More and more of us are choosing the benefits of working remotely – it avoids the commute, it offers flexibility in where and how we work, and, according to recent research, it boosts employee productivity by as much as 13%.

The growth of the distributed workforce makes it increasingly important that remote workers feel a sense of organisational belonging, and that they’re helping their employer to achieve its goals, live its purpose and deliver transformation.

A key challenge to maintaining a cultural connection between the business and remote colleagues is the perceived difficulty in building a sense of community and empowerment amongst a distributed workforce.

So, what can managers do to ensure their remote teams feel as integral to a business as office-based colleagues, and as engaged in shaping its future direction?

  1. Align them to your journey

In many ways, the task is the same no matter where employees are based. However, remote workers, being largely removed from the influences of the workplace environment and their office-based teammates, require a little extra TLC to still feel engaged with their employer’s journey.

Businesses should define what it means to be culturally connected and live their purpose as a remote worker. What would be different and uniquely represent your organisational character? What are the touchpoints and experiences that bring this to life? What should the business be doing, and what is expected of the colleague?

This is a relationship that needs to be energised, sustained and refreshed over time. There are six key principles, essential for connecting, communicating and engaging employees in helping the business deliver strategic, cultural and transformational goals:

  • Listen to their needs and concerns
  • Share insight, information and direction
  • Inspire motivation, commitment and action
  • Involve in consultation and decision making
  • Collaborate to build networks
  • Sustain and maintain momentum by regularly updating colleagues.

These employee engagement principles have stood the test of time, and they are increasingly relevant in our complex, digital world. Which leads us to…

  1. Use the available tools (wisely)

A growing number of digital resources are available – many freely – to help remote workers better connect with their office-based colleagues.

From group communication and video platforms like HipChatSlack and old favourites like Skype and Google Hangouts, to visual brainstorming and collaborative tools like Mural and Hackpad, to shared productivity and project management utilities like HivedeskTrello and Basecamp.

This wealth of digital tools makes it easier to communicate with and engage remote workers, but they still cannot replace the feeling of being amongst colleagues and are prone to inefficient use – so choose them and use them wisely in conjunction with the traditional remote-working kit-bag of emails, texts and phone calls.

And of course, where possible, give remote colleagues the opportunity to come together for periodic face-to-face meetings and events with office-based managers and colleagues. Furthermore, make these opportunities collaborative and interactive – not just briefing/information sessions – to deepen the connection.

  1. Be clear what’s expected and why

To ensure that remote workers are fully engaged in the journey, they need to have a complete and transparent grasp of the importance of their role and what they are expected to do – they also need to see how their work aligns to the wider objectives of the business.

These communications should take place regularly for all employees – remote or otherwise – so that everyone understands:

  • Their immediate tasks and longer-term responsibilities
  • Their levels of ownership and autonomy
  • The frequency of communication with their team and manager
  • The skills they need and the tools they’re expected to use
  • The training and support that’s available to them
  • The value of their contribution to the work of the wider team
  • And how they are directly helping the business achieve its purpose.

By following these broad communications principles, you will find it easier to engage both remote and office-based employees, and empower all of them to play an integral role in your transformation journey.

Kathryn Willoughby
November 2016.