A divided workforce is never going to be the most productive, and as such when issues do arise between colleagues it is important they are resolved quickly. But what to do when the employees in question are rarely found together at the same location, thereby making conflict resolution all the more difficult? Well it turns out this is exactly what is happening in many workplaces, as over half (52%) of remote workers say their colleagues fail to treat them equally, as they would an on-site employee.

This is according to a new survey of 1,153 workers conducted by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, authors of the bestsellers Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability, on behalf of VitalSmarts, which found that remote employees have a much tougher time of things as compared to their on-site counterparts in regards to a number of workplace challenges.

Some of the more telling figures include the fact that 67% of remote workers expressed dissatisfaction that their colleagues did not fight for their priorities in the workplace, which is only true for 59% of on-site workers. 41% of remote workers also reported a belief that their colleagues spoke ill of them behind their back, which is again lower among on-site workers at just 31%, while over a third (35%) of remote employees thought their colleagues were actively lobbying against them, as compared to 26% of on-site employees. Just to further add to the stress and sense of disillusionment experienced by remote workers, 64% reported having changes made to a project without any prior warning given; an issue experienced by 58% of on-site workers.

While the differences between many of those figures may seem at first somewhat minor in the grand scheme of things, the fact that each and every one of the aforementioned issues is of greater magnitude for remote workers indicates wider problem with how companies approach flexible working arrangements, and the support they offer those operating outside of the office. This needs to change lest those ‘minor’ figures culminate in the creation of major problems for the workforce and company as a whole.

Rather worryingly the survey also found that when issues do arise and a solution is required, remote workers have a hard time finding one and often let the problem escalate further through inaction; to put it into numbers an excessively-high 84% of remote workers said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47% admitted to letting it drag on for a few weeks or in some cases even longer.

These problems can ultimately lead to a situation whereby many of the benefits that may be gained from the provision of remote working arrangements are lost, with productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress, and retention all suffering as a result. However since the remote working trend looks set to last, managers must look at ways to reduce these problems without being forced to call all staff back into the office.

“Our research over the past three decades proves the health and success of any team is determined by the quality of communication between colleagues,” says Maxfield. “Teams that can hold candid and effective dialogue - minus the emotions and politics - experience higher morale and results like better quality, shorter time-to-market, better decision making, etc.”

Grenny too asserts that effective communication is the key to success.

“When managers model stellar communication, the rest of the team follows suit,” says Grenny. “You can’t overestimate the influence a manager has on his or her team’s ability to engage in dialogue and create a collaborative and healthy culture.”

The report goes on to suggest a few skills which the authors find to be crucial when it comes to the effective management of remote workers. These skills, as reported by Workplace Insight, include:
  • Frequent and consistent check-ins; nearly half of respondents (46%) said the most successful managers checked in frequently and regularly with remote employees.
  • Face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction; one-in-four respondents said managers who insisted on some face time with remote employees were more successful. Make a visit to remote employees or schedule a mandatory in-office day once a week, month, quarter, or year.
  • Exemplify stellar communication skills; respondents emphasised the importance of effective communication with co-located teams. The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Be clear about your expectations; managers who are direct with their expectations of both remote and onsite employees have happier teams that can deliver to those expectations.
  • Always be available; go above and beyond to maintain an open door policy for both remote and on-site employees.
  • Use multiple means of communication to connect with remote workers; don’t just resort to phone or email, but also video conferencing technologies and a variety of services like Skype, Slack, Instant Message, Adobe Connect and more.
  • Prioritise relationships, team-building and camaraderie; form personal bonds with remote employees and their on-site colleagues alike.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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