Remote work is no longer a thing of the future — it’s very much how we work now. Eighty-four percent of Millennial workers (Source: “The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey,” 2017) report some degree of flexible working arrangements at their current employers, and advocates claim benefits can range from increased workforce diversity, productivity, and retention to reduced stress and costs.
Telecommuting does have downsides, of course. According to a 2018 study, 100% of remote workers report that they very often feel isolated, and 60% of those workers feel lonely as a result (Source: “Global Work Connectivity” report, 2018). Before I joined Sotheby’s International Realty, I worked in London, where I was on a regular conference call with a dispersed team. People called in from their desks, and I noticed many of them were multitasking and working on other projects throughout the call. The same individuals later expressed that they’d felt excluded from the conversation.
I realized that I needed to create more engagement among my in-house Londoners, so I started sitting in a conference room and inviting my teammates to join me. Eventually, the call took place with everyone who was local in the room. This opened up communication by giving the London team an opportunity to confer in person.
In an increasingly dispersed workforce, leaders must figure out how to foster that same kind of engagement when people can’t be physically present. Considering that disengaged workers are much more likely to leave a company (Source: Glassdoor report, 2018), this is key to retention in the remote workforce. As companies begin offering more opportunities for remote work, they must also learn to attract the best remote workers and keep them engaged. In my experience, the simplest approaches tend to be the most effective.
1. Assess Strengths Early
Embracing individuality can serve as a foundation for greater creativity, innovation, and success — but getting to the heart of who employees are, how they work, and what drives them can be difficult when you don’t see or interact with them every day.
Do your best to get a sense of people’s work styles, strengths, and weaknesses during the interview process. Use multiple communication tools — phone, email, Skype — to learn how tech savvy your interviewees are and how well they can communicate via different channels. Have conversations about work preferences with your potential hires: How do they like to communicate? What challenges do they face working remotely? And if you’re interviewing them as part of a panel, speak with them one-on-one.
At our annual company meeting, we conducted the Insights Discovery Profile with the goal of gaining deeper insights into communication styles and preferences. People not only felt seen and understood, but they also reported that they could improve their communication with teammates because they understood their differences in work styles and preferences.
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2. Enhance Your Engagement Efforts With Technology
If you’ve ever misconstrued an email from a co-worker or friend, you understand the challenge of conveying tone without the aid of body language. In fact, research shows that more than 65% of communication is nonverbal (Source: The New York Times article, 2006). That’s a large amount of context left to chance for remote workers. For quick check-ins, there are plenty of internal messaging tools available (e.g., Slack), and channels that encourage nonwork-based discussions help co-workers get to know one another on a more personal level.
Instead of relying solely on email or phone conversations in your remote recruiting process, make use of live video. It will give you a better feel for a candidate’s personality. I’ve started implementing video in my own hiring processes. Along with establishing better connections earlier, live video can actually speed up the hiring process. Case in point: After launching video interviews, Hilton Worldwide’s average time to hire fell from 42 days to just five (Source: The Economist article, 2018).
3. Provide Authentic Communication Opportunities
Higher salary, development opportunities, and greater autonomy all contribute to an individual’s decision to go with one employer over another. But a company’s culture is most important to recruitment (Source: Korn Ferry survey, 2018). Unfortunately, opportunities to connect with a culture can be limited in a dispersed workforce.
To remedy this, bring new team members into headquarters right away so they get face time with a variety of teams within the organization. Early visits lay the foundation of the connections that will sustain remote work relationships. I try to connect with my remote team members in person at least once every other month — whether I have them come to our office or I visit them in the field.
Regular companywide meetings are another avenue for building authentic culture among remote workers. Sotheby’s International Realty, for example, now holds regular town hall meetings with participants from Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa. We’ve also established two affinity groups: one for women and another for next-generation sales associates. These meetings create opportunities for people to come together and connect in real ways, even if they telecommute.
From a recruiting standpoint, authentic connection with company culture often means employees become stronger advocates for the organization. We’ve seen that our affiliates who tend to recruit top talent are those most engaged with our brand; they’re able to share their passion with curious job seekers, potential consumers, and the community at large.
Hiring and retaining remote workers can be a challenge. There’s a lot of competition among employers, with more offering compensation and benefits packages designed to give the changing workforce exactly what it wants (Source: Entrepreneur article, 2018). So communicate effectively, make the most of your tools, and assess and leverage the strengths of your team. This isn’t new advice, but it’s more challenging in a remote context. When you emphasize engagement and authentic connections, you’ll be in a better position to find and keep the best remote candidates.
Julie Leonhardt LaTorre is chief operating officer of Sotheby’s International Realty LLC, where she drives strategic growth globally, expands top-notch service initiatives, and develops tools for affiliates to better serve clients. Julie has a wide range of professional experience; she is an experienced commercial real estate finance attorney, management specialist, and has also worked in the nonprofit and educational sectors.