When I tell people I work remotely, the typical response I get is “You’re so lucky. I’d love to work from home!”. As someone who works from home five days a week, I do feel lucky. But I’m not alone. According to The American Community Survey data, telecommuting, or working remotely, has increased 103% since 2005. Today, more than 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time. More than 85% of employees at large companies express interest in working remotely at least one day a week.
At Blue Beyond, working remotely isn’t just a perk — it’s ingrained in our culture. We understand that for all the benefits of working remotely (Flexibility! Increased Productivity! No long commutes!), there are also unique challenges that remote workers face, such as feeling lonely, disconnected, or disengaged.
6 Ways to Engage Remote Employees
- Make face-time a priority. One of my colleagues loves to connect over GoToMeeting so we can video chat. It’s not always my favorite (I’ll admit it — I am guilty of occasionally finding myself in the, “It’s 11:00 am and somehow I am still in my pajamas” situation). But, I find that when we do connect this way — even if it’s for something that could have been a quick IM or e-mail — I am happier throughout the day. I feel connected. Sitting behind a computer all day gets lonely. Face-to-face interaction (even if it is virtual) reminds us that we aren’t alone, we have colleagues, and we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
- Don’t skip the small talk. For many of us, when we’re busy, our instinct is to dive right into a call and get down to business. Fight the urge! Though it may seem unproductive, it’s not. Making small talk shows that you care about your colleagues, creates genuine connections, and builds trust. Next time you’re about to jump right into the task at hand, start by asking your colleague how their day is going, or what they did over the weekend.
- Find a buddy. Many companies employ some sort of buddy system to encourage their employees to build and maintain relationships. At Blue Beyond, we know that making the transition to working remotely can be lonely and sometimes even a little isolating, especially at the beginning. To combat that, on our first day with the company, we each get assigned a “buddy” — a colleague we connect with regularly during our first year (or even longer, if we want) for questions, thought partnership, and advice.
- Spend time together. At Blue Beyond, we bring our entire company together (and sometimes our families, too!), in-person, at least a few times a year. Our Blue Beyond Team Days focus on collaboration and learning, and are always followed by some sort of team building activity — like a hike or a team dinner. Events like our annual summer family picnic and our holiday party allow us to meet each other’s families, establish relationships, and get to know each other on a more personal level. These are all opportunities for connections we don’t make in a normal week, and we cherish our time together.
- Get Social. Everyone needs a little break during the day. Since we can’t stop by our colleagues’ desks or run into each other in the hallway, we use our Google Chat away messages and a Facebook Team Page to socialize and connect — we share interesting articles, funny pictures, and words of support and encouragement.
- Embrace your culture. We know that nurturing a thriving culture is key to engage remote employees and sustain business success. In a virtual environment, communicating and reinforcing culture is even more important — and when this is done successfully it can create a great place to work. At Blue Beyond, we have an active Culture Club with a rotating team of colleagues dedicated to support and enhance our culture. Throughout the year, we plan activities and events that bring our culture to life — like volunteer activities, holiday celebrations, Team Bingo, and more. One of our favorite activities? Lunch Roulette, where each month we draw random names and pair two colleagues together for a virtual or in-person lunch or coffee “date”.
Though working remotely is still more the exception than the rule, increasingly we are seeing more companies allowing, and even encouraging, their employees to work from home. By creating opportunities for connection (both virtually and in-person), promoting efforts towards collaboration and communication, and establishing a strong company culture, organizations can continue to serve as a source of community and connection — even for those employees who work from home.
Mara has been a consultant at Blue Beyond since 2015. She specializes in internal communications, employee engagement, strategic planning, and program management. Mara holds a Master’s in Communication Management from USC.