Going the Distance: Staying Connected with Remote Workers

Aug 09, 2016

Going the Distance

Thanks to technology, distance is no longer an obstacle in communication. Keeping in touch and sharing ideas from across the globe ​are only a phone call, email, chat session, or social media post away. The same is true for team collaboration in today's business world. According to data from Gallup's 2015 Work and Education poll, as reported in an article by Jeffrey M. Jones on the Gallup website, 37 percent of US workers who were surveyed say they have telecommuted, up from 9 percent in 1995. With more businesses offering employees the option of working remotely, the question arises: "How can teams effectively communicate with distance employees?" To help answer this question, we asked our closest—rather, distant—source, one of team ZERORISK's remote workers.

Meet Ja'Net, the accountant at ZERORISK HR who has been working remotely on a full-time basis since 2014. Although she doesn't miss the traffic and tolls that come with traditional commuting, she does miss the face-to-face interaction with her coworkers. She feels well equipped with technology to perform her job, emphasizing its importance for any remote worker. She uses email, messaging, phone calls, and video chats on a daily basis. With the option to communicate with her ZERORISK team from a distant location, Ja'Net can devote additional time to her other job—being a mom.

"The flexibility of working remotely allows me to spend more time with my kids. I'm home when they leave for school in the morning and when they return in the afternoon. As a parent, having the opportunity to work from home is a huge benefit of working for my organization," states Ja'Net.

As Mike Poskey, president of ZERORISK HR, discusses in "Effective Communication: Easier Said Than Understood," communication is a two-way process of reaching a mutual understanding between participants who are not only exchanging information but also creating and sharing meaning. The effectiveness of the communication depends on three factors: the content, the context, and the receiver.

Taking the basics of communication into consideration, how can organizations effectively communicate with remote workers like Ja'Net?

  • Focus on the content—the actual words. Whether it's an email or chat message, be as clear as possible. If you need a response, be explicit. If there is a deadline, be specific. Poorly written messages can easily be misinterpreted, and walking down the hall to ask for clarification isn't an option.
  • Don't forget about the context—body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Although the majority of communication between in-office employees and remote workers is written, be mindful of video calls. Someone's face on a computer monitor is only a small window into what is going on around them.
  • Consider the receiver. This is very important when working apart.
    • How should you communicate? Email is effective for delivering data, but it is a poor method of communicating personal information. Phone calls and video sessions are better for communicating personal messages about performance, conflict, or praise.
    • What should you communicate? In addition to sharing pertinent information for the remote worker to successfully accomplish his or her job, keeping remote workers "in the loop" may also help them feel more connected.
    • When should you communicate? It is important to ​​inform the in-office team of the working hours of the remote worker so that they know when he or she is available.
    • How frequently should you communicate? Ja'Net interacts with her team on a daily basis during the workweek. Frequent check-ins keep everyone on the same page.
    • What preparation is needed? It helps when everyone comes to the table, or computer screen, prepared.

Ja'Net attributes her success as a remote employee to her supportive team. Even when technology fails or when her coworkers are forced to reach out of their realm of responsibilities to accommodate her remote needs, her team never makes her feel uncomfortable. Having the appropriate forms of technology, establishing effective communication, and, of course, having company support make remote work possible and successful.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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