Managing for Success With Team Members Who Telecommute

Do you telecommute or do members of your team? For many, the answer is yes. Here's how to nurture workplace communication and relationships in remote teams. 

Adult working from home with dog

Do you or members of your team operate from remote work stations?

Do your employees look at their home office computer screens more often than they look at other people? Do your team members go through entire days speaking only to their dogs?

Working remotely (also called telecommuting or teleworking) is great for many people and organizations. It's flexible, convenient and usually results in higher levels of productivity. If you work on a telecommuting team, you know how effective the approach can be. However, telecommuting can be harmful to workplace communication and relationships because of its isolation and focus on tasks instead of on people.

If your team includes telecommuters, you’re not alone. It is a rapidly growing phenomenon in the U.S.

  • 4.2% of the U.S. workforce tele-works at least half the time  (Source: Global Workplace Analytics)
  • 79% of employers say telework has a high impact on retention. (Source: Matrix Resources)
  • 5.2 – the number of additional hours tele-workers put in per week compared with office workers (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • 59% of employees believe telecommuting at least part time is the ideal work situation. (Source: Hudson Home and Office – Workers Want it All)

So, it may be a common situation, but is it a “healthy” situation? Many organizations report the following negative consequences of telecommuting:

  • Lack of connectivity or social interaction with fellow workers.
  • Lack of connectivity (loyalty or identification) with the organization.
  • Potential lack of direction.
  • Employees may feel "out of sight, out of mind."
  • Lack of separation between home and work.

Simple Actions Can Improve Organizational Culture for Your Remote Employee

There are simple actions you can take to offset some of the negatives created by telecommuting and enhance the working environment for your entire team. For example:

Create a virtual water cooler. Use Chatter, Jive, Slack or any social platform to exchange personal news, gossip, photos, invitations, etc.

Designate social point people. Ask a few people to volunteer to be social butterflies, who are charged with coordinating virtual social events and maintaining social connectedness. Rotate the duty.

Employ a Buddy System. Buddies are expected to have a face-to-face or phone conversation at least once each week (if even for just 10 minutes).

There are numerous other ways to foster connectedness. These are just a few to stimulate your imagination. Learn more in February's one-day workshop, “How to Maintain Culture in a Remote Enterprise.” 

There is one, final truth about tele-work. The disconnectedness it can cause will not correct itself. You have to be deliberate, purposeful, and strategic in implementing ways to counteract its effects.

Have you heard about the new KU Professional Leadership Certificate? Complete five workshops, which can include “How to Maintain Culture in a Remote Enterprise,” and receive two hours of one-on-one professional coaching as you earn this valuable credential.

About the Author
Lee C. Stuart, D.B.A., is the leadership instructor at the KU Edwards Campus. He develops and delivers training on a variety of leadership, management and communications topics for working professionals. He combines years of experience as an executive in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors with the latest in scholarly thought on leadership.

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