According to Gallup, the number of people working remotely is on the rise. Based on its research, 39% of employees reported they worked at home at least some of the time; in 2016, that percentage had risen to 43%.
Remote workers are becoming an increasingly important part of workplaces in America, but in many cases, they’re not fully treated as part of the team. Out of sight is truly sometimes out of mind.
There are, though, a variety of things employers can do to ensure their remote workers feel as though they are part of the team and to boost their engagement, as well as the chances they will stay on board long term.
Here, we take a look at five ways to address the training and development needs of remote employees.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Adam Hempenstall is CEO and Founder of Better Proposals. Everyone in his company works remotely, making communication skills critical and something Hempenstall looks for when hiring. “You can teach someone how to get better at design or web development, but you can’t teach someone how to communicate properly,” he says.
Even great employees without communication skills can be expendable, he says, sharing an experience he had with an “amazing” developer. “He would skip meetings randomly and even when he did show up, he would mutter words to himself. Then he would leave the meeting and create an amazing feature for our app within a single day. He did amazing work, but he was impossible to collaborate with, so I had to let him go.”
This employee worked in the office. For those working remotely, effective communication can be even more critical. In addition to including strong communication skills as part of the criteria for hiring remote (or, actually, all) employees, technology tools can help.
Debashri M. Dutta, a content marketer at MemberPress, works for a company where the majority of staff work remotely in the United States and in other countries. “Our entire business runs on good communication,” Dutta says. Online tools are a big aid here.
“There are platforms like Slack and Asana that help us out,” says Dutta. “Our company uses Slack to create direct communication between individuals and it also lets us create channels. Channels are where we discuss different topics—they can be professional or more personal and lighthearted.”
The ability to handle communication digitally helps keep communication going and gives everyone a voice, Dutta says.
2. Treat Them as Important Members of the Team
Tracey Fletcher is Senior Director for product development and operations at Root, Inc., an organizational change consultancy. “With a growing gig economy mentality, talent managers should push traditional thinking about when direct hire positions are essential and when a gig-worker might be the best approach,” says Fletcher. “While the answer is both organization and role-specific, one thing that is critical to making the most of a gig-approach versus a direct hire approach is to treat your gig-worker just as you would a direct-hire.”
That starts at the outset, she says. “They should be properly onboarded. They should understand the company strategy, values and culture. They should be recognized and rewarded, coached and sought after for feedback so that they can perform optimally in their role and also so that they continue to grow their skills and development through this opportunity.”
If you have remote employees, what are you doing to onboard them so they understand the company and their role in it? What are you doing to keep them up to date on key company news and developments?
3. Help Them Embrace Flexibility
One big benefit when working with most remote workers is the flexibility that is often inherent in their jobs. That flexibility can have a major impact on their job satisfaction, stress, and even mental health, according to FlexJobs’ Work-Life-Relationship survey.
Of the 2,100 respondents, 84% of those who said they suffered from some type of mental illness, like anxiety or depression, said they felt having a flexible job would help them deal with these issues.
According to the research, “[F]lexible work arrangements can have a positive impact not only on managing mental health, but also on improving work-life balance, physical health, romantic relationships, and overall well-being.”
The ability to better manage their own time—and to take time off when they need to deal with their own or others’ physical or mental health issues—also boosted the likelihood they would stay on the job.
Your remote workers, and how they handle flexible schedules, can also help you learn important best practices that could be applied to on-site employees. Increasingly, leaders are coming to recognize that employees don’t necessarily need to be paid for their time but rather for their output.
Recognizing the importance of flexibility for all employees, and taking steps to meet their needs for a healthy work/life balance, can help you build a healthy and productive workforce, wherever your employees may work.
4. Don’t Overlook Their Training Needs …
Your remote staff often need the same training you provide to on-site employees. There may be important policy information they need to be apprised of; new technology, or new processes, they need to understand; or certain corporate culture expectations they should be aware of. Remote employees can benefit from training opportunities either on-site or off-site.
Remember that these members of your workforce are also important contributors in helping you meet your goals and objectives.
5. … Or Their Development Needs
Another overlooked aspect of remote workers’ needs is their need to be considered for development opportunities. Could one of your remote workers rise to a top leadership position?
You won’t know unless you take steps to assess their skills and interests and work with them—as you do with on-site employees—to provide development opportunities that can help them prepare for future roles.
With remote work becoming more common, chances are that you’ll have remote workers on staff someday, if you don’t already. Considering how you will meet their training and development needs, just as you consider the needs of on-site employees, can help you get the most from this important segment of your team.