The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

March 6, 2013

Balancing Act: Remote employees require care to feel like part of team

Working from home, hundreds of miles away from your boss, may sound like a perk, but that’s not always the case.

Ken Condren remembers the moment when he experienced the frustration his remote employees face. He was working from home, participating in a conference call and heard a side conversation going on, but had no idea what was being said. “I felt so out of the loop,” Condren recalls.

Today, businesses want the talent they want — and are more willing to hire or retain someone to fill a job even if they live or move thousands of miles away. Yet even with a great number of employees working remotely, nobody wants to be that guy who doesn’t get the inside joke during a conference call.

When the success of a team depends on the people — and all the people are scattered — it’s the manager who must make sure relationships stay vital and productivity high. Getting the most out of remote workers takes a manager who knows how to motivate and communicate from a distance. “Virtual workers still need a personal connection,” said strategic business futurist Joyce Goia, president of The Herman Group. “They want camaraderie and to feel like they are part of a team.”

More managers are using videoconferencing, instant messages and other collaborative software to help make remote workers feel like they are “there” in the office. Not being able to speak face-to-face can quickly be solved with Microsoft-owned Skype, Apple’s FaceTime or simple Voice over Internet Protocol systems.

Condren, vice president of technology at C3/CustomerContactChannels in Plantation, Fla., uses Microsoft Lync to connect virtually with a team spread across geographies and time zones. Employees see a green light on their screen when a colleague is available, signaling it’s a good time to video chat or instant message. Instead of meeting in physical conference rooms, team members get together in a virtual work room where they can hold side conversations during conference calls or meet in advance to prepare for the call. “You lose the visibility of waving hands during an in person meeting, but we can build that with virtual workspaces.”

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