As technology changes the way the world works, remote workforce engagement is growing in importance. The world of traditional, 9-to-5 work is slipping away, according to Global Workplace Analytics and numerous other studies:
- 5 million employees (3.6% of the workforce) currently work-at-home half-time or more.
- Working at home has grown by 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce (which grew 15%) and nearly 47x faster than the self-employed population (which grew by 4%).
- If they could, 99% of people would choose to work remotely, at least part-time, for the rest of their careers.
Still, many organizations think that remote employees are impossible to engage with and, worse, a belief prevails that if they’re not in the office, remote employees aren’t getting work done.
Whether it’s full-time or just occasionally, your people are working remotely. And keeping them engaged while they’re doing so takes strategy.
"The modern workforce is increasingly mobile, collaborative [and] dynamic, and comprises multi-generations, all with differing communication preferences," said Stacey Epstein, CEO of Zinc, in an interview with BusinessNewsDaily.com. "These workers span multiple industries … all who represent unique challenges when it comes to staying connected while on the job."
Here are five proven ways to build remote workforce engagement.
1. Small Talk Really Matters to Remote Employees
Water cooler chat, drop-by get-together—whatever you want to call a break from tasks for idle talk—is important to all of your workers, regardless of whether they’re co-located or not. According to one study by Slack, 85% of workers want to feel closer to their remote colleagues.
Not every communication with your remote employees needs to be work-focused. Don’t be afraid to drop the occasional off-topic email, instant message or funny GIF.
As HBR.org puts it:
2. Make Time for Face-to-Face
Virtual work is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition, and giving people the option to work remotely doesn’t mean they’ll jump at the opportunity. There’s a misconception that once remote working tools are in place, there is no need to come together, and that remote workforce engagement happens naturally.
Many companies with an exclusively remote workforce offer in-person team get-togethers once or twice per year. Zapier, a company that helps businesses automate online tools, has an exclusively remote workforce and offers fun, full-company retreats at least once per year.
“Ultimately, because some things are just better done in person,” Zapier co-founder Wade Foster writes. “For instance, it's hard to…shoot the breeze about some random idea you've had improving a secondary process in the company or sit down and talk about company values. All those things tend to naturally happen in person, while they don't happen in a remote team.”
3. Be Clear About Expectations
Without clear direction, a remote employee can feel like they’re stranded on an island. What do they do next? Who can they turn to?
Not being able to answer those questions can leave a remote employee completely disengaged.
Just like you’d take a new employee through an onboarding process, make sure a remote employee knows about the tips, tools and processes that will help them succeed.
- For Help: What’s the best way of getting in contact with their manager? Email, text or another tool?
- Emergency Situations: If they’re sick or need to miss work, who should they let know?
- Schedule & Working Hours: When should they be available to work? How many hours per week or day are they available?
- Goals: What sort of output should be expected from them?
4. Emphasize Meeting Presence
Just because remote workers aren’t co-located in the office doesn’t mean they’re not present during meetings, nor does it mean they’re ineffective. It can just be hard for someone who’s not there to feel productive and integral.
Organizers who plan meetings with remote employees can be respectful and help remote employees engage by reducing distracting noise, letting them know who’s in the room and stopping to gain their feedback whenever possible.
To help remote and non-remote employees align more seamlessly, consider circulating the meeting purpose, objectives and materials ahead of time so those on the phone can follow along. Additionally, videoconferencing tools such as WebEx, Skype and Google Hangouts can build cohesion, no matter where participants are.
5. Rewarding Your Remote Workforce Is a Requirement
The best way to motivate people, regardless of where they’re located, is rewarding them for positive behaviors.
While it’s true that a larger proportion of millennials currently work for companies that offer remote work capabilities—69 percent versus 40 percent of boomers—people of all walks of life and levels of seniority are working remotely. According to Owl Labs:
- 35% of remote workers are individual contributors.
- 46% of C-suite members work remotely at least part-time.
- 55% of VPs work remotely at least part-time.
And these people are each motivated differently.