Promoting a culture of collaboration is hard enough when employees are all in the same place. Even companies with only one location can be so siloed that people in the same building but different functional areas resist collaborating.
So how do you get employees working from home to collaborate with others? That starts with laying some groundwork that will be the foundation of future collaboration.
Employees are more likely to collaborate with people they know. In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents told us they feel much more comfortable sharing ideas when they already have a relationship with their collaborative partners.
Home-based employees don’t get the opportunity to bump into people in the hallway. While office-based employees may exchange a few words in the elevator, the break room or the cafeteria, home-based folks probably see the UPS guy more than their co-workers.
Building human connections happens one conversation at a time. But even just having a face to attach to a name seems to help. In our research, employees said they’re better able to collaborate by phone and email with colleagues in other locations when they’ve met them in person at least once.
It’s important to provide home-based employees with opportunities to brush shoulders with their office-based colleagues. For major projects, try to have them attend some meetings in person, even if that means travel. If there’s an annual managers’ meeting or sales conference, they can build the beginnings of relationships there, especially during the non-meeting portions of the meeting where people have an opportunity to interact socially.
Another brick in the foundation for collaboration is to help home-based employees not feel invisible. Being the only voice on the Polycom phone in the center of the conference room table is tough when all the other meeting participants can see each other. Promote a meeting culture that’s consciously inclusive of remote callers and gives them a chance to weigh in on the conversation.
If there are company events they don’t customarily attend because of travel, don’t forget your home-based employees exist. When Tribe helped plan a global employee event that occurred on the same day in 28 offices around the world, we sent the small minority of home-based employees an event in a box. They received a package (no doubt delivered by their buddy the UPS guy) that included the same T-shirt everyone else received at the event, plus the themed collateral, printed buttons, a noisemaker and even a cookie.
Those sorts of tactics may not seem directly tied to promoting collaboration. They may even feel a little fluffy. But you can’t just tell people “Okay, now collaborate.” First, you have to help them feel comfortable doing so. Not so ironically, there’s a clear business benefit to treating all those office-based employees with common courtesy and kindness.
Interested in building engagement and collaboration in your work force? Tribe can help.