You don’t have to look far to find someone lamenting that they can’t find good people. Next time you hear it, ask them about their pay, the benefits, the stability of the work schedule, and where their people live. The last part of that question might not be something they’ve been asked before. Some businesses don’t have the luxury of hiring team members from a faraway place. They make things or must use equipment that’s here, now, so the people involved have to be here, now. However, these companies may have work that doesn’t have to be done by someone in the local office, in a role that’s not easy to fill.
Look, I know you want to hire local, and I get that, but sometimes a great local person for a specific role doesn’t exist. This is particularly likely outside of large cities. If you need someone with specialized skills, they may not be easy to find until you expand your search beyond your town or county. Maybe they live 100 miles south or 1500 miles east. Somewhere out there, a qualified, experienced person exists who needs work, can work remote and is in a situation that makes it almost impossible to work under “normal conditions”. Maybe they can work all day, but they can’t leave the house until another family member comes home. Perhaps a family member is infirm and they need someone in the house with them. They may not be a 24 hour a day caregiver, but simply need to make three meals a day and help them keep track of meds. What kind of loyalty do you think is created when you give steady work to someone in that situation?
Where they are isn’t who they are
Stop using the word remote to describe people who work in a different physical location. It doesn’t matter if they work in a corner of their bedroom, or in a shop they created from a rented self-storage space on the other side of town. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cat on their lap most of the day, or a dog at their feet. They’re either part of your team or they aren’t. You didn’t hire them because of the cat or the dog. Not entirely, anyhow. You didn’t hire them because you could save $125 a month on additional office expenses (phone, power, 100 sq ft of office space, etc). They were hired because you needed someone to produce a result. You chose them because of their qualifications and specific experience to produce a result, so why undermine them with “Yeah, but they work remote, so….”.
Do you call our in-office employees “Local workers” or “in-house workers” or “non-remote workers”? Of course not. Adding “remote” unnecessarily differentiates them from team members who aren’t. You might think this is nothing, but the things managers / leaders say about other team members aren’t lost on your people. They may not react around you, but I guarantee they heard what you said. These signals tell your staff how to think about these folks and their “situation”.
Is it really surprising that this would happen when you don’t treat all of your staff members the same way? Until you stop internally classifying these folks as different, lesser, “special”, etc simply because of their location, why would anyone else? The team members around you pick up on subtle comments (whether they are digs or not) about their peers who work / live elsewhere.
Positioning them like that tells the rest of the team that we should feel differently about them. It serves no purpose, and in fact, such comments undermine them in the eyes of those who hear you make those comments. Why would Jerry trust a co-worker who lives somewhere else when you’re regularly making comments about Bill working in his underwear? Joking or not, it sends a message about Bill, no matter what he wears when he’s working – regardless of the quality of his work. Undermining Bill makes a subtle statement about your hiring judgement, if not your judgement as a whole. It doesn’t help build a unified team. Is that what these comments are designed to accomplish?
Working remotely can be different, but it doesn’t have to be. The best thing you can do to is treat them like the rest of the team and involve them in everything possible. Remote work is…. work.