“Out of sight, out of mind” is an idiom that rolls off the tongue. Its origins deal with a truth about human relationships. Proximity counts. Physical presence matters to people. In the new world of work, filled with freelancers, solopreneurs, remote workers, and small business owners, it is time to grapple with the absence of physical presence in the workplace.
The way we talk reveals much about the way we relate, both in and out of the workplace. Phrases like “right under her nose” or “let’s touch base” use language related to the senses. There is an assumption of physical presence in the words we speak. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
To See Things Eye to Eye
Transparency has the top correlation to employee happiness according to research by TINYpulse, a company dedicated to helping businesses improve employee engagement. The word “transparent” relates to the senses. In this case, if something is transparent, you can see through it. One of the major complaints of remote workers is the problem of isolation, not feeling seen.
In the book, Calling Invisible Women, the author, in a humorous way, tells the story of an older woman who gradually became invisible to her family and co-workers. At least her invisibility happened gradually. The remote worker, accustomed to being seen in the office, may not be prepared for the feeling of being invisible to fellow employees.
To retain remote workers and quality freelancers, employers must be proactive. Make a place to see things eye to eye.
Create space to see each other:
- Use technology, such as Zoom or Skype, for meetings.
- Schedule off-site retreats.
- Hold regular meetings to make sure everyone feels involved.
Under Someone’s Nose
When a person reports to an office daily, the tools and information needed to do the job are usually right under his nose. If not, it is simple to ask someone down the hall or find what is needed in a file somewhere. Gallup, in an employee engagement survey tool, asks for a response to this statement: “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.”
When employing remote workers, make sure to supply the appropriate technology and information needed. There are countless tools to make sure what people need is right under their noses. Do some research to find what would be useful in your business. Make sure that offsite employees have the same access to shared resources as your onsite employees.
Here are some hardware and software tools to consider:
- Use team communication tools–Basecamp, Trello, or Asana.
- Share files with Dropbox and Google Drive.
- Utilize scheduling apps to save time.
- Provide two computer monitors for a more efficient workspace.
- A good phone and headset is a necessity!
To Bend Someone’s Ear
One advantage of remote work is not having an endless stream of interruptions from other employees. And one disadvantage of remote work is missing the communication that happens through interruptions. Sometimes, a simple phrase in a conversation can start a stream of creativity in a project.
One way to design for good communication is scheduling regular meetings with remote employees. The meetings should be purposeful. However, just as in a physical meeting room, don’t race in at the last minute and expect to connect on a personal level. Make a practice of arriving at the virtual meeting room a few minutes early and offer to stay late. This will allow for side topics, not connected to the agenda.
Establish personal connections:
- Remember birthdays and work anniversaries.
- Call your employees by name. Make time for politeness, even in quick communication.
- Connect the remote worker with onsite employees for collaboration.
To Touch Base
The origin of this idiom lies in baseball. The player must physically touch the base, even briefly, to advance to the next base. It has carried over to the world of work. Because a remote worker is out of sight, it is easy to exclude the worker from important communication.
For example, what if the “base” has been moved? The remote worker may be running in the wrong direction, through no fault of her own. Make sure that expectations are clearly related to task milestones, project goals, and compensation. Moving a base erodes trust.
Don’t neglect the basics:
- Use text messaging regularly. Be aware that some global workers may prefer apps that you are not accustomed to using.
- Pick up the phone. This can save an endless stream of misunderstood emails.
An Acquired Taste
I have a friend who lived and worked in India for a few years. The problem was that she didn’t like Indian food. The spiciness was just too much for her. It took her a year to acquire a taste for the food.
With remote workers, you don’t have a year to allow them to acquire a taste for your company’s mission and vision. You don’t have a year to establish relationships. Just as my friend acquired a taste for the food by continuing to try new foods, as an employer, you need to provide multiple opportunities to help your remote workers understand your purposes and relate to your team.
Get people aligned with your purpose:
- Start strong with a formal onboarding process.
- Make sure to include remote employees in company communication.
- Celebrate achievements publicly.
- Keep track of milestones to make sure they are being met in accordance with project goals.
- Create opportunities for remote workers to use their talents across a variety of teams in the organization.
Adapting for Presence
You, as the employer, already have in place many of the practices needed for effective communication. You have the right equipment. You’ve worked hard to engage your onsite workforce. The task now is to adapt your practices for the remote workers and freelancers that will be making unique contributions to your team as you transition your business to the future of work.