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5 ways to make telecommuters and remote workers feel included

Sharon Florentine | June 20, 2014
Making remote workers feel like part of the team is one of the trickiest parts of management. However, by focusing on the right technology and on effective communication and personal interaction you can create a productive remote work scenario.

By now the benefits of telecommuting and remote work should be obvious. Increased employee engagement and loyalty, reduced infrastructure costs and more efficient operational expenses, to name just a few. But there's one piece of a successful remote work strategy that's tough to get right -- inclusion. How can you help remote workers feel connected, empowered and fully part of your team when they're not physically present?

Take Advantage of Technology
Technology can be one of the best ways to bring geographically dispersed teams together and foster inclusion, says Sean O'Brien, executive vice president of strategy and communications for PGi (Premiere Global Services, Inc.), which developed the popular iMeet and GlobalMeet collaboration suites.

"One of the first things to remember is the definition of telecommuting is dated," says O'Brien. "The word implies you're only using the telephone to get work done; now, you've got technology far beyond that -- video, real-time virtual meeting tools that leverage Web cams, screen sharing, the cloud, file sharing and social media," O'Brien says, all of which help workers make more personal, meaningful connections and feel more involved and collaborative.

According to PGi's recent survey and information gleaned from the State of Telework research, 75 percent of telecommuters leverage these types of tools as part of their suite of solutions, O'Brien says, but it's just as important for managers and supervisors to use these solutions.

"Managers have to have the same level of familiarity with remote work and collaboration tools," he says. "The technology empowers them to have the same kind of relationship and interaction with their workers as they would if the worker was on-site."

Video Is Not the Enemy
One of the major technology advancements contributing to effective collaboration with remote workers is video, says Rob Bellmar, executive vice president, conferencing and collaboration at collaboration solutions company InterCall, even though the shift has been hard to swallow for many workers.

"The move toward streaming video and live video interaction has been hard, culturally," Bellmar says. "Think about your last conference call - most likely you were halfheartedly listening; you also were checking email, or working on a spreadsheet, or something else at the same time, and that means you weren't fully engaged," he says.

The modern workforce has gotten so used to these "bad habits" that they often don't want to embrace video because it'll change the way they have to work, he says, but it's a necessary tool to boost engagement and collaboration.

"Video changes the dynamic because of the two-way view," Bellmar says. "You're necessarily much more immersed in the conversation and the engagement level rises for teams who use video. Sometimes, the use of video can start as a 'stick,' with employees using it grudgingly, but once they get used to it and understand the productivity gains as well as the increased feeling of inclusion, it starts to become a 'carrot' and adoption skyrockets," he says.


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