Three tips to help you feel part of the team — even if you're miles away.

Remote work arrangements are growing in popularity as organizations increasingly recognize that the best talent may not exist within the local market. In fact, according to a joint study by Global Workforce Analytics and FlexJobs, 3.9 million U.S. employees work remotely, a figure that has jumped 115 percent since 2005.

In an age where technology makes it easier to work from virtually anywhere in the world, remote work arrangements hold appeal for many people, including eliminating the need for workplace attire or fighting rush-hour traffic. However, for employees who choose to work remotely, it can be a challenge to remain in the loop with co-workers and feel included in key projects and decisions. Here are four tips for staying connected when you work remotely.

#1: Get creative with telephone and video

Your co-workers in the office have the opportunity to collaborate face to face, building relationships in the lunchroom or at the water cooler. However, working remotely doesn't mean that you have to miss out on the team camaraderie. In fact, the creative use of traditional communication tools can help keep you connected.

The next time you want to send a quick note to a colleague to thank them for sending over an important file, do it by phone instead. A phone call gives you an opportunity to engage in conversation and build work relationships. When you speak to someone verbally, even if just for a moment or two, there's a higher chance of making a connection that can't be duplicated through email or Slack message.

Another way to stay connected with co-workers is to use video calls as much as possible — not just for meetings. Where possible, join training sessions, lunch and learns, and other company events by video conference. While your colleagues may be thinking of team get-togethers as something just for employees in the local office, if you suggest joining by video they're likely to be supportive.

Related: Use Your Words for Effective Communication in the Workplace

#2: Be an innovator

Your colleagues have the option of peeking their heads into the department manager's office or casually running an idea by a co-worker, and it may feel like you're being left out. However, another way to stay connected with the team and get around this obstacle is to develop a reputation for innovation. When others see you as the source of great ideas and creative solutions to problems, they're more likely to include you in important discussions and key decisions.

Here are some specific ways you can become the team innovator, even from afar:

  • Network: Get to know every single person within your scope of job influence and even those you don't work with very often. Call them on the phone, ask about their work, and build the relationship; it makes it easier to call on them for their opinions when you have a new idea to pitch to the team.

  • Challenge the status quo: Offer up new ways to make the team more efficient, or pick one of the team's pain points and volunteer to re-engineer it. When you're the center of the process, other members of the team are more likely to come to you with their ideas and suggestions.

  • Identify learning opportunities: Since change is inevitable in every company, take the lead in helping the team learn a new system or process. When you do so, you create opportunities to share with them what you've learned and how you think it can help the team be more productive.

#3: Find a buddy

Whether you call it a friend, a buddy, or a “work spouse,” you can benefit from having one, especially if you work remotely. Your work friend can introduce you to new members of the team and explain quirks in the office and team culture — things that are extremely beneficial when you're not in the office to see them for yourself.

Research conducted by Gallup found that having a friend at work helps you perform better. In the same study, they found that women who have a work buddy are 63 percent more engaged and connected to their work than those who don't have one. Some of the other ways a work friend can help you feel more in tune with the rest of the team are:

  • They can help you get recognized: Perhaps many of your co-workers don't know how hard you work or how committed you are to the success of the team. Yet, your work buddy probably knows. Whether in a meeting or via team email, a good work friend will be willing to highlight your successes for the rest of the team to see.

  • They share office “buzz”: Every office has a culture made up of various employee personalities and ways of doing things. When you're not in the office, you may not pick up on who's having a bad week or the general mood of the department. Your office buddy can clue you in on new initiatives, who just resigned, and other news that will keep you in the know and feeling like a part of it all.

Working remotely has its benefits and challenges, but you don't have to feel left out. With the right approach — and a friend or two to help — you can stay connected to the office and feel like you're right in the middle of the action.

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