Your on-site staff may have some serious resentment for their remote coworkers.
After all, Mary Sue battled 45 minutes of traffic to get to work, while Barry rolled out of bed and started his day in his PJs. Tom in VA had to work well past “normal” hours yesterday to meet with Sam who works from home in CA. And Barbara has been fielding dozens of emails this morning because Charlie is working from a noisy coffee shop and won’t jump on the phone.
While we often talk about the challenges that remote employees face, we sometimes forget that our on-site employees face a whole other set of issues to deal with, one of which is jealousy.
As a former leader of a virtual team that was scattered from Virginia to Oregon, and the only team member who had regular face-to-face contact with the on-site employees, I’ve seen firsthand how on-site staff can view their remote coworkers.
There is this idea that the remote employees have it easier somehow. They’re the lucky ones. The ones receiving this grand benefit that everyone else misses out on. And in many cases, on-site workers expect more out of remote employees than they do of themselves and their fellow on-site coworkers.
Here’s just a handful of the comments I’ve heard from on-site staff:
- “It must be nice to not have to come to the office.” This one was always said with a bit of snark. You know what? It is nice to not have to come to the office, but it’s also difficult to be isolated from the team and to continuously battle the perception that you aren’t working hard enough. I think that’s one reason why study after study shows that people who telecommute are just more productive than their office counterparts. While other factors come into play, they want to prove that they aren’t coasting. I know fighting that perception motivated me, often to the point of burnout.
- “She doesn’t return my messages quickly enough.” A general rule of thumb is to give recipients 24 hours to respond, unless the issue is urgent, and then you need to make the recipient aware that the issue is, in fact, urgent. However, on-site employees often perceive a slow response as a sign that the remote worker is off galavanting. That’s why so many remote workers waste time and energy constantly checking email because they fear how they will be perceived if they don’t respond immediately. The same expectation is just not there for on-site staff.
- “I haven’t been able to reach him.” Turns out the person called my remote employee three times but never left a message. As a result, the remote employee couldn’t return the call. This one still gets under my skin because I honestly believe the caller was trying to pull a “gotcha” on my remote employee. There are many reasons why someone doesn’t answer the phone: they’re focusing on a priority, already talking to someone, or in the bathroom, for Pete’s sake. The expectation that a remote employee should be available to on-site people every second is, quite frankly, unrealistic.
- “Well, we’ve been pulling incredibly long hours in the office.” OK, the remote workers of the world get it. On-site employees have to commute to the office and, yeah, a long day in the office may feel longer than a long day at home. Maybe. But here’s the thing, remote workers work long days too, perhaps more often than their on-site team members. Even if they don’t, again studies show that remote workers accomplish more in less time than their on-site counterparts, because they deal with fewer distractions and can focus for longer spurts of time. They leave the office for lunch less, don’t waste time gossiping and chatting with coworkers, take fewer sick and personal days, and more.
As a leader, you need your on-site and off-site employees to work well together, so what should you do to shift perceptions of what it means to work virtually? If you can, open up telecommuting, even just occasionally, to all your employees. Not everyone wants to telecommute, but having the option, for example, when a child is sick, is a nice perk. Plus, when on-site workers experience the challenges of working remotely, they’ll be a bit more empathetic toward their full-time virtual teammates.
Additionally, and this is perhaps most important, ensure that you are acknowledging the day-to-day efforts of remote employees (in addition to on-site staff). Ensure that everyone fully understands the contributions and extra effort of virtual employees. When on-site staff is aware of how much virtual teammates do, they’ll be less likely to question their work ethic.
Finally, it’s critical to openly communicate about the challenges of working on a hybrid team. That’s the key to reducing tension among team members and establishing realistic expectations for everyone involved.
Have you ever mediated a conflict between on-site and remote employees? What happened? And how did you handle it?
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