The ability to connect in real time across the globe has become so easy that we often work with, and manage, teams of people that are separated by distance, time zones and even oceans.
Sometimes entire teams work remotely (i.e. virtual teams), but usually there’s a core team in a primary location and a few remote workers.
Although these tools have made it easier to work together, there’s a very human element to effectively working together but separately. It’s critical to maintain discipline and good practices around the human side of communications and collaboration when you have remote workers to avoid fear of missing out (FOMO) problems, which can kill morale and devastate productivity.
Ready to get the most out of remote employees? Read on.
What is FOMO and what does it have to do with remote employees?
FOMO is an acronym for the fear of missing out. It refers to the discomfort and anxiety people can feel when they believe that they’re being left out of important social interactions.
In your personal life, examples of FOMO could include being upset your friends went to see a movie without you or feeling trapped sick at home while your friends take a road trip. Ever known someone who didn’t get included in the bridal party or someone who didn’t make the cut to be a groomsman? The results of their FOMO can be felt far and wide.
This same drive not to miss anything extends to our work lives as well.
Considering many people spend as much or more time with their coworkers as they do their personal friends, social relationships and status at work affect us deeply, even we don’t think about them as consciously.
It’s the reason that people feel compelled to check their work email from the beach while they’re on vacation. They don’t want to miss a thing an they’re subconsciously (or consciously) worried about what will happen if they do.
At work, something as simple as not getting invited to lunch or happy hour can activate FOMO—even if it was an unintentional oversight. So imagine how left out employees can feel if they’re working from home while the main office team goes out for a team building activity or if they’re asleep across the ocean while most of the rest of the team is collaborating and making decisions on a project that affect them.
Remote employees are at much higher risk of FOMO. But there’s plenty you can do about it, and there are plenty of benefits from keeping FOMO at bay for remote workers.
Benefits of reducing remote worker FOMO
Reducing remote worker FOMO isn’t just a touchy-feely exercise. There are genuine benefits for the business:
- Increased morale
- Improved collaboration
- Increased productivity
The in-person advantage
A lot of the psychological needs of work are taken for granted when it comes to people that work together in an office day in and day out. Relationships are significantly easier to build in person. We talk about our families, the local weather, how good or bad our local sports team did this weekend, we eat together—the list goes on. These activities are key to building strong interpersonal relationships and highly functional teams.
Enter the office worker and remote worker dynamic.
If our need to connect on a human level is so strong, how do you do that with someone that works remotely 90-100 percent of the time? You guessed it— collaboration software. But software is only so helpful if you don’t use it to its full potential.
Here is how you can reduce FOMO for remote workers.
Make sure everything is covered in the tool
This is simple in concept, but hard to execute. One of the many benefits of a team collaboration tool is to provide transparency to those on the team. If you are working with someone who physically sits next to you in the office, your initial thought may be to just pop over to their desk, get work done and then communicate out to the team what you completed.
But what if the work you are doing or discussing happens to affect people not sitting in your office? Maybe they could benefit from seeing the process and thought process it took to get to a decision. When you communicate out what you have done and the remote person hears about it later—you just activated their FOMO.
Even if you don’t have every conversation in the tool, at least having key points and decisions detailed in your tool is helpful so people who are effected can speak up—especially if they information or suggestions that could be helpful.
Having everything covered in your tool is also helpful for new employees or employees who go on vacation or leave. If you’ve done a good job here, everyone in your team has access to the full context of projects and conversations. You can skip lengthy debriefings or interrupting someone on vacation or asking around for information because that information is all sitting in your collaboration tool.
Remember the people not in the room
Be contentious o f the conversations you are having in the office, or even after a meeting ends as you walk back to your desk. The remote worker isn’t there to listen in or participate. If those conversations feel like they should be to the larger group, drop them into the collaboration tool and discuss them there. That way remote workers aren’t left out of important context and decisions that could confuse or hamper them later.
