The option to work remotely is a huge draw for employees today. With commutes averaging nearly half an hour each way in the US, working from the comfort of home, a local coffee shop, or nearby co-working space is a perk now enjoyed by nearly half of the US workforce.
But businesses—which also benefit from flexible remote-work policies by reducing the overhead costs that come with physical office space—are struggling to address the collaboration challenges their remote employees faces.
Software company Igloo, where I work, recently surveyed 2,000 employees to gauge the state of the digital workforce in a new report. Our data indicates that over half of remote workers have been left out of important meetings, and more than two-thirds say they deal with challenges they would not encounter in an office setting.
Knowledge sharing is essential in any work environment. For remote workers, this is especially true. Yet, 43% of employees have neglected to share a document with a colleague because they couldn’t find it, or thought it would take too long to find. While working remotely may limit the distractions that come with an open office, challenges like these make it difficult for remote workers to be as successful as their in-office peers.
Employers are responsible for providing their employees with the best tools to communicate and collaborate with their fellow co-workers, but it’s up to remote workers to use those tools effectively to ensure their voices are not ignored. These three steps are a good place to start.
1. Always make your presence (or lack thereof) known
“Out of sight, out of mind” shouldn’t apply to remote workers—but it does more often than not. In our survey, 56% of remote workers have missed out on important information because of their remote status; 70% reported they “feel left out.”
In order to be included, ensure that co-workers know where you are, or at the very least when you’re online. For example, if you’re running out to get lunch or grab a cup of coffee, setting your status to away on your messaging app of choice can help avoid missed connections, eliminating the infamous, “Sorry for the delay!” response.
While remote workers may not have the luxury of grabbing a conference room for a quick chat, there’s a variety of cost-effective and easy-to-use conferencing tools that make it simple to have a virtual face-to-face meeting, regardless of location.
Asking to do an informal meeting over Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Slack, or the plain old telephone can help build rapport with colleagues in various locations, which can be useful when you inevitably need to circle back for information.
2. Show up for the job
While it’s tempting at times to work from your bed, it’s best to reserve this for sick days. Creating a professional environment at home helps trigger productivity. In fact, research shows that working from your bed or even living spaces can cause workers to link these places to stress and makes it hard to disconnect from work, even after logging off for the day.
It’s crucial for remote workers to build a dedicated work environment outfitted with the proper tools. Curating a space equipped with a desk, monitor, keyboard, and office supplies can go a long way.
Creating a structure for the day, in addition to building a workspace and dressing professionally, can also help set work/life balance boundaries and avoid the potential for burnout. Taking time for a coffee break or stepping away to eat lunch, just like those in the office often do, helps productivity in the long run.
And when it’s time to log off for the day, being able to shut a physical door allows employees to leave their work in the (home) office.
3. Make your voice heard
Because remote workers are not physically present, speaking up is crucial. This doesn’t mean dominating every conversation, but at the very least you should avoid the mute button during meetings, and find ways to contribute to meaningful discussions.
This does more than increase your value as an employee. A study directed by psychologist Matthias Mehl at the University of Arizona showed that people who engaged in substantive conversations throughout the day were typically happier than those who conversed primarily with small talk.
Remote workers also must be more intentional about conversations regarding career growth. Because there are no water coolers to start conversations around, remote workers need to be diligent about recording and sharing professional wins and accomplishments.
Telling a supervisor about results regarding an ongoing project isn’t bragging—it’s good communication. Participating in internal message boards and engaging on corporate social channels shows commitment to the company and makes communicating more natural when the challenging assignments and promotions roll around. And when they do, there’s no reason remote workers should get any less consideration for them.