Helloooo out there (insert sound of long echo here).
If you’ve ever — or often — felt like that, you may be a remote employee or part of a team split among several office locations.
And an increasing number of us are. At least one in five U.S. workers teleworks at least some of the time, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com — and at least three times that many would like to try it. Many more are part of larger companies with team members spread geographically.
These work arrangements can boost productivity and enhance work-life balance, but they have their downsides, too. Employees with a manager in another location can feel unappreciated and overlooked for plum assignments and promotions. Managers, meanwhile, can struggle to keep team members engaged and productive. Both groups can have a hard time really getting to know each other and establish trust.
But — with a little effort on both sides — these work arrangements can be very effective, say those who work this way every day. “In this day and age, any job could be a remote job,” says Robert Lloyd, a manager in Colonial Life’s customer contact center. “It just takes planning and understanding to make it work.”
Here are some of Lloyd’s top tips culled from his experience directly managing 14 people in three different locations:
- Be honest about the challenges. Acknowledge the differences of this type of work arrangement and be open to new ideas to make it more effective. If you’re the manager, make it clear it’s not just OK but expected for your team to bring up issues. If you’re the employee, don’t wait to be asked. “A manager isn’t a mind reader, especially a long distance mind reader,” Lloyd says. “By bringing up concerns and issues early, the manager can help an employee find solutions.”
- Communicate often and respond quickly. An instant message to say “Hi, how’re you doing today” lets managers and employees alike feel like part of the team. Answer emails promptly so no one feels alone or ignored — or wondering if the rest of the team has stepped out for a quick game of ping pong.
- Take advantage of technology. Don’t rely on email for all of your communication. Pick up the phone now and then for a live presence. Use conference calls, web conferences and webcams for group interaction.
- Stay connected. Make it your business to know what’s going on at your organization’s other locations. Share invitations — or invite yourself — to events it might be beneficial to attend in person. “Any manager who has a team in the office should be in the office with the team at least some of the time,” Lloyd advised. “Nothing can replace a personal touch … in person.”
- Create a team culture. Managers, this isn’t all on you but you’ve got to get it started. “The hardest part to get started was the open communication among the team, sharing tips, ideas and getting together for events,” Lloyd says. “It started by me sending the emails and tips out to the team and encouraging other to do the same. Now my team members are consistently talking to each other on how to improve in metrics or workflows.”