Thinking of the people not in the room goes double for group collaboration sessions and conference calls. Ever dialed in to a conference bridge and realize someone’s pointing to something they’ve drawn on a whiteboard that you can’t see? Or heard someone refer to a slide in a presentation you can’t see?
That worker’s effectiveness and ability to contribute is drastically reduced. And you’re simultaneously sending the message that their contributions aren’t as valuable as the people in the room. So if you’re going to share, make sure you have video collaboration or screen sharing set up so everyone who’s participating can follow along and contribute.
Share your surroundings
Most people like to see with their own eyes what you are talking about. When working remotely I’ve often found myself wondering where someone is sitting and what it looks like there.
Everyone has a great camera on their cell phones these days. Don’t be afraid to snap a picture of your desk, the view out the window from your workspace, the people in the office, etc.
Be available and responsive
One of the perks of working in an office is that you can typically turn around or walk down a hall to chat with someone. It’s especially convenient if you have to pin down someone down who doesn’t typically respond to email or phone calls. But remote workers don’t have this option.
If you don’t answer a remote worker on the channels often ignored by in-office workers (email, phone, chat), that employee is flying blind. They don’t have the information they need to do their job. Their productivity comes to a halt. And on top of that they probably feel undervalued and ignored. None of those things are plusses for company productivity.
So if you have remote employees, make it a point to respond to them, even if you normally ignore certain communications channels for in-office people. Because the electronic lifeline of communications and collaboration technology is the only line remote workers have to you.
PRO TIP: Don’t rely on email as your primary means of communications and collaboration. Emails are notorious for getting lots and ignored. Online collaboration tools like MiCollab and MiTeam are typically much more effective than email and tend to elicit greater collaboration and faster responses.
Humans are programmed to cue on faces from the time we’re babies. It’s the reason some people see faces in clouds or leaves (a phenomenon called pareidolia). And most experts agree a huge amount of communication is non-verbal.
That’s why it’s crucial to use video regularly to communicate and collaborate with remote employees.
Since remote workers don’t have access to the rich in-person interactions of employees at your offices, video is their only chance to get back much of the context others get by seeing the person they’re talking to.
Employees who work together for a while get to know each other’s mannerisms. Skilled employees and managers can even judge expressions and body language of people they don’t know well. A shrug can change the direction of a conversation. A grimace can stop a conversation altogether. But without these visual cues, a great employee can see misaligned or tone deaf.
An empty pause on the phone could mean one of a hundred things. But with visual context, the meaning may be immediately clear.
So make sure to use video for both one-on-one and group communications regularly. It humanizes everyone and fosters greater alignment and productivity because a voice on the other end of a phone doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Give the humans a place to be humans
“Work” isn’t always about work. Social interactions are an important part of business and how employees work together. An easy way to account for this aspect of work life for remote workers is to create channels or streams in your team collaboration tools for non-work related conversations—places for people to talk about shared group interests. My team has found a few that work great for us:
Good Finds – Drop links and information in here that are directly related to the type of work we do and to the industry we are in. Make sure to add a sentence on two on your takeaway or why you found it to be interesting.
Random Stuff – The name speaks for itself. Sometimes it’s funny cat videos and sometimes it’s long read editorials on state of affairs in our country. Again, it’s things we think are interesting but really have nothing to do with the work we do. PRO TIP: Most companies will want to avoid taboo office topics, like politics and religion.
Music – Through our interpersonal interactions, we discovered that we all have a shared interest in music. When we listen to something we think is good, we post it here. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone from the type of music they like to listen to.
Invent your own – Every team is different. Figure out what kind of streams help your team feel more like a team.
Making sure remote workers are full team members
Remote work isn’t just about providing someone with a phone and a laptop. It’s about providing them with a way to connect with the team in a way that makes them feel and produce like full team members.
Successfully running a team of remote workers takes commitment, patience and – most importantly – trust. The fear of missing out is a very strong force that can directly impact employee satisfaction and performance.
Pay close attention to it and work to ease that fear. Remember that the way you interact is just as important as the technology you use to do it. Do all this and you’ll be rewarded.