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 Gallup:
- Working at home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 103% since 2005.
- 3.7 million employees now work from home at least half of the time.
- The employee population as a whole grew by 1.9% from 2013 to 2014, while the telecommuter population grew 5.6%.
Still, many organizations think that remote employees are impossible to engage with. If they’re not in the office, some organizations think, employees aren’t getting work done.
In an interview with Fast Company, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a resource for job seekers looking for flexible positions, disagrees with this opinion.
"In most white-collar jobs, I’d say 99% of people are already working remotely in that they take work home,” Sutton Fell said. “It creeps into our work style already. I think it’s just not formalized by either the employer or employee."
Whether it’s full-time or just hours every once in a while, your people are working remotely. And keeping them engaged while they’re doing so takes strategy.
Here are 5 proven ways to build remote workforce engagement.
1. Small Talk Really Matters to Remote Employees
Water cooler chat, gossip, get-together—whatever you want to call a break from tasks for idle talk—is important. According to one study, the nature of these informal communications is invaluable to workplace cohesion.
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.
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 that offer 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 what will help them succeed.
- What’s the best way of getting in contact with their manager? Email, text or another tool?
- Emergency Contacts: If they’re sick or need to miss work, who should they let know?
- Schedule and 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 physically 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 unite, 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, and these people are each motivated differently.
Looking for more information about engaging with remote employees and building an employee wellbeing and engagement program? Check out our ebook, “Are Employee Wellbeing and Engagement Part of Your Bottom-Line Success Strategy?”