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How Remote Work Can Change Brands For The Better

The pandemic has created an opportunity for organizations to institutionalize the benefits of remote work. When offices reopen, brands must remember to bring their still-remote employees along.

Caitlin Essig is a senior creative strategist at The Atlantic and is a Long Dash alum.

The events of this year have forced offices to conduct the greatest experiment in remote work ever, and organizations cannot expect to return to the same office environment they left behind in March once the pandemic is over.

Many office workers are becoming accustomed to their remote work environments, and the majority (83 percent) want to work from home at least once a week once the pandemic is over. Couple that sentiment with the growing demand for employers to include their workers in building their brands—in a recent study from Atlantic Brand Partners, 76 percent of respondents agreed that it’s never been more important that authorities and institutions hear their voice—and an imperative quickly becomes clear: Employers must consider their workers’ preferences, needs, and challenges as they venture into the future of work.

As someone who was working remotely from most of my teammates even before the pandemic, I often compare my situation then to my situation now. I always land on the same sentiment: the pandemic has leveled the playing field.

How can brands institutionalize what they’ve learned in 2020 and retain the improvements they’ve made for remote workers when we start going back to the office? It starts with listening.

Check in with your employees

At this point in the pandemic remote work experiment, workers are incredibly aware of what’s working for them and what they’re still struggling with. But brands may not have as good a handle as they think they do on what their remote workers need.

Consider conducting regular team- or organization-wide surveys to check in with your employees. Questions can range from “How do you prefer to communicate while remote?” to “What barriers do you face to working successfully?” and “How can your manager support you better?” The goal of these surveys is to surface what employees are struggling with, and can catch issues before they become big enough for workers to check out completely. Many companies are conducting these surveys now. They shouldn’t stop once workers start returning to the office.

Managers should also schedule regular check-ins with their team members to understand their needs on a personal level. This should become regular practice to help employees remain engaged and prevent them from feeling “out of sight, out of mind” to their leadership. 

A combination of these two methods allows for everyone on your team to provide feedback in the way that works best for them. Once you have the feedback, it’s critical that you act on it. Leadership should meet regularly to discuss how they can improve workers’ situations.

Preparing for the post-pandemic future

Universal challenges breed innovative solutions. Now is the time for brands to cement these solutions as long-lasting standards to carry with them post-pandemic.

Brands who successfully transition back into the office cannot return to business as usual with their remote employees, especially as a growing number of workers push for enhanced remote work options. Here are a few ways employers can support remote employees even after the pandemic ends.

1. Recognize remote meetings are here to stay

Remote employees can often feel overlooked. Encouraging those who have returned to the office to use video so their remote colleagues can see them will be a must to help remote workers feel connected to their teams.

When you dial into a meeting over the phone, you can often miss the visual cues needed to get the most out of the meeting. It can be hard to know what’s going on when you can’t see the other people in the room. Turning videos on cuts down on this challenge. “Zoom fatigue” is certainly real, but even getting 10 percent of our colleagues’ cues is better than nothing.

Team leads should also make sure remote employees don’t get left out of meetings entirely, especially when vital information is being discussed. Don’t rely on catching remote employees up on what they missed. Even if scheduling with remote employees requires an extra step, it’s much easier to add video conferencing to a meeting invite than it is to remember to relay information later.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

It’s no secret that it’s easier to collaborate with coworkers you can physically meet with around the office. Picking up the phone and calling someone is more difficult than rolling your chair over to the next desk. 

When some workers return to the office and others remain remote, it will be important to keep up the level of communication which remote work requires. When working with remote teammates, don’t neglect them. Even before the pandemic, research from Gallup showed that over half of departing employees said that in the three months before they left, neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.

Team leads should continue regular check-ins with their remote employees at least once a week. This, as well as team meetings, is another instance where video can be a great tool for sustaining engagement with your remote employees. 

Furthermore, when working on projects with remote workers, take the extra step to pick up the phone and call them, or message them on Slack to ask a question. This can mimic the spontaneous chats around the office as much as possible.

3. Normalize flexibility

With our work lives seeping into our home lives until everything has become intertwined, it is more important—albeit more difficult—than ever to make the decisions that prioritize our own mental health and other needs.

Remote work allows for extreme flexibility, and that’s a feature, not a bug. Successful employers will recognize that their employees are more than just workers, and sometimes life requires them to bend their schedules.

Whether it means shutting down for two hours in the afternoon to tend to baby’s naptime or dinnertime, starting an hour late to accommodate a morning routine, or logging on hours past 5 p.m. to wrap a project, leaders should recognize that flexibility is key to making remote work work

Many workers have long forced themselves into the conventional workday, whether it allowed them to produce their best work or not. Companies who allow their employees to embrace the schedules that work best for them will be most successful in retaining talent and creating an environment for all employees to do their best. 

4. Inclusion in onboarding

Including remote employees in the onboarding of new team members is critical to building relationships across the team. Organizations with strong onboarding procedures improve retention and productivity; but remote work offers a new challenge to onboarding, which only 12 percent of employees feel is well-handled in person.

When people start to return to the office, managers should schedule virtual meetings between new team members and their remote teammates, whether that includes informal, getting-to-know-you sessions, process training, or both. And when the new employee is the one who’s remote, onboarding should include a variety of communications to bring them into the fold. This might include a team-wide message introducing the remote employee, scheduling several virtual sessions with different colleagues or full teams, regular check-ins, and ensuring they have all the tools they need to successfully do their jobs. 

It can also be helpful to assign your new remote team member a “buddy,” someone who is not their manager but who can help them learn the ins and outs of the company. A common challenge for any new team member is simply not knowing who to ask when they have a question. This becomes even more difficult when you can’t walk around the office and ask whoever is around.

5. Remember to recognize

It’s important for managers to acknowledge the contributions and successes of all employees, but will be even more important to recognize employees who are still working from home and may come by recognition less naturally.

Giving remote employees a shout out in group Slack conversations, bringing up their contributions in team meetings, and sharing regular feedback with them can do wonders for their engagement and feeling of belonging at work.

Regular recognition also builds rapport between remote employees and in-person colleagues they don’t work with as frequently. In an office environment, even the co-workers you don’t work with regularly are part of your work life. On the other hand, remote employees can be a mystery to in-person colleagues they don’t work with. Recognition in group settings can combat that by making them a regular part of the wider conversation.

Beyond work-related recognition, include your remote employees in the more fun office perks whenever possible, too. While it’s impossible to include remote employees in some in-office treats like spontaneous office happy hours, the occasional Seamless gift card when the office gets catered lunch, a treat in the mail around the holidays, or mailing out team swag can help remote employees feel included in your team’s culture.

At the end of the day, compassion, communication, and inclusion are key to making any remote or hybrid work environment successful. Brands that prioritize their employees and their needs will be able to protect their greatest asset: their talent.

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