Keeping in Touch with Remote Staff

Remote working has been a change that has lasted beyond the pandemic and - like it or not - is likely here to stay, in some form, for the foreseeable future.

While some companies are intent on getting employees back to the office on a full-time basis, other companies, such as Airbnb are allowing staff to work wherever they feel comfortable.

There are plenty of benefits to remote working – but likewise, there are drawbacks too. Many remote workers may have found themselves becoming more isolated as a result of working from home. Some people have found themselves disconnected from the daily goings on within the office environment, going days or sometimes weeks without seeing colleagues, sometimes working longer hours where the distinction between work and home life becomes blurred. 

This year, Mental Health Awareness Week ran from the 9th until the 15th of May. With so many people switching over to working remotely or in hybrid models, it is no wonder that this year’s theme has focussed on the impact of loneliness on mental health. Although the campaign may be over, it is still important to continue to reach out to those who may be struggling.

The loneliness of remote working

The main drawback of being a so-called ‘digital nomad’ is the acute sense of loneliness, which in turn can have a domino effect on productivity, communication, and collaboration, often resulting in missed deadlines or high turnover rates. 

Where previous conversations were spontaneous, spent over lunch in the staff room or at the computer desk, most discussions now have to be scheduled, either sent via email or by waiting for the next virtual meeting over Zoom to address any concerns. The lack of human interaction imposed by remote working can have a detrimental effect on the mental health and wellbeing of remote workers.

It is important that employers and team leaders find a way to reach out to their colleagues, regardless of the distance and the limitations it may present. Here are a few suggestions to help improve communication with remote workers:

  1. Make time for ‘water cooler’ conversations

The traditional 9 to 5 may be different in the digital age, but there still needs to be a reminder to take breaks on a regular basis. Schedule time for team members to meet up for coffee breaks, go for a walk, or even a group lunch to get away from the screens and allow more relaxed discussions to take place and give colleagues the chance to catch-up with each other.

  1. Utilise communication tools

Meeting face to face may not always be feasible with remote colleagues. Fortunately there are a variety of communication methods at your disposal. Video calls are the most common method of staying in touch, but beware of creating ‘Zoom fatigue’, particularly if everyone already has a load of meetings scheduled throughout the day. No one likes having a meeting for the sake of it.

A quick phone-call is often more effective to answer questions than sending an email, so make sure your staff know they can use this option if they have something on their minds. Project collaboration tools such as Trello and Padlet can also help to manage workflows in real-time so everyone can see who is working on what, establish deadlines and send messages of advice or encouragement.

  1. Avoid Micromanagement

The approach of workplace surveillance has been a micro-managing minefield even before the pandemic, and the increase of employers wanting to constantly monitor remote workers’ performance is one that could spell disaster to the trust between managers and employees if it is not handled properly.

Recording the number of keystrokes, moving a mouse or how many times they are away from their desk is irrelevant for certain job roles and does not always equate to the level of productivity. Focus instead on increasing support for employees struggling with working from home. It will yield better results than a ‘Big Brother’ approach can ever hope to achieve.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

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