A growing number of companies are embracing a remote workforce, and it’s easy to understand why – increased flexibility for employees, decreased overhead for the company, and a larger pool of potential workers, among other benefits – but what are the trade-offs? Remote workers lose many of the natural opportunities for connection with colleagues (think: impromptu chats in the kitchen, stopping by their desks, catching up in the parking lot as they arrive in the morning), which makes those larger meetings when you’re bringing lots of employees together – both remote and in-office – around a common cause that much more important. Be it incentives, an annual meeting, or a corporate retreat, those moments of in-person connection are huge, and perhaps particularly so for remote employees.
But for smaller meetings, you can’t just lean on technology, the Harvard Business Journal agrees. As a meetings professional, you’re trying to spark connection within an organization – so with that in mind, we propose some ideas on how to manage remote workers and keep them engaged year-round, in smaller everyday meetings as well as at those larger ones you help host.
Introduce Everyone – Always
When you have remote team members conferencing into a meeting, they can sometimes feel like afterthoughts compared to the people there in the room. Make sure that there are two-way introductions – announce who’s on the phone, and then announce who’s in the room. It doesn’t matter if everyone is familiar with everyone else; it’s more about establishing the remote workers’ presence in the room. Position the microphones strategically so that they’re close to the most frequent speakers, and don’t forget about the fundamentals of acoustics – minimize background noise so that remote workers calling in can clearly hear the discussion.
Videoconference When Possible
Videoconferencing isn’t perfect, as our CEO Alex Cabañas pointed out, but it’s preferable to just dialing in – if it’s working correctly. It’s not practical for every single meeting, but make sure everything is properly configured (and that your team is well versed in how to set things up) so that the option is not only there, but a part of your company culture to use frequently. Make sure all who lead meetings are regularly briefed on to how to use it so that the simple tech setup isn’t the barrier to actually using it! Videoconferencing lets attendees on both sides pick up visual cues that are impossible to convey through the phone, keeps remote attendees engaged, and reminds those at the meeting in person that the remote worker is “there,” too, giving them a constant sense of presence.
Check-In on the Call with Remote Workers
If your remote workers aren’t able to physically make it to a meeting, ensure that they still feel as if they’re part of the proceedings by checking in with them intermittently. If an important point was made, ask them if it was clear, or if you could better clarify it. If you’re polling the room on a question, give them the floor, and specifically ask them for their input. It’s a little less imperative to do this for video conferencing, but there can still be some timidity that prevents them from speaking up, so it’s an important step. Finally, when the meeting is winding down, don’t just hang up – give your remote workers a proper goodbye. It doesn’t have to drag out, but skipping the goodbye and just hearing the hang-up can be jolting for remote workers, while their office-working counterparts get to comfortably stroll out of the meeting together.
Remember That Remote Workers Don’t Have a Water Cooler
There are plenty of collaboration tools (think: Slack) that make working remotely possible, but what about the social side of work? The casual team bonding and camaraderie that develops in the nooks and crannies of the work day is deceptively important, and harder to develop among remote workers. Allow for time before the call for small talk – but take it a step beyond the perfunctory “how are you?” and try to build a rapport that makes them feel comfortable. It may make them open up and participate more when the scheduled meeting begins.
In the End, In Person Is Irreplaceable
Distance can make attending meetings in person difficult, but connecting in person is irreplaceable, according to Benchmark founder Burt Cabañas. Whether it’s for an annual meeting, a sales training, an incentive trip, or some sort of retreat, socializing with colleagues and communicating face to face at a larger, Benchmark-scale meeting should be a priority for remote workers at least once or twice per year. While you may already be planning on team-building activities, also allow for some unstructured time so that attendees are free to socialize on their own. This is when genuine connections are made and attendees are able to discuss the material being presented.