Remote Inclusion: Providing Support and Opportunity to Employees Working from Home

by Brylee Horning Vol. 48 No. 7 2021
Work-from-home models aren’t going away anytime soon, so even as more companies begin to bring employees back into the office, it is important to focus on keeping remote employees engaged and supported.

Brylee Horning,
vice president of human resources and compliance,
Orion First Financial

Nearly two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the equipment leasing industry to continue to provide essential finance solutions to business owners while following necessary safety protocols to protect the health of employees, partners and customers. Those protocols involved limiting the employee presence in traditional workplaces. Many bustling in-person office models were hurriedly replaced with work-from-home/remote models. However, once again, the ever-adaptive equipment finance industry has traversed a scary and unprecedented time, and in doing so, it has learned that “business as usual” can continue.

As we embark on 2022, many organizations will once again return to varying degrees of the in-office workday, while there will also be a percentage of employees who continue to work from home for the immediate future or indefinitely. Due to this evolving dynamic, an important question has surfaced for employers: “How can I ensure my remote employees continue to be recognized, supported and valued in the same manner as in-office employees?” To address this question, we will discuss how employers can utilize the concepts of employee engagement, peer empathy and professional development to solve this challenge.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement equates to the commitment and interest that an employee has in their role and the organization for which they work. Employee engagement can impact factors such as employee retention and quality of work. Therefore, it is important for employers to take interest in their employee’s engagement levels and take measures to ensure its remote workforce experiences the same rewarding drive and dedication an in-office employee enjoys. Remote employees need to know their presence and participation is valued and they have an impact on the greater team as a whole. Virtual meetings should be collaborative and participatory whenever possible. Informative meetings should not only convey the necessary information, but they should also promote further discussion among the attending remote group. Having dedicated Q&A sessions for employees to submit their comments or raise their virtual “hand” can be an easy way to get remote employees to weigh in on a discussion without the fear of interrupting others. Meeting organizers should endorse an attentive presence at virtual meetings to show everyone (despite geographical distances) is present and ready to connect with the topic. In other words, encourage all attendees to set aside their email inbox or work list and be invested in the meeting at-hand.

Additionally, companies should ensure that remote employees can utilize technology with ease so visual and vocal representation can be effectively facilitated throughout the entire organization. When onboarding a new employee, a simple way to build new employee confidence (while reducing technological anxiety) is to have their manager schedule an informal welcome call allowing the manager to get to know the employee while assisting them with a “test” virtual meeting. During the meeting, the manager can walk them through how to log into the company’s virtual meeting venue, activate their webcam and test their volume controls. This can be especially beneficial to new employees who may be working from home for the first time.

Managers should not exclusively use check-in meetings for the purpose of evaluating a remote employee’s performance or the department’s workload. Asking questions about how they are enjoying their role/working from home or the state of their technology or workplace needs demonstrates a company’s support of the remote employee. Keep in mind, these questions are not only beneficial to ask of newer employees, but are equally important to ask of long-standing employees who may have been working remotely already. By optimizing open communication through collaborative meetings, effortless technology and sincere engagement, employers can show the care and concern they have for their remote employees while gaining an appreciation for the experiences employees are feeling in their roles.

Promote Empathy

Another important factor in demonstrating the value of a company’s remote workforce is promoting empathic behavior throughout the entire organization. Empathy is a critical value that asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of others and understand from where they may be coming. When employees verbalize their understanding of fellow employees, be it on their immediate team or within the entire organizational structure, it helps to build a sense of community and, ultimately, strengthens company culture.

For the benefit of the remote employee, empathy can be demonstrated in small acts like downplaying another’s barking dog in the background or understanding the dynamic of a remote employee who is also a parent or caregiver. Working from home may afford working parents and caregivers with flexibility and convenience, but it also adds another dimension to their day and physical workspace. Having an awareness for all employees’ work-life balance lends itself to creating a culture of empathy within an organization because it is reflective of an employee community built on thoughtfulness and compassion (which are characteristics of any impressive team).

Professional Development

Lastly, it is important for companies to demonstrate that they are genuinely interested in the career goals and professional development of their remote workforce. Managers should deploy the same growth benefits to those working from home as they would to employees who maintain an in-office presence. There are several continued education opportunities, networking groups and conferences that can be attended 100% online and provide the same professional benefits to those who attend remotely. Companies should promote these online opportunities to ensure their remote workforces remain at the cutting edge of industry development and professional knowledge. Additionally, managers should continually inquire about the career goals and professional aspirations of their remote employees. In doing so, managers should also provide feedback and virtual face-to-face time on how employees can work toward achieving such goals.

There is no question that the remote employee population has grown over the past two years, and in doing so, it has become a significant consideration deserving permanent interest and attention. Companies should take measures to ensure their remote workforce enjoys the same level of inclusion as in-office employees. Concerted efforts in collaboration, technology, employee behavior and management support will be essential factors in assuring remote employees they are valued and fairly represented in their place of work and that they will be afforded the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else.

Brylee Horning is vice president of human resources and compliance at Orion First Financial. She is responsible for the direction of team member training, engagement and compliance. Horning is a Certified Lease & Finance Professional who has been working in the equipment leasing and finance industry for more than 18 years. She began in the origination side of the industry and worked in funding and credit and then ultimately advanced into the role of vice president of credit and syndication for Summit Commercial Finance.

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