How do you keep your remote workers engaged and productive when they’re working from home or out of sight most of the time?
Telecommuting isn’t just reserved for IT professionals and C-level executives anymore. In fact, the remote workplace is becoming so common that driving miles across town to an office, parking in the lot, taking the elevator up to the office level, and then settling in amongst a sea of cubicles seems almost outdated. Conference calls, once the hallmark of office life, are now giving way to WebEx sessions, video chats, and other collaborative meeting options. Technology has made it easier than ever to work remotely – and studies show productivity increases substantially when workers are allowed to work from home or otherwise sign in remotely.
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they [are] at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.” – Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group
Ways to Keep Remote Workers Engaged
Now that you’ve created a remote workplace environment for some of your direct reports, keep the following eight essential tips in mind to keep employees working from home engaged:
- Touchpoints are Everything
It’s easy to make small talk with your employee down the hall over a morning cup of coffee or donut in the breakroom, but what about the worker who is logged in from home? In this case, you’ll boost engagement and the personal buy-in of the employee by creating planned touchpoints throughout the workweek. Use these connection points to do more than simply check in on the employee, though – learn more about them on a personal level, ask for feedback and their thoughts on the remote workplace process, and demonstrate that you care about them and their development.
- Include Remote Workers Virtually
Remote employees can easily start feeling like they aren’t truly part of the team when interfacing with the physical office, possibly leading them to resent those who meet onsite. Potlucks, birthday celebrations, company announcements and more can begin to feel like they’re geared toward those in the office – and not all employees at the company. Instead, use live video streams to link up employees working from home with those on location to create one, unified team. Once you eliminate the “us vs. them” mentality that can be common among remote workers, you’ll enhance productivity, reduce turnover and create a more cohesive team.
- Encourage Conversations Between Onsite and Remote Employees
Use available tools like Skype or Google Hangouts to promote casual conversations and “getting-to-know-you” sessions among both on-site and remote workers. Even those who do work at home will likely visit the physical office at least a few times per year, but the lack of daily interaction with peers can quickly alienate even the most independent of employees. To create a collaborative workplace, even when remote workers are part of the equation, encourage employees to chat virtually and discover interesting tidbits about their peers. You can host a bingo game that prompts players to find out unique or exciting things about other employees; then, the first two winners could receive a prize – like lunch or a gift card to a favorite coffee shop. Try to balance the number of work-related conversations and personal chats to drive serious camaraderie and collaboration.
- “Swag” Up Their Home Office
As mentioned earlier, remote workers often feel disconnected from the main office, but showing them that they are valued and appreciated will go a long way toward keeping morale in check. One way to do this is by outfitting their home office with company swag and branded goodies to remind them of their teammates. We’re not suggesting they sit at home wearing company-logo apparel from head to toe (though that is certainly an option), but something as simple as company-branded pens, notepads, calendars, and other handy office items will elevate morale, performance and the sense of team among home-based or remote workers.
- Think Employees, Not Hired Hands
One of the greatest things about agreeing to a remote working arrangement with one or more employees is the boost in productivity you’ll likely see. Simply put, remote workers get more done in less time – and that’s all you can ask for as a leader of home-based employees. But this high-efficiency approach to task completion can leave many remote workers feeling like “hired hands” – not full-fledged company employees who have unique aspirations and clearly-defined goals. To overcome this concern, make it a point to meet with your remote workers at least twice per year to conduct focused coaching sessions around their personal and professional development plans. Make sure they are making adequate progress toward their goals. Follow up with a future meeting dates to reevaluate the plan. Keep it about their personal growth and careers, and you’ll instantly solidify the strength of your team.
- Create a Culture, Not a Mission Statement
To foster a culture of engagement and performance among remote workers first requires defining, creating, and supporting a culture at your business or organization. Forget the mission statement – your remote workers must understand what your company stands for, what the ultimate goals are and the metrics used to define them, the overall company vision as created by senior leadership, and how each worker can integrate with the company to support the organization’s defined goals. By more intimately understanding the company culture, remote workers will feel a greater sense of empowerment to make decisions for the good of the company. This reduces the need for managers to micromanage employees, too.
- Provide Sufficient Autonomy
Your remote workers expect some level of autonomy. After all, they operate under a commonly-agreed upon work schedule and must deliver results to keep their jobs. Treat them like the adults they are and afford them as much autonomy as possible. Find the ideal balance between a moderately hands-off approach and accountability to create an engaged remote worker who feels valued and trusted. Though autonomy is a good thing, there will be times when your home-based employee will have to react quickly to company demands – requiring you to come to an agreement as to what constitutes a work emergency or compressed deadline and what doesn’t.
- Put Appropriate Systems in Place
Your remote workers will feel engaged if they are supported by you, their peers, and also a robust technology package that keeps them connected and organized at all times. Virtually all businesses with remote workers opt to use popular project management tools like Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, Active Collab and more, to keep employees connected to one another and actively collaborating on projects.
Working remotely doesn’t equate to a holiday from the office. Instead, home-based or remote access workers may outwork and out-produce those who opt to work in a traditional office environment. Statistics prove this assertion, showing remote workers work longer hours, are more productive, take fewer sick days and return to work quicker after medical concerns. If you’re ready to create an engaged and high-performance team who just happens to work from home, keep the eight tips above in mind and you’ll boost your company’s performance in no time.
If you’re an employee interested in remote work, check out Working From Home Part 1 to find tips on how to get your boss to approve working remotely!