Allowing for flexible work options has become standard practice. These days, most employers have some sort of flexible work policy in their handbooks, and staff aren’t shy in maximising those policies.
The idea of flexible working is about a lot more than taking a day to work from home. Employers who foster flexible work environments tend to take an ‘outcome based’ approach to employment and are open to allowing their employees to be flexible about when, where or how they work.
From an employer’s perspective, there are plenty of benefits in allowing (and encouraging) staff to be flexible about their working arrangements. Studies have shown that when staff have more control over their working conditions, it increases employee morale, decreases chances of burnout, drives positive results and makes it easier to hold on to employees.
But, as great as flexible work is, when it takes the form of working alone, it presents its own set of challenges. Because of these challenges, there are still employers today who are sceptical about their staff choosing to work remotely.
Whether the employee spends a day working from home every now again, or they are based outside the office on a more permanent basis, if it isn’t managed correctly, remote working creates a distance between the employee and the people at the office.
Aside from missing out on the daily office banter and all the social workplace action, working remotely can cause the employee to miss out on important meetings, training sessions and business correspondence, leaving the employee feeling out of touch, neglected and demotivated.
Those feelings then follow them back to the office and can cause them to feel like an outsider to the business.
Eventually, the employee becomes disinterested in their work, they stop collaborating with their colleagues, produce poor quality outcomes and the reasons why flexible working can be so positive end up evaporating into thin air.
Dealing with the loneliness, neglect, disinterest and lack of direction that remote working can cause, really comes down to how flexibility-friendly the workplace actually is.
Saying that you focus on outcomes and encourage flexible work styles does not always mean that you are a flexible-friendly workplace. You might have official policies that allow people to choose the location, time and method of work, but if you don’t create an environment that is conducive for remote workers to feel comfortable and thrive, the policies are nothing more than wasted printer paper.
Being a flexible workplace requires for the organisation to put continuous effort into ensuring that, regardless of where an employee might be physically based, they are treated in the exact same way that everyone else is.
These days, it is quite rare to be invited to an event that serves food without being given the option to flag your dietary requirements. When it comes to catering for the needs of remote workers, the exact same mentality needs to be adopted.
If there’s a meeting taking place, it needs to be expected there are both phone and video conference dial-in options. It really doesn’t matter whether anyone uses those options – the point is that they’re there and part of the way the business operates.
Don’t wait for the remote worker to ask for it. If you send out a calendar invite for an internal meeting, work presentation or client discussion, always make sure to add a range of attendance options in the location or notes of the invitation. It keeps remote workers engaged, prevents them from feeling excluded, and shows people within the business that you take flexible work choices seriously.
Keeping staff motivated at work often comes down to the shared experiences that you offer them outside of their daily work routine. It might be through paying for after work drinks, throwing epic Christmas parties, giving employees birthday gifts and surprises and so on.
When considering the different shared experiences that you plan to offer your employees, a great way to make your remote employees feel loved is to include them in your planning.
For example, if you're taking the group out for drinks on a Friday afternoon, encourage your remote employees to head to a nearby bar or cafe and buy themselves a drink on the company's dime. If you're throwing an end of year Christmas party, offer to bring your remote workers in for it and put them up in a hotel for a couple of days.
The more you can show your remote employees that you're thinking of them and are on board with their flexible work choices, the better they'll feel, and in turn, the better they'll perform.
A common cause for a drop in ambition and motivation in employees who aren’t working from the office is the fact that they don’t hear from their managers enough and end up feeling isolated.
To combat this isolation and create a more remote worker inclusive environment, it is really important that managers make a point of keeping in close contact with everyone on the team, regardless of where they are physically located.
Team leaders who have subordinates that (even just sometimes) work remotely, need to make it part of their daily routine to check in with those workers – without micromanaging them of course.
If there’s a day where there aren’t any scheduled meetings or reasons to communicate with that employee, make a point of giving them a call to say hey, check in with them via email or just send them a text message – it can really make a huge difference.
Workplaces can become very dry environments when communication isn’t flowing. People within a team who don’t engage with each other on a regular basis become very absorbed in their own work and lose out on the significant benefits of teamwork.
This is especially true for remote workers. If they aren’t consistently engaging with their team, they miss out on group updates, trends and progress – which can easily cause them to disengage and eventually fizzle out.
A great way to avoid this from happening is to create Slack channels, WhatsApp groups or other instant messenger chat options and actively promote their use. Encourage team members to post updates, milestones, jokes, achievements and interesting pieces of content.
When this happens, it won’t matter where in the world a team member might be working from, they’re always connected and will remain an active member of the team.