How To Help Remote Workers Feel Included During Holiday Festivities

By Susan Milligan Nov 7, 2016
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Remote employment can be a boon to employer and worker: The worker is freed from the cost and hassle of commuting, while the company saves on providing workspace for the employee. But during the team-building holiday season, how can HR managers make sure "remote" is just about physical distance and not the relationship between employer and employee?

With telecommuting on the rise, ensuring that there is no disconnect is going to become a more common task for HR managers. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 37 percent of employees worked remotely at least some of the time. A Global Workplace Analytics study earlier this year showed that half of all jobs are compatible with telecommuting and that 80 percent to 90 percent of workers say they would like to work remotely at least some of the time.

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Like employees at the workplace, remote workers should be made to feel included, recognized and part of the team during the holidays, experts say. It just takes a bit more creativity and technology to make that happen.

Some advice from experts:

Use technology. Have a webinar holiday celebration, where each employee participates from his or her location. Webinars and Skype sessions are also great ways to talk about how the company is doing and to recognize the contributions individual employees have made to achieve that success, said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications at Michael C. Fina Recognition, a Long Island City, N.Y.-based retailer and employee recognition company.

And if there is an onsite holiday party or event, make sure every employee is invited, even if you think they won't be able to make it.

Consider flying in workers for a party. "We bring our remote team in for our company meeting and party. If this is not feasible, then creative gifts designed to make them feel like they are a part of the team are also an option," said David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, a Norwalk, Conn.-based HR outsourcing firm. The company has a handful of remote employees on its 60-member staff, and it flies all of them in for the event, he said. The cost is worth the benefit of having the entire staff feel like part of the team.

At eaHELP, a completely remotely staffed virtual assistant service, most workers are in the Atlanta area and are able to show up for the annual party, says HR Manager Krisha Buehler. But for those working farther away, the company picks up the cost of the travel, she said.

If there are many workers scattered all over the country or the world, take the party to them by having senior managers travel to satellite offices for holiday celebrations, said John Fleischauer, global talent acquisition manager for Halogen, an Ottawa, Ontario, Canada-based software company that has 480 workers around the world. One year, a manager dressed as Santa Claus for a party at the Australia office (in shorts, as is the custom Down Under).

Make it personal. At eaHELP, managers get together in person every year and hand-sign holiday cards to every employee. "They go a long way, those hand-written notes," Buehler said. "For us, it's a huge priority. We want people to feel cared for."

Give and promote giving. Company-branded gifts can make people feel more like a part of the team, but many companies also like to send subscription-type gifts, such as Birchbox personal care items or food. At Des Moines, Iowa-based Businessolver, an employee benefits administration firm, remote workers get a monthly snack box that mirrors the food offerings in the workplace headquarters, said chief strategy officer Rae Shanahan.

At Redwood City, Calif.-based Glint, which provides software for employee engagement, remote employees are encouraged to treat themselves and their families to a celebratory dinner on the company, said CEO Jim Barnett. "Although everyone can't physically celebrate, everyone deserves a chance to feel valued and take time to celebrate the year's wins," said Barnett, whose company employs about 100 people.

Ky Kingsley, North America vice president of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Robert Half Finance & Accounting, said the 16,100-worker company offers remote employees the opportunity to participate in a "white elephant" gift exchange, with the workers receiving a present by mail after donating one to the workplace party. And at the all-virtual recruitment firm Decision Toolbox, workers are sent slippers with the company logo. "You have to embrace virtuality and the fact that sometimes you work in slippers," said chief recruitment officer Nicole Cox.

Since the holidays are also a time when people like to volunteer, remote workers often appreciate being given a day off when they can do some charitable work, Himelstein said. Engaging workers at the holidays can come with a price tag, he noted, but such costs have to be balanced against the savings the company enjoys by having a remote workforce.

Susan Milligan is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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