For employees, having the flexibility to choose when and where they want to work is undoubtedly a big advantage when searching for a new job. Flexible and remote work have become very popular over the last few years and it’s now some of the top priorities when looking for a new job. As of 2023, 27% of U.S. employees work remotely, 16% of companies are fully remote and the numbers continue to increase.
However, many employers prefer their employees to work on-site for different reasons, such as the fact that it gives opportunities to build relationships and it also promotes a space to engage, exchange ideas, brainstorm and collaborate. On one hand, some managers and CEOs believe that remote work doesn’t cultivate interpersonal relationships that can lead to collaboration and innovation. On the other hand, they fear that flexible and remote work will create isolation, reduce collaboration and thus hurt productivity and team dynamics. Nevertheless, an employee engagement survey conducted by Dell showed that 93% of respondents believe flexible work makes both them and the company more successful.
What are the benefits of flexible and remote work?
It is now known that flexible and remote work offer several benefits to both employees and companies, such as increased productivity and better work-life balance, that lead to employee satisfaction and attraction of future talent. Remote work allows companies to reduce costs, specifically on real estate, and increase the potential for future hires without geographical limitations. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are times when flexible work arrangements fail to meet expectations and have a negative impact on teamwork and team dynamics if not managed correctly.
Lack of structure, difficulty in communication and isolation from colleagues are only some examples of challenges that companies might face when implementing these working patterns. Fortunately, there are several ways to overcome the difficulties that might come up and promote effective teamwork between employees. In this article we will uncover 4 strategies for you, as a manager, to foster a sense of belonging in a flexible and remote working environment.
1. Prioritise communication
Let’s be honest, communication is a general problem even when working on site, let alone when we are talking about remote work this issue normally keeps standing out. Thus, it is crucial for managers to prioritise communication. Different digital tools and platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams allow employees to communicate through virtual meetings and discussions in order to share their ideas, get feedback from their colleagues and organise their workload as a team.
Having the right tools definitely helps with communication, however it’s often proved to be insufficient as it doesn’t seem to solve the problem. There needs to be a strategy in place to keep the communication active among employees, so here are a few ideas you can implement:
Hold regular project meetings:
Especially when you are starting a new project, hold regular meetings to share the status of the project, goals and what the main challenges are. Offer different ways for people to participate in the meetings, such as through written communication, polls and open questions in tools like Miro or Slido. These allow people who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in front of others to express themselves through their preferred way.
Create a coffee time:
When you work at the office there is room for conversations to come up and share what you are doing with others. In flexible and remote work, you can organise a weekly coffee or get together virtually so people can catch up and talk about non work related topics. Be mindful of the dynamics as otherwise people can just stop showing up.
It’s very common to focus communication on problem solving topics. By acknowledging successes you are creating relaxed moments with the team to connect which brings energy and a “feel good” sensation to everyone. Celebrating special moments together is an effective way to create stronger bonds among employees. Choose which of them are worth it the most and invite everyone at the office so that you can celebrate together.
Listen to your employees:
The basis of a sense of belonging is that employees feel like the company values and appreciates their opinion. Employees want their voices to be heard in a way that shows them the rest of the team members respect them. During and after team projects or individual projects ask your employees for feedback in different formats like in interactive quizzes or during meetings and brainstorming sessions. Also, pay attention to the nonverbal cues, show your empathy and try to address on the spot any issues that might occur. Lastly, be willing to provide your support and guidance when needed.
2. Provide timely and useful feedback
1 out of 5 employees wish they had more frequent feedback from their direct manager. Employee feedback is all about self development and skills improvement. It is essential as it makes employees feel more confident about their performance as well as more committed to showing positive behaviour. When providing useful feedback in a timely manner, employees feel like they’re part of the company. Thus they become more engaged with its vision and values, which is especially important in remote work. Feedback doesn’t have to be only positive. It should show both strengths and weaknesses and provide a status so that employees can know what they are doing wrong in order to improve it.
At this point, it’s also really important to mention that constructive feedback should be accompanied with the required support and direction, so that employees are not only aware of what they need to improve but also how they can achieve that. Try to give your team useful feedback by making clear and specific comments and by adding your suggestions. Both teams and employees individually should be provided with feedback. You can do this through daily, weekly or monthly follow-up meetings, depending on the nature of the project each time.
3. Encourage employee recognition
Research shows that 2 out of 3 employees don’t receive recognition for their work and thus, are more likely to express a desire to quit their job within one year. Employees want to feel valued and appreciated for their ideas, their efforts and their achievements. They want their voices to be heard and their work to be recognised by their managers and colleagues, especially when working remotely.
When it comes to belonging, one survey on LinkedIn showed that 59% of respondents agree being recognised for accomplishments at work is the largest single contributor to an overall sense of belonging. Companies should aim for building a positive team culture where every employee feels valued, supported and included. Managers should embed employee recognition in a consistent way, not just once in a while. Making time to celebrate achievements in weekly team meetings, taking your team out for lunch, holding an awards ceremony and always recognising your employees’ efforts even if they don’t match what was expected are only some examples of employee recognition and appreciation.
4. Promote Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Employee resource groups, also known as ERGs, affinity groups or business resource groups, are affiliated subgroups of employees within an organisation who share distinctive qualities, interests or goals. In a flexible and remote work environment, ERGs can offer several benefits, like providing connection between employees and also supporting those who might feel isolated or experience burnout. Thus, they bring together like-minded colleagues who share the same interests or face similar difficulties, offering them a safe space and an opportunity to build a community.
However, creating an ERG is not enough. Managers need to provide ongoing resources and support in order for the group to thrive. This can include for example offering training and mentoring sessions, providing useful feedback, recognising the group’s achievements, addressing any challenges and issues that may arise and also encouraging collaboration among different ERGs. Lastly, by fostering a culture of belonging and appreciation where all employees will feel valued and respected, managers can enhance the effectiveness of their ERGs.
Creating a culture of belonging in the workplace is critical for employee well-being and engagement. However, flexible and remote work can sometimes become challenging for companies when they try to foster inclusivity and create strong bonds between employees. For this reason, managers should prioritise communication by applying active listening, providing communication alternatives and offering all the necessary tools accompanied with support and training if needed. Moreover, they should recognise employee success and efforts and provide timely and useful feedback. Lastly, managers can foster the sense of belonging by getting involved and promoting ERGs that allow interaction and connection. If you want to learn about more ways to improve inclusion in the workplace, check our previous article here.