With the recent global COVID-19 outbreak, many companies have adopted a remote work policy to keep employees safe and prevent further spread of the virus.

But even without this current threat, remote work is becoming the new normal for many companies: Surveys show that a whopping  40% to 70% of U.S. workers now telecommute at least once a week.

The ability to work remotely has benefits beyond the comfort of working from home or a favorite coffee shop; 85% of businesses agree that remote work enhances well-being, with employees experiencing less stress and increased morale. But with these upsides come some inherent challenges, such as workers feeling disconnected.

How can employers keep remote teammates just as involved as those who work on-site? From communication to recognition, we gathered five tips for including remote employees.

1. Make time to get to know them

Without a physical presence in the office, remote teammates may get overlooked in daily team and project updates. What’s more, they miss out on casual hallway conversations, office amenities and company events. Despite an abundance of chat, email and videoconferencing technologies, communication and collaboration is still the biggest struggle for 21% of remote workers.

While they don’t have the swivel-your-chair benefit, there are other ways to make remote employees feel socially present, such as regular check-ins and face-to-face interaction. Schedule video calls and weekly one-on-one meetings to get maximum face time with those who are off-site. Create time for informal conversation, as well, such as long-distance coffee dates. 

2. Manage meetings accordingly

Although technology allows remote employees to attend meetings from any location, it can be challenging for them to follow along. Acoustics in meeting rooms can be weak or muffled, and even a slight delay can result in on- and off-site workers talking over one another. To avoid disengagement, make an agenda and share materials ahead of time. 

Recording calls can help ensure remote teammates are still part of the discussion when technology is inconsistent or calls drop. And don’t forget to solicit feedback and participation from those who are remote, just as you do with those in the meeting room.

3. Involve them in projects and decisions

When deadlines are tight and changes happen quickly, remote employees can get left out of important decisions. Instead of apologizing after the fact, commit to including them in projects and decisions from the start, so they stay up-to-date and engaged. 

One good approach is to communicate all project changes and updates through a designated chat or messaging channel, used by both on-site and remote workers. A communication policy that ensures any decisions or updates must be documented in writing will force these channels to stay open and active for all teammates, regardless of location.

4. Include the whole team in celebrations

Working off-site helps eliminate distractions, with remote employees showing up to 50% greater productivity than those in the office. However, some of those “distractions” are actually valuable opportunities for team-building.

Happy hours, holiday parties and team lunches are some of the perks enjoyed by on-site employees — and working from home often means being left out. To make remote workers part of the fun, set up a video call to join in, or send them a special note or lunch treat. Sponsor travel for remote workers to attend big team celebrations in person, or plan a team offsite that requires everyone to travel. 

5. Find opportunities for recognition

Just like on-site employees, remote staff want appreciation and recognition for their work. Acknowledge the accomplishments of off-site teammates in front of their peers, whether it’s a shoutout in a team meeting or a formal email praising a project they completed. Whatever form of acknowledgment you choose, expressing your gratitude for their contributions lets remote employees know their work is meaningful.

Conclusion

Employees who work off-site are just as essential to the team as those who are on-site. With more people choosing to work remotely, it’s important for employers to adapt and adjust to the communication needs of these out-of-office workers. Making time for long-distance socializing, enforcing inclusive communication policies and actively recognizing remote teammates for their accomplishments are important ways to keep those who are out of sight top of mind.