Don't Let "Post-Holiday" Letdown Threaten Your Remote Team

Last Updated Jan 6, 2011 11:22 AM EST

The beginning of a new year can be an exciting time to begin new projects and make a fresh start. It can also be tough on relationships between people who work at headquarters and those who work remotely. If you've ever stood in your living thinking how bare it feels now that the tree's down and the porcelain Santas are safely tucked back in the garage you understand. But what does that have to do with people who work away from the office? A surprising amount.

Bob Kelleher is the founder and CEO of The Employee Engagement Group and the author of the just-released book "Louder Than Words- 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results". He says that the Holidays often exacerbate that disconnected feeling so common to remote workers and while the office staff is bonding, you may be severing emotional ties with those in the field.

What is it about the period after the holidays that makes it so tough on remote teams?
Employees who work remote from their colleagues "back at the office or plant" hear about holiday parties, food, baskets sent from vendors, grabbing drinks after work, year-end bonus checks being hand delivered with special 'thanks'', etc. , all of which magnifies the isolation issue. The feeling of isolation is then exacerbated at the beginning of the new year when departments and teams begin to have meetings to kick off the new year, update their strategic plan, etc., again, magnifying their feeling of isolation.

What happens if managers don't consciously keep people connected?
First of all, it's critical to know who your employees are, and understand who needs additional social interaction and who doesn't. Even with seasoned telecommuters who are introverts, there is still the need for interaction at some level. Engagement is about building alignment, and it is simply more difficult to align remote employees. You have to work harder to engage them in the work community, the business unit or department's upcoming fiscal and strategic planning process, etc.

What are some practical tips to keep your distant people feeling not quite so distant?

  • Increase awareness with those who lead remote teams. Reinforce the notion that remote employees have drastically different environments than those who work in a traditional office. Training on "Managing Remote Teams" should be a must for those managing remote teams.
  • You need to clarify goals and work schedule- and often. Include specific deliverables. Remote teams or individuals don't have the benefit of the hallway meeting to remind folks of the details.
  • You need to build in a frequent communication plan. Make sure all remote employees have up-to-date information and know where to find the best answers fast. You also need to make sure that those in the office know who out in the field can be a great resource to them. Make them feel like important contributors, not just "worker bees".
  • Build in face time events. All remote employees need to be on a regular schedule to come into the main office to participate in group discussions, planning events, input gathering sessions, town hall meetings. This is a cost of doing business and money saved on getting the team together is often spent when you need to go out and recruit new employees.
  • Revisit the remote work relationship frequently. Remote employees need additional windows to discuss performance, goals, current status. Don't assume that everyone enjoys working remotely. Frequent discussions will open up frank discussions about what is and isn't working, and ways to modify the work relationship to improve performance and engagement levels
One best practice Bob shared was particularly helpful- he never chairs his own meetings. By letting each team member take the lead they get a chance to demonstrate their competence, get to know each other and feel like more than just a disembodied voice on the "squawk box".

Click here for an entire audio interview with Bob Kelleher on The Cranky Middle Manager Show.
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photo by flickr user James Jordan CC 2.0