Remote work has been a reality for lots of businesses for a long time, but the events of 2020 plunged even more companies into the reality of creating a remote work culture. And some struggled with the transition. But remote work isn’t the first time companies have faced the question of how to include people who aren’t physically there.
There’s a famous episode in the sitcom Friends where Rachel finds out that the manager and other employees at her workplace make major decisions on their smoke break together. Desperate to find a way to be included, she tries a few different methods before finally settling on the most obvious one: she takes up smoking.
It’s funny. But it’s funny because it’s true.
The smoke break may not be as big a deal now, but we all know situations like that where incidental contact is where information gets shared. Water cooler conversations in the break room are one obvious example of this. But what about happy hours? If you don’t drink, choose not to be around alcohol at all, or have kids or other commitments after work, you might miss out on things because you’re not at happy hour.
Remote work is a similar situation, especially for companies who are thinking about allowing employees to choose whether to work in-office or remote.
Being intentional about remote work policy
Because of COVID-19, a lot of companies started to work remotely even though they weren’t set up for it. Most of them have built a culture around that brick and mortar office where most or all of their employees used to work.
In the midst of a pandemic, some companies started to bring people back in phases, but they couldn’t bring everyone back. There are situations where people might be immunocompromised and not comfortable being around groups until a vaccine exists, and they might be some of your best employees. Even if you open the office, they aren’t coming back.
Are you prepared for that?
There’s a whole level of anxiety those employees are going to experience because they know the environment they left was a cohesive environment. Eating lunch together, bonding together, doing business in the moment from office to office and desk to desk… it won’t really feel the same while working remote.
We have to be careful not to punish those individuals or make them feel left out.
Protecting and including remote workers
You might not intentionally set out to punish those workers, but it could be a situation similar to that Friends episode. If you’re excluding them from the situations where all the decisions get made, you’re setting them up for failure or at least some discontent.
Will remote employees be looked at as supervisors or considered for promotions? There’s anxiety that comes with it. What about if there’s another round of layoffs? Are they on the chopping block?
If they go into the office, they have anxiety that they may get sick and even die. If they don’t go into the office, they’re cutting themselves off from opportunity. That’s a really touchy place to put an employee.
Most companies didn’t start 100% remote. If you’ve built from the ground up with that in mind, that’s one thing. But if you haven’t spent the time to develop a cohesive remote work policy, employees know that they’re in a compromised situation. We need to think about what it looks like for each of our businesses.
And we need to overcommunicate to our employees.
Connection matters. It’s important for supervisors to be having conversations with all employees. You have to make sure they know that they’re still an important part of the team, even though they aren’t there in the office. It’s easy to forget about people when they aren’t there. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies.
Make sure you adjust your remote work policy and your company culture to be inclusive of your remote employees. It’ll benefit both you and them. You’ll keep motivated employees on your team, and they’ll still feel like part of the team with the same opportunities for advancement as any other team member.
Company culture can be a challenging topic, and with recent developments in remote work, it can be even harder to navigate. Contact WhyHR today to find out how we can help.