including the telecommuters, has a chance to lead.
- Create a team charter – Project teams often lose sight of the larger objective when they get mired in project details. Draft a team charter that outlines your mission as it relates to the company objectives. Be sure to account for team members’ responsibilities, and have the members hold each other accountable. Any time an issue comes up, the team charter can serve as a litmus test for the best resolution.
- Adopt team collaboration tools – Using collaboration tools such as group calendars and project management software can keep remote team members up to date on projects and processes. Employees in the office and remote workers benefit from shared data repositories where the team can share notes, research, ideas, files, schedules, and other information.
- “A little about me” – Icebreakers are a great way to introduce everyone in a group call or meeting. A common strategy is to share a little-known fact about each participant, whether it’s a secret passion for ballroom dancing or the fact you have a pet python. Another strategy that works well with video conferences is sharing photos of each participant and the stories that go with them. These types of exercises help team members connect as people rather than merely as colleagues.
- Virtual coffee breaks – Promote team bonding by designating break time for remote workers to connect with team members via teleconference or video chat to catch up on current events and the latest gossip. To promote participation, you can set time aside on the group calendar or send out coffee gift cards. You also might encourage everyone to participate via smartphone to put participants on equal footing.
- Team acknowledgements – Be sure to acknowledge individual accomplishments, including those made by remote workers. Identify unique accomplishments and recognize successes. Try to be even-handed and honor as many team members as possible. One strategy is to make it part of a meeting as an accomplishment round robin, with each team member pointing to something they are particularly proud of and then calling out an accomplishment by another team member.
These are just a few team-building ideas that can help build a collaborative culture and make sure that remote workers feel included. Collaboration has to be a company mindset that is nurtured using team-building activities and powered by technology. Email alone is not enough.
True collaboration is interactive and occurs in real time, which is why real-time communications tools such as the telephone, teleconferencing, and chat are essential to keep remote workers connected.
Smartphones have become a primary enabling communications solution for remote workers. Smartphones offer all the connection technology most remote workers need, including telephone, teleconferencing, email, chat, and even mobile apps that can integrate with collaboration tools.
Mobile smartphone collaboration tools such as Dropbox, Google Docs, and mobile CRM apps help connect remote workers. Spoke, for example, keeps employees in contact with the office by turning their smartphones into office phone extensions. Incoming calls are automatically routed to users’ smartphones, complete with auto attendant, voice mail, group calling, teleconferencing, and other functions.
Smartphones are proving to be the ideal tool to keep remote workers connected to the team, and add-on applications such as Spoke can make collaboration even easier. If you can create a company culture based on collaboration, then technology can help make remote workers an integral part of the operation.