These days, work teams increasingly represent a hodgepodge of various work arrangements. Some members work from home, while others serve in the office. In some cases, teams are so geographically dispersed that they collaborate while in different countries or continents, let alone time zones.
But when traditional, office-based teams begin to spread their wings and welcome remote workers aboard, there can be some learning curves to navigate. Perhaps one of the more critical junctures occurs in the early days when a virtual staffer joins the group. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), quality onboarding for new employees increases the likelihood of retention three years later. Increased performance, higher productivity and elevated employee engagement also correspond with purposeful introductory experiences.
For the virtual worker, managers must be decisive and proactive in following a game plan that heightens the odds of success and satisfaction for all involved. This calls for open communication, a sense of shared purpose and a commitment to growth.
Here are four ways for leaders and HR pros to begin integrating remote workers into existing on-site teams:
Understanding roles and functions.
Working from home has its positives, but sometimes the very structure of a virtual position inadvertently triggers distance in one’s knowledge bank. The offsite worker may not get a sense of the real ins and outs of people’s roles. They may benefit from greater clarity about positions and functions at the outset.
The fix: Coordinate times for your virtual team member to talk with onsite staff in their early days on the job. This builds rapport and fosters understanding about different roles and moving pieces within the organization. Create affinity that will help the entire team be more effective, engaged and extended in their interactions with one another.
Sometimes offsite workers begin to sense that out of sight is out of mind if they miss out on professional development opportunities. This may occur in the form of casual in-person mentoring by a senior team member to more structured trainings, such as industry seminars, annual group meetings or special conferences.
The fix: Include virtual employees in your annual professional development budgets. Invite them to travel attend industry events or conferences, particularly if other staff attend similar occasions as well. Don’t forget about other venues for continuous learning, such as webinars and virtual events.
An atmosphere of inclusion.
When more people are in the office than not, those who are away miss out on daily activity that builds internal camaraderie. Office-based colleagues may unintentionally reference events or anecdotes for which the offsite coworker has no point of reference. This can create feelings of isolation and difference.
The fix: Share funny happenings and work highlights with virtual team members, even if they didn’t witness or in any way participate in the episode. Bring them up in watercooler conversations via instant messaging apps or during ice breakers before video meetings. Ask the virtual worker about any humorous moments on their end or just highlights from their week.
Being seen and heard.
Virtual workers need to feel entrusted and empowered to do their jobs, just as they would within an office. While work-from-homers need not feel like they’re being surveilled, they can appreciate times when they get see and hear their colleagues.
The fix: Embed visual technologies, like videoconferencing and the use of webcams, into your practices. Be careful not to create a culture where remote workers feel put “on the spot;” designate meetings for which all in attendance are expected to be “facetime ready” for their close-up.
Numbers forecast the virtual workers will continue to dominate workplace trends in 2017. How has your startup, nonprofit, faith-based organization, small business or established company involved remote team members with your on-location staff? Have these strategies worked for you?