If a teleworker is fearing that he or she is less valued than an on-site worker I would say either 1) that person has a bad manager or 2) that manager doesn’t know how to manage a remote team. It has been well-documented that remote workers lose a lot of valuable social interactions with their coworkers over distance, which may lead to lowered personal trust, a sense of isolation, pent up frustrations, and weakened social ties and group identification. These problems can be overcome with time and effort by recognizing the needs of the remote worker. Since the manager often becomes the person’s lifeline to the company, it is the manager’s job to be aware of the issues and to deliberately build bridges that help people cross the remote work gap.
Mulki and Jaramillo’s investigation of supervisors and remote salespeople found that those managers engaging in “considerate leadership actions”–that is, creating a psychologically safe and friendly work environment–made a significant impact on lowering work isolation, increasing job satisfaction, building trust, and making people feel like a part of the team. Key actions include
- being available when necessary
- responding in a timely manner
- recognizing and rewarding performance
- showing appreciation for work
- being sensitive to employee concerns providing credible and trustworthy information
- giving advice, direction, and constructive feedback
- promoting a sense of belonging among employees
Really these actions are important for any manager, but the difference is that managers of remote teams have see themselves more as a coach when doing these things, and they have to do these things more intensely and more intentionally with remote workers.
For example, in Dubé and Robey’s virtual team study, one team leader stressed the importance of “knock[ing] on the door through the phone” and being very proactive in reaching out to remote members to make sure they didn’t go over any emotional edges. In one particular case, this team leader had a member who reported to 3 remote managers and had no one to talk to, so it was very easy to for that person to feel abandoned, frustrated, and disconnected from coworkers. One time when this member was very sick, the team leader had to care for her, by firmly telling her to go home and get some rest.
VSee obviously makes “knocking on the door through the phone” much easier and more effective. As noted before seeing someone’s face makes a difference. It’s more personal, richer in nonverbal cues, and it shows a higher commitment to that person. If possible, take that worker out for a meal or coffee for some face-to-face time. Dubé and Robey also suggest building social interaction by injecting humor into communications, including some small talk in a videoconference, and establishing regular opportunities to meet face-to-face. At VSee, we also use Chatter for more social communications which helps keep coworkers who don’t usually have a reason to talk with each other to connect and get to know one another. Other places may have electronic bulletin boards, forums or Wikis that serve this purpose.
In short, if a leader is doing his or her job right making sure each person feels like a productive and valued member of the team, no workers, remote or otherwise, should feel like they’re going to get left behind.