Embracing the Remote Worker

~ by Jared Whelan, Senior Vice President of Northern Sales & Operations at Matlen Silver


In my last blog, I explored lessons learned throughout the pandemic from the perspective of establishing and nurturing client relationships. I used words like “empathy” and “adaptability” and stressed the importance of intentionally creating opportunities for meaningful engagement. As it turns out, those lessons have also provided a glimpse into how we can approach another challenge illuminated and magnified by the Covid19 lens – embracing the remote worker.

This is a nuanced challenge that requires successful navigation of a classic trifecta of hurdles in establishing the optimal workforce environment – mental, physical, and emotional.

Approaching remote work with the right state of mind

Let’s start with the mental. This may hurt a bit, so brace yourself: THE REMOTE WORKER IS HERE TO STAY …at least in some capacity. The sooner you can accept this, the sooner you can move forward with defining what that looks like for your organization. Maybe that means remote work “as needed”, or maybe you implement a hybrid schedule, or maybe your firm goes full send and transitions to 100% remote – this is not an OSFA solution.

Owl Labs reported 16% of companies globally are 100% remote, and around 62% of employees aged 22 to 65 say they work remotely at least occasionally. It’s safe to say those numbers were much higher at different times over the last 2 years.

Please understand, I have no interest in arguing the supremacy or benefits of on-site versus remote work; I’ve already firmly planted myself on the Jamie Dimon side of this mountain. I believe onsite, in-person teamwork and learning are ideal…but that’s not the question, or the issue, or even the point. Given that the challenge to attract and retain skilled employees has reached all-time levels, the reality facing most any hiring manager is this: if you’re not willing to offer your prospective talent remote flexibility, someone else is…often for equal or more money!

“Businesses know they must get creative to attract and retain top talent.
And the ones that do will reap the rewards.”

– Forbes

Let’s put it in terms of something near and dear to my heart…pizza. I’m sure the Trader Joe’s gluten-free, cauliflower crust pizza is a very good product. In fact, I’m willing to concede it is indeed healthier and more beneficial for me to consume than its traditional counterpart. However, once you’ve had a slice from Joe’s Pizza of Greenwich Village, Sally’s of New Haven, or Pizza Bedia of Philly…that Trader Joe’s box will fold under questioning! Once you’ve experienced something so significant to your life’s quality and balance, you are never going to want to relinquish it – that goes for pizza and remote work flexibility.

Meaningful first impressions create a successful transition to remote work

Having cleared the mental hurdle (hopefully), we still have two other obstacles looming. How do we overcome the challenge of emotionally embracing a remote worker who is not physically onsite? Once again, it comes down to intentionally creating opportunities for meaningful engagement.

Creating these opportunities does not have to be arduous or complicated. Many of the things you can implement or experiment with are small but have a great impact. I’m not discounting the benefits of a grand gesture, but the more subdued moments can often generate a deeper feeling of gratitude, authenticity, and connection.

For example, during the interview process, are you simply running your candidates through the gauntlet of Talent Acquisition and Hiring Managers? A more effective way of creating connection would be to offer your prospective employee an opportunity to have a casual meeting with an existing member of the team – perhaps, a remote member of the team who can testify to their positive experience. Ask anyone who was recruited to play a sport in college – the coach is always going to make the opportunity sound great, but it’s the existing players on the team who offer them a more realistic and authentic vision.

And what is your onboarding experience like for your remote team members? Is it fragmented and mostly done via email or automated prompts? Think about the experience you would like to have as a new team member. What if, upon acceptance, you received a call from the CEO or Regional VP welcoming you to the team? What if an onboarding specialist called to introduce themselves and let you know they’ll be your personal liaison throughout the process, letting you know exactly what to expect and when?

At Matlen Silver, every new team member receives a new hire swag box with the following branded items: notebook, pens, highlighter, hat, laptop camera cover, coffee mug, a bag of ground coffee, and a wireless all-purpose charger. Everyone loves it, and it’s not uncommon for recipients to post a picture of their new gear on LinkedIn to express their gratitude. Depending on your budget, you can get super creative with a new hire kit. I’ve seen everything from laptop backpacks or name-brand fleece jackets to journal books or plastic tumblers. Whatever you do, understand this is an investment in your people – like training or tools – and every bit as important to cultivating your company culture.

Continual connections make remote work successful

Keeping your remote team engaged is a continual process. We conduct virtual status meetings twice per day for about 10-15 minutes, which gives everyone a chance to see and hear one another. Plus, every team member has a weekly 1v1 with their leader.

We are intentional about sending internal notifications to celebrate new hires, birthdays, work anniversaries, life events (marriages, births, etc.), and we even celebrate every placement along with recognizing the team members involved. Whether sending a cup of coffee to your team on Employee Appreciation Day or spotlighting a team member in your monthly newsletter, it’s about being intentional about bringing people together and ensuring they know they are valued.

Another idea we are kicking around is internal virtual coffee sessions. These would be 15- or 20-minute impromptu meetings including 4-5 team members, where they grab a cup of coffee and get to know each other a little better. Perhaps a recruiter in Denver and a salesperson in Atlanta discover they both own Bernadoodles. Or a Sales Director in Charlotte learns the new Account Manager in Cincinnati roots for the same football team as she does. Or maybe it winds up being parents talking about their kids for 20 minutes – it doesn’t matter, so long as they’re connecting. Does this cut into production time? Absolutely. But again, this is an investment in your people and your culture.

Remote work is a defining part of the modern work culture

Identifying and retaining talent is as competitive as it’s ever been. While integrating remote work is not without its challenges, it is also an exciting opportunity to expand your talent pool and sphere of influence – to find people who are not only a culture-fit but a culture-add as well. The companies who remain agile and innovative without abandoning their cultural principles will be in a better position to attract their desired talent. People who feel valued, connected, supported, and empowered will perform optimally no matter where they sit. If you haven’t already, it’s time to embrace the remote worker!

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