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How can businesses make home/remote workers feel part of the team?

We were recently asked this question by one of our clients and it’s becoming increasingly common. Although remote working didn’t take off to quite the extent that was originally envisaged, it is becoming more and more a feature of working life. Just as there are pros and cons to working on an office with everyone else, so there are pros and cons to working remotely. Here are our tips on looking after your remote team.

Not everyone is cut out to work by themselves. Humans are herd animals and it takes a certain emotional resilience to thrive when working alone. When you’re selecting your team, make sure you choose people who will be able to work alone without having the physical service and support that you get in a central office environment.

One of the great benefits of homeworking is flexibility which can work well for employees and the company, for example, by agreeing to use home workers to fill in at peak times.

Technology is great when it works. When it doesn’t, we all go crazy because we just can’t get anything done. This means you need to take particular care in the case of remote staff because they may not get the same access to IT support as centrally based employees. Make sure home based systems are robust, easy to install, maintain and use. You also need to ensure that they can connect quickly and securely to central systems. If there are problems make sure you take the time to get them sorted out quickly. If you’re off-line and out of touch with work piling up, feeling that your problems are being ignored is a big de-motivator.

Talk to your team members regularly, using Skype or other video conferencing facilities. Take time to chat a bit about life and work. Find out what motivates your home workers and how they can add extra value. Use all channels of communication available — instant messenger, audio conferencing, web meetings and team rooms. Create team working principles and practices that take into account remote workers. For example, you could make it a rule that home workers are included in meeting invitations even though they are not based in the office. Train the team so that they have the skills to use the tools available to them. If it’s possible to do so, we also recommend that team members meet face-to-face regularly.

It’s important to have clear and measureable targets and to let the team know how they’ll be measured and monitored. Metrics on accesses to the web pages and applications can help you assess performance. Provide clear and constructive feedback, just as you would do (I hope you would anyway) if you were sitting in the same office. If you have something that you might find a bit tough to say, I’d always recommend a person-to-person conversation, backed up in writing afterwards. Saying something difficult by email in the first instance can come across badly and smacks of avoiding the issue.

Despite regular contact by phone or Skype, the big issue for many remote workers is a feeling of isolation, so give some thought to keeping them engaged, motivated and challenged. Some companies will have an annual conference, put together weekly or monthly league tables, and so on, but often much smaller things carry just as big an impact. One company we know ran a competition which rewarded the person who got the most bookings in a day with a Kindle. It doesn’t cost much, but gave extra encouragement and that made all the difference. Use different types of incentives to motivate and create variety.

With planning and thought your home based team members will be every bit as engaged and productive as those based together on one site.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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