A friend of mine recently started working remotely for the first time. Talking to him since he’s been settling in to his new role, I was reminded of my own transitional experience, and the potential problems faced by new remote workers that can be disastrous for the whole experience if not handled early.
Here are sensitive areas to watch with your own remote staff, or to guard against and prepare for if you’re a new remote worker yourself.
1. Training is tricky. Orientation for new remote workers, especially if they’re new to the job or company and not just making the shift from being an in-office employee, can be very difficult. We tend to forget how much training, even when it takes the shape of self-directed study, is helped by the presence of experienced staff to clear up misunderstandings and provide guidance. It’s much more difficult to quickly check if you understand something correctly when you’re working remotely and don’t have a mentor nearby.
To assist with training, make sure support staff with the knowledge new remote employees will need are on-hand via IM for quick contact during business hours. Also be aware that training may be slower with remote employees than with on-site ones.
2. Compatibility issues. It can be very frustrating to run into hardware and software compatibility issues early on in a remote work setup, especially without having easy access to in-house IT support staff to clear up any issues.
Luckily, the fix is easy. Check all essential software and prepare and publish hardware and software guidelines prior to hiring remote staff, or moving people to remote work positions. Make sure that not only do staff know what they need to work remotely, but also how to use those tools.
3. One is the loneliest number. Offices are nothing if not social spaces; one of the biggest shock to a new remote worker’s system can be having to deal with the loss of the social aspects of office work. It’s something that might not get noticed right away, but after the honeymoon period is over, loneliness can set in.
Coworking is one way to fight off the lack of social interaction for remote staff. Working together in a shared office space has a number of other benefits, too. Other good tactics to stave off loneliness include getting staff out to events and trade shows on a regular basis.
4. Rewards are less real. It can be hard for remote workers to feel like their work is valued. Positive feedback and informal praise are things that can easily get lost when you’re working with a distributed workforce, and the resulting impact on long-term morale can be quite considerable.
To combat this issue, make rewards for good performance a priority, and don’t forget to drop a note even for small achievements. Also, if you’re a remote worker, try to re-frame your sense of a job well done, by considering that a verbal “good job” just isn’t something you’ll likely receive as often as a remote worker, since an email actually to that effect requires more effort than an offhand comment.
5. Feeling forgotten. Remote workers can have a tendency to feel forgotten, especially when working together in a company which also employs on-site staff. The perception, whether real or imagined, is that they’re lower down the pecking order than people who work in the office. Even workers in entirely distributed teams can feel at least a little out-of-site, out-of-mind.
Employers have to make it very clear that all considerations for advancement is based purely on performance. Having remote staff in trusted positions higher up the totem pole can reinforce the idea that remote staff are just as visible and valuable as other members of the team.
Remote working has a lot of benefits, but it also poses many challenges. Being aware of and addressing those challenges, however, can help make a distributed workforce happier, more productive and more sustainable.