What Is Remote Team Isolation?
It is now commonplace for employers to offer remote work options to employees on a part or full-time basis. With the endless development of ubiquitous and reliable communication tools, remote work is not just a perk but can be a competitive advantage. With 43% of U.S. employees working remotely at least some of the time, it is a surprise to learn that many of these organizations do not have the processes in place to make sure that they have the right employees working remotely with the right processes in place to maximize productivity and performance.
Remote team management comes with many new challenges from recruitment to reliability, but one of the most common challenges that managers still face is remote employee isolation. Managers have new challenges around maintaining consistency and reliability while still motivating workers who are not given the same opportunities to bond with team members and advance in their careers.
Perceived workplace isolation can lead to as much as a 21% drop in performacehttps://www.gallup.com/workplace/235811/end-traditional-manager.aspx
Although loneliness has a role to play in remote work isolation, it is more than just being alone. As an in-office team member, you get to have all of the water cooler chats, coffee room chats, birthday celebrations, etc. These things can be mimicked to a degree using various communication strategies. What you do not get is to be part of the team’s successes. Those impromptu professional catch-ups around the office can move teams closer to meeting deliverables as well as impacting an individual’s mobility within the organization. Many remote workers need to choose between the convenience of telecommuting or their careers.
Effects Of Isolation
First, as a remote worker being isolated means that you do not have the same support network that you can rely on in an office environment. Need more staples? You can’t just walk over to the supply room. Computer problems? There is no IT to come to your rescue. Quick question for a colleague? You’ll need to wait until they are online, you can’t pop your head over the cubical. Although this is not the worst part of isolation these are frustrating aspects of remote work isolation.
Second, team events and meetings are always an opportunity to catch up with your colleagues about non-work topics. How are the kids? Did you win your tournament? How did the dog’s hip replacement go?… You get the idea. These short conversations might seem like potentially time wasted, but they are an important part of building a culture. If HR is successful during these conversations you will realize that you and your colleagues share similar values and goals. Even if the values and goals are not necessarily work-related, they will still define perceived cultural norms.
Third, the effect with the most negative impact on team culture and individual performance is the limits to career advancement that is often created by individuals that are not a constant presence in the leadership’s mind. This out of sight out of mind mentality prioritizes team member presence over team member performance. By not acknowledging remote team member contributions it directly impacts their productivity and future contributions to the success of the team. As a remote team member, watching the progress of the team and seeing advancements that you were not informed of drives you deeper into isolation.
How Do You Know If A Team Member Feels Isolated?
If a team member feels isolated then it directly impacts their productivity. Many of the signs are similar to having a disengaged employee. Not attending meetings, not showing interest in the organization, not trying to build team relationships, or focusing on the minimal number of deliverables.
If a team member is engaged then they will show all of the behavior of an ambitious employee. Looking for project contributions and showing genuine interest in growing within the organization. Far too often isolated team members become disengaged because they no longer feel they are part of the growth of the company. With that lack of contribution, they become disengaged and no longer feel that they are a valuable part of the organization.
Employees that are in the office or that work daily with the team manager will perceive their importance as higher because they are present during key milestones that impact the success of the organization. Understanding this subtle difference in how teams function and how team members contribute will give you a vantage point to identify isolated team members and give them the resources and support they need to become a contributing member of the team again.
How Do You Prevent Remote Team Isolation?
How do you prevent remote team isolation or fix the problem once you have it? There are various things that you can implement that include in-person or online interactions. The most important thing is to acknowledge that there is a systematic problem (not just an individual personality problem) that can be improved with thoughtful purposeful processes.
First, get to know your team members during one on one and team conversations. Make an effort to get to know individuals beyond the work deliverables. Not engaging personally in individual or team meetings can be a sign that that team member is less engaged and potentially feels isolated.
Second, set meetings just for socializing. Remote team members are more productive during the day at the cost of team building. That hallway or watercooler chat might seem like a waste of time but is important in relationship building. Set times during your day or week to mimic those conversations. It might be a little forced, but it is better than nothing.
Third, make sure your team has everything they need to do their job! This means reliable computer hardware, software, internet, chairs, staples, etc. The last thing you want to do is burden your team members with additional responsibilities that are not in their wheelhouse or that create additional frustration.
Fourth, help your team unplug. Encourage trips to the gym or casual strolls. One of the biggest perks of working remotely is flexibility. Empower your team to get their work done when needed, not during a set number of hours. Of course, they will be required to attend meetings, but many of those conversations can be done on their phone with communication apps. Encourage them to get up the mountain for a couple laps or catch some waves at lunch.
Fifth, conferences are a great way to encourage continued learning while getting team members together. There are so many events these days there is something for everyone, every department, and every team. Find the events that your team will benefit from attending and give them the resources to get there. This might be cost-prohibitive for smaller companies, but it will deliver one of the biggest impacts.
Six, set up a company retreat. This is also a pricy option, but when the team is brought together specifically for the purpose of bonding there is a clear intention and goals for team building. These focused events can be the perfect place for a team member to discuss mobility and understand where they stand within their organization with in-person meetings with their managers.
Seven, know what personalities work well with a remote team. Not everyone is meant to work remotely. Many people depend on work for their social interaction and require that they have constant engagement in order to feel included. These individuals likely will not prosper in a remote working environment. This may take time to understand but it is worth knowing before you make the investment in a new team member.
Eight, offer a coworking stipend. For those people that can not live without the engagement at work, you can consider offering reimbursement for coworking. When you purchase a seat in a co-working office you are not just buying a desk, you are buying into a culture with many opportunities for your team members to interact with other people during the day and feel as they are part of a community.
Don’t Underestimate An Individual’s Need For Community And Career Growth
The out of sight out of mind remote team mentally is one of the biggest killers to remote team culture. Intentionally create opportunities for managers and team members to discuss things other than deliverable. Provide ample time during the workweek to discuss company culture/goals and how that individual fits in the success of the organization. Share all of your team’s wins and losses together and make sure that team members know that they have contributed.