By Tracy Wright, MAEd | September 10, 2018
Project Director, ETR
Trees, mountains, sky. That’s what I see from the window of my home in Golden, Colorado. I love it. Being able to live and work here is one of the splendid benefits of being a remote worker.
My colleague Sue Potter has described other advantages of working remotely, and ETR’s CEO Vignetta Charles has shared some of the best reasons for an organization to embrace a distributed workforce. The trend seems to be growing. A recent Gallup poll found that American workers are spending more time working remotely.
Gallup also found that employees who work remotely 100% of the time—that would include me and a number of my co-workers—tend to have lower levels of engagement with their workplace. That’s an interesting finding. I don’t think it’s true for other members of ETR’s Remote Team, and it’s certainly not the case for me.
Why not? Partly because ETR has stepped up its effort to keep remote workers fully engaged. It’s also because the members of our remote team share a high value for engagement. We take extra steps to make sure our co-located workers know we’re here. This helps them welcome us as full partners in achieving our organization’s mission.
A lot of what works to create engagement has to do with personal attitude. Of course, the key word there is “personal.” It’s about what works for a given individual—what feels natural vs. what feels “necessary.” Here are some tips that have worked for me. They all feel natural for my personality and style. I’m hoping some of them will feel that way for you, too.
This was the first thing that came to mind for me. Smiling comes pretty easily to me. I enjoy it. And I suspect that when I smile, it helps other people engage with me.
I work with interesting people. You probably do, too. I read staff bios and other informational snippets when I can. I read my co-workers’ blogs and posts. I share the ones I like and that I think others will like, along with a line about why. I do this regularly on LinkedIn and Twitter.
I’ve actually adopted a sort of FOMO attitude about my co-workers (fear of missing out). I don’t want to let the good stuff pass me by without being involved or getting a taste. I’m always ready to jump into a conversation if I’m invited. We have an organizational norm at ETR which is, “Engage in Learning.” To me, that means learning about my colleagues and their work as much as learning about topics related to my own work.
Being an engaged remote worker has a lot to do with relationship-building. I think most of the time, I have to work harder at building relationships than co-located workers do. I take time to notice the information colleagues share about their lives outside of work, whether at a group level or with me personally.
I know who has what type of pets (more about ETR pets here). I respond to news about kids and grandkids (cute kid pics are a big hit with me), and I enjoy photos of people’s flowers and vegetable gardens. I’ve shared favorite music and recipes. I’ve joined up on step challenges. I’ve listened when someone talks to me privately about a hardship in their family. By sharing our lives in these ways, we get to know each other more deeply as human beings.
Because we have a good number of remote workers at ETR, our practice is that all-staff meetings are entirely virtual. Remote and co-located staff come to the meetings on an equal footing. I make a point of being one of the “voices in the room” at these assemblies. I type in the chat box. I use my video feed. I turn on my mic and offer comments when appropriate.
I also volunteer to facilitate on occasion and to present when the opportunity arises. I am not a lurker.
It definitely takes time out of your day to build and sustain engagement—but maybe not as much as you think. We have so many tools that make connecting and learning quick and easy.
ETR uses Microsoft “Yammer” as an in-house social networking tool. My “Yammer scan” is a regular part of my daily ritual for opening and closing the workday. I identify posts where I want to dedicate a little more reading time—usually one thing that is work-related and one that is not. I’m clear that I don’t need to read everything, but I do read something from the network every day.
The feeling of marginalization as a remote worker is real. I don’t intend to deny that. There are also a lot of perks to being a remote worker. I embrace these, and then I take steps to address the challenges.
One of the potential benefits of being a remote worker is that you can decide to be more on the margins of the organization’s community. You really don’t have to engage. That’s a personal choice some people will make, and if it works for them, it’s an acceptable path. I also urge people who make that choice to own it. My organization has invested a ton of energy and resources to enable everyone to be heard. It’s there for the taking—and it needs to be taken. You can’t wait for it to be handed over.
These are my tips—the steps and strategies that have helped me build a sense of genuine engagement with my colleagues. But remember, I’m a curious person. So I’m interested in hearing from others, whether you’re co-located or remote. What helps you feel engaged with your entire team? What steps do you take to support engagement from any willing participant?
I’d love to hear more about that!
Tracy Wright, MAEd, is a Project Director at ETR and a member of ETR’s Remote Team. Her Twitter handle is @tracylhwright, and if you follow her, you will find that she does indeed regularly promote and support the work of her colleagues. She can be reached at email@example.com.