5 tips to mitigate isolation for your remote workers

Telecommuting is growing in popularity, but that freedom and flexibility can come with a hefty price tag: loneliness. Here’s how to keep your far-flung colleagues connected and engaged.

Remote working, or telecommuting, has become increasingly common.

Sometimes it’s a full-time substitute for the 9–5 office job, or it can be an occasional perk for regular commuters.

A 2018 study finds that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least once a week, and 53 percent telecommute for at least half the week.

Remote working has benefits including reduced operating costs, better work-life balance and increased productivity, but problems can arise if remote workers aren’t managed properly.

One such issue is a feeling of disconnection. The top two struggles of remote working reported by employees are loneliness and collaboration/communication issues, each one cited by 21 percent of telecommuters.

Here are tips to protect remote employees from isolation:

1. Create a culture of transparency and inclusion. One key thing businesses forsake with telecommuting is the ability to tap someone on the shoulder for a chat or to round everyone up for an impromptu meeting. Try using a project management platform that allows for open-book working practices and gets everyone on the same page and feeling like part of the team. Consider a tool such as Basecamp, which makes it easy for employees to upload, share and collaborate on files, as well as offering community-building features.

2. Use internal social media platforms. Communication and collaboration tools are increasingly popular—both in offices and for remote work. The bonus they offer is social interaction, which boosts engagement and elevates morale by encouraging team bonding. Beyond delivering project details, colleagues can share everything from music recommendations and videos to recipes and events. With images, emojis and gifs at their fingertips, there’s a nice social flavor to interactions that’s difficult to achieve via email.

3. Make time for phone calls and virtual meet-ups. Although social media and project management programs support a remote working culture, those platforms are text-based, which lacks vocal inflection. That can create misunderstandings, so it’s vital to integrate meetings via phone and video calls. Hold regular check-ins with employees—one on one and in group settings—so people can raise concerns, discuss sensitive topics or simply put forward ideas that might be difficult to convey via instant messaging. Also, a weekly video call “social hour” can help employees who crave informal, face-to-face interaction.

4. Have regular, in-person meetings. Although virtual meet-ups and calls can ameliorate loneliness, remote workers still miss out on daily in-person interactions. To counteract this, many remote businesses schedule regular, in-person meetups. Their length and frequency will depend on factors such as location, budgets and normal schedule, but making them happen is essential for team happiness and individuals’ well-being.

5. Give employees access to mental health support. A 2018 study by CIPD finds that 32 percent of remote workers feel they cannot switch off from work. Some telecommuters tend to overwork, because without a physical office to leave behind, the boundaries between work and home can blur. Offer an open-door policy for informal chats about mental health, as well as formal counseling sessions as part of your benefits package.

Zoe Morris is chief operating officer of Frank Recruitment Group. A version of this post first appeared on TLNT.

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