Technology enables us to work more efficiently work wherever we want and communicate however we want. According to an analysis conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 4.7 million U.S. employees work remotely — from a home office, the local coffee shop or other location outside of a traditional office environment. The efficiencies created by remote work, however, do not always mean there’s better communication, better collaboration and happy employees.

How can you engage a geographically dispersed team or remote employee? How can you ensure that these team members don’t feel isolated? Do they know their colleagues and manager are available when they need them?

Keeping Your “Door” Open

Managers need to invest in opportunities to keep an open dialogue with their employees. When employees don’t have these opportunities to talk with their managers, their relationship becomes strained. You can keep your office open-door policy even with remote employees. Sharing official and unofficial work information demonstrates how important your remote employees are to the success of the team.

The way managers interact with their remote employees is important. Written communication has its uses, but relying on it can prevent the creation of the open dialogue you need with your employees. Emails are important when summarizing meetings, communicating project updates or general announcements. Phone conversations provide an opportunity for active listening and clarification on project assignments. But face-to-face interactions are just as important. Gathering a remote team together, even just once each year, can have a significant impact on the trust and rapport of the group. Online meeting tools can extend the face-to-face meetings to a virtual format. Weekly or monthly team meetings with remote employees gives everyone the opportunity for collaboration and team building. If most of the team works in the office and only one or two employees are remote, give the remote employees the opportunity to be a part of conversations occurring in the office.

Virtual Mentoring and Coaching

Face-to-face meetings and online collaboration may help in keeping employees engaged, but how can you coach or mentor your employees virtually? Take the time to get to know them. Every conversation a manager has with an employee makes an impact. Talk about their professional and personal goals. Understand which techniques work best for each employee when communicating, assigning projects or providing feedback. There are numerous assessment tools on the market that you can use to identify what works best for an individual team member.

Building a rapport with your employees is the key to ensuring that they feel valued. Schedule one-on-one meetings for business updates, team updates and other information the employee may have missed, and provide enough time for the employee to provide updates and discuss concerns. Regular one-on-one meetings are opportunities for you and your employees to have focused conversations and minimize the number of difficult conversations, such as the ones you have to have after an employee misses a deadline. Never cancel a one-on-one meeting with an employee; reschedule if you must, but canceling a one-on-one meeting with an employee can send the message that this focused time with him or her isn’t important to you.

Have remote employees develop a conversation plan (like an agenda) that emphasizes what they want to discuss during each meeting. Keep the conversation on track, but listen for any areas where you may need to schedule an additional meeting. For example, professional development is important to most employees, but remote employees are sometimes left out of that discussion. Annual performance discussions usually include career development, but it’s important to schedule a separate, focused meeting for this purpose. Then, one-on-one meetings can include development updates moving forward.

Coaching remote employees includes open communication, active listening and consistent engagement. The highlights here are just examples of how you can make sure remote employees feel like valued members of the team.

Take a deeper dive into coaching remote employees in Kelly’s presentation during the TICE Virtual Conference on March 26, 2020.