One of the most common complaints remote workers have is they sometimes feel like “second-class citizens,” compared to the people who go to the central location every day. Whether it’s true or not, (and the people in the home office probably are prepared to argue the point) the perception of unfairness is the same as if it’s a reality. So why do remote workers feel they aren’t getting a fair deal?
There are two reasons people who work outside the office feel they aren’t as important as those who schlep in every day. The first is communication flow. It can often seem like announcements and news are given to people at the central locations first and then to those who work elsewhere. The problem is that by then many of them have already heard from their co-workers and the rumor mills are already fired up.
The second thing is the feeling of being less important than those who share space with the boss. If you’ve ever been the person dialing in to a meeting room where most of the team is gathered, you know what it’s like to listen to everyone else contribute, not be able to get a word in edgewise, or even to be ignored completely.
Now, we are going to assume here that it’s not your intent to make one group feel less important than the other, and that any behavior that creates that impression is unintentional. As is so often the case, you just need to be intentional about doing the right thing.
So how does an effective Long-Distance Leader help their remote workers feel more first-class?
Time announcements intentionally.
One of the advantages of having everyone in the same place is it’s easy to get them together for announcements or to answer questions. Often, managers want to get the word out about something as soon as possible to the largest group of people, then reach out to those in the field. The problem is that by the time you arrange that conference call or web meeting, the folks who got the news first have already talked to the others. Try sending out a simple announcement to everyone at the same time, along with a promise that there will be a follow-up for those who are remote. At the very least they’ll get the broad strokes of the message and know their questions will be addressed in a timely manner. The perception that the boss or company is intentionally keeping people out of the loop is extremely corrosive (even if it’s almost always unintentional).
Try to level participation in virtual meetings.
When there are a lot of people in a conference room, there’s a tendency to address the in-person energy first. The problem is that the people dialing in often feel like an afterthought. First, there are likely no doughnuts at home, so the office folks are already getting special treatment. More importantly, though, meeting leaders tend to let those they can see speak first, sucking the air out of the meeting. There are a couple of things you can do to help address this:
- Have someone monitor the speaker phone for both incoming and outgoing clarity. If you have someone whose job it is to reduce noise, clarify and repeat important statements, and listen for when those who are remote are trying to be heard, the message will be loud and clear that those not in the room are an important part of the discussion.
- Start the discussion with remote participants. The tendency to let the people in the room speak first then call on the distant members sends a clear message: they’re more important than you are. Develop the habit of calling on the remote team members first, to create an environment that values everyone.
- Delegate thoughtfully. One of the perks of working remotely is that you “get left alone to get your work done” a lot.The good news is that you get left alone. The bad news is that when there are tasks to be done, you often don’t get the opportunity to shoulder your share of the team’s work, or to do assignments that allow you to shine. As a manager, it’s important that you are seen as fair when it comes to handing out assignments. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dirty job or a plum assignment, each member of the team should do their part regardless of where they are.
None of this is radical, but this is exactly the kind of thing that we don’t take into consideration when we lead remotely. Failing to appreciate the impact on your remote team members (whether you think it should matter or not) is exactly how we get into trouble.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.