Remote work, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 173 percent since 2005—that’s 11 percent faster than the rest of the workforce. 

Distributed teams are growing in popularity for a number of reasons. The US skills shortage has encouraged employers to consider a global workforce when recruiting so that they may increase the size of their talent pool. Being able to hire people from anywhere in the world has the potential to increase team diversity, which has been proven to improve performance, capture new markets, and increase profitability. Most workers (80 to 90 percent) say they would like to work remotely, at least part-time. And remote work saves businesses an average of $11,000 per half-time remote worker per year, and saves workers between $2,000 and $7,000 per year.

But, with all the benefits of building distributed teams, there can be challenges as well. We’ve become accustomed to working in offices, with water cooler conversation, in-person meetings, and a drive to be seen. Going remote changes the dynamic of work, and can feel quite isolating. That’s why it’s so important to build inclusivity programs and foster cultural intelligence for your distributed teams.

Start with a stellar onboarding program for your remote workers

It’s entirely possible that your remote workers will be transitioning from office-based work. They’re accustomed to showing up on their first day of work, greeting their new manager in person, taking an office tour, and getting face-time with their new colleagues. You want to ensure your remote workers also get a heartfelt welcome—but this will require more forethought.

Begin with employee preboarding once the offer letter is signed:

  • Let your new hire know how excited you are to have them on the team. 
  • Introduce them to key team members, including a work buddy who can help them better acclimate to the team. If your entire company isn’t remote, it can be helpful to assign another remote employee who better understands the challenges of remote work. 
  • Order their office equipment and be sure it will arrive by their first day, or provide an office stipend to help them get set up with a work space. 
  • Mail them a SWAG care package with some fun company-branded gear.
  • Let the rest of the team know you’ve hired a new employee, and encourage them to reach out with a quick “hello, and welcome!”

Begin your remote employee’s first day with a team meet-and-greet. Ask everyone to dial in to your video conferencing tool of choice with their coffee or tea to properly welcome your new hire to the team and make introductions. Provide an org chart so your new hire can keep track of everyone, and know how to reach out when they need help with something. Early learning opportunities should include information about the company, role-specific training, and training around remote work best practices. This will help you set remote workers up for success.

Provide team building activities for remote workers

Without daily face-to-face contact, remote employees can easily end up in their own silos. Team building activities are a great way to build stronger relationships between employees, so they can better collaborate. These may include:

  • Coffee calls: Office employees can easily grab a colleague and go out for coffee or lunch, but remote employees don’t usually have that opportunity. Encourage informal conversation by setting up a coffee rotation between employees. Pair employees up each week, provide them with an ice breaker topic, and ask them to schedule 15 minutes to chat over a video conference.
  • Virtual ice breakers: Set up a Slack channel for team building, and use prompts to help employees get to know one another. Ice breaker questions like, “What is the best vacation you have ever taken?” or “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” can encourage conversation and highlight mutual interests. Or a game like “Two Truths and Lie” can help employees engage with one another. You could schedule a time for everyone to be online at once, or make these activities asynchronous. 
  • Employee resource groups (ERGs): ERGs are a great way to bring together people with similar backgrounds, interests, or challenges. Enable remote employees to take part in existing ERGs through video conferencing, dedicated Slack channels, and any other resources you have at your disposal. If your company has both office and remote employees, an employee resource group specifically for your remote workers can provide a space for them to find support and address key challenges.
  • Team meet-ups: Consider getting together as a team once or twice a year. Fly remote employees out to your headquarters, if you have one, or pick a new spot to get together each year as a team. 

Pay attention to employee development for your distributed workforce

In hybrid teams, remote employees often get overlooked for promotions as office employees are more visible and often have stronger relationships with colleagues. This is a mistake, as lack of professional development is a leading cause of employee turnover. Dig into your promotion rate for remote employees, and compare it to your promotion rate for office employees to see if this is a problem in your company.

Even entirely remote teams could have this issue. Some employees will naturally be more outgoing and visible, and some more introverted—which is perhaps what drew them to remote work. 

As with all employees, it’s important to set goals with remote workers. This ensures both employees and managers understand what’s expected, and have a way to measure success. Goals work best when paired with professional development plans and career maps, so each employee knows what they’re ultimately working toward and has the resources they need to get there. Managers should check in with employees regularly to discuss progress and any blockers, and should be well aware when each employee is ready for the next steps in their career. This can help make promotions more fair to all workers across a distributed workforce.

Final thoughts on improving inclusivity for distributed teams

Distributed teams have become significantly more common over the past decade, and will likely continue to gain in popularity over the next decade. Remote work benefits employers and employees alike, and a regular influx of new technology enables remote workers to operate outside of the office. 

But this transformation won’t take place without some growing pains. The modern workforce is largely accustomed to working in an office, and will need some time to adapt. Each company’s journey will be different. Keep a pulse on employee sentiment through stay interviews, exit interviews, and other employee feedback channels. Then use that feedback to build strategic inclusivity programs that enable your distributed team to do its best work.

Onboarding

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