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4 Tips to Keep Remote Employees Engaged and Motivated

For many employees, the good news is that more and more companies are offering alternatives to the standard 9-to-5 onsite job. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 63 million Americans will work remotely by 2016, which could be more than a third of the total work force. If your company hasn’t yet embraced this movement — and mastered the art of engaging remote employees — you might not be able to hire and retain the best talent now and in the immediate future.

For managers and HR professionals, the bad news is that the off-site workforce presents additional employee engagement challenges. These four tips can help enhance productivity, morale and more — but only if they are thoughtfully implemented as company-wide policies.

Tip 1: Faces are more important than places
Without a doubt, teams are comprised of people. And people want face-time with their work groups, managers, enterprise-wide colleagues and even executives. Fortunately, there are plenty of technological options for video conferencing these days, including GoToMeeting, Skype, Zoom and others.

Incentivemag.com writer Alex Palmer recently cited 2014 research conducted by Harris Interactive for communications consultancy Interact in the article “Better Engagement Needed for Virtual Workers.” Palmer reports, “A new survey finds that management needs to enhance its engagement efforts for employees working remotely. The report … found that more than two-thirds of remote workers (69%) felt that management needs to communicate better in order to keep them engaged in the organization.”

“Impersonal” types of communication — including emails, texts and instant messages and even project management tools — may feel more “efficient,” but they are not always more effective at communicating tone, nuance and genuine emotions. In other words, a face-to-face meeting can minimize the miles between team members and create more engaged workers.

Tip 2: Take a virtual “coffee break”
Some of the most important team building activities happen informally. Chats across cube walls, hallway “hellos,” break room conversations and more are hard to replicate for remote workers. It may seem like inconsequential small talk to task-driven managers, but these little moments can be an essential part of making individuals feel personally connected to each other.

Anna Zelaya, a manager at Gallup, describes her experience when she moved 5,000 miles away from her team for a few months. “I’ve been careful not to take for granted what’s worked for me and my team before my move,” she says, “including the daily chats I have with my team members. It’s vital to reproduce those conversations. These are touch points that my team expects and appreciates from me, time we can talk about work or other issues. Disrupting these meetings could be costly, considering employees who can talk to their manager about nonwork-related items and ask questions are more engaged.” In fact, recent Gallup research reveals that 55% of employees whose managers are open and approachable are engaged at work.

How can a manager with remote employees encourage these team-building moments? It might seem counterintuitive in a productivity-focused corporate culture, but it is important to schedule time for non-work-related conversations with remote team members.

These moments can occur during a Monday-morning team meeting when everyone shares what they did over the weekend. But an even better idea is a regular “virtual coffee break” — including a company-provided gift card to purchase a beverage at a local café that offers wifi. Mervi Lamberg, consultant and business coach, advises, “Sometimes you need to take it easy and give people an arena to discuss also other than work issues … virtual coffee breaks are important in the process of forming the group dynamics, building foundation for trust.” 

Tip 3: Celebrate personal milestones
It’s easy for remote workers to feel “out of sight, out of mind.” That’s why celebrating personal milestones can be really meaningful. If your team celebrates birthdays for team members, remember that your remote workers will appreciate a “separate and similar” event.

Wayne Turmel, founder and president of Greatwebmeetings.com, admits that he’s “really, really bad” at celebrating birthdays. But he also says, “Turns out, people enjoy being recognized. It’s also very often a sore point for people who work remotely and don’t get to share the cake in the break room or the fun, personal conversations that are part of a co-located team’s function.”

Want to celebrate a remote employee’s special event? If you can’t deliver a cake, send a gift card or eCode. Digital rewards are becoming more accepted and, therefore, more popular. It’s not about the dollar value; in fact, it’s the timing that seems to matter most. Think about your own birthday: A gift or card that arrives on the actual day feels more preplanned and personal. The same experience in the workplace will result in a more engaged worker.

Tip 4: Be creative about “sharing” onsite events
Your company probably has occasional social events, such as an on-site pizza party or even an annual event. How can you include your long-distance employees? If it’s not practical to fly remote workers in — and it probably won’t be — be creative.

In a recent article shared on LinkedIn, LCDR (Ret) Chip Lutz, CSP says, “I love potluck Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays, Donut Thursdays and casual everyday. These, along with the trials and work we face together, are the building blocks of how we build a team and create esprit de corps. It’s also, unfortunately, how remote workers can feel left out.” He suggests using video-conferencing technology to include everyone. Plus, consider sending open-loop cards to remote employees so they can cater their own simultaneous event.

Employee engagement should happen every day
Including remote teams in a monthly videoconference, quarterly event or annual company celebration is great, but not enough. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open all the time. As a manager, make sure your entire team, whether individuals sit in different corporate locations or home offices, has a chance to share non-work conversations, too. If your entire enterprise is looking for ways to keep employees connected, consider using an employee platform that feels like a social media tool, including giving “likes” and peer-to-peer recognition. These interactions will develop more engaged employees as they start to think of each other as friends — who happen to work together too.

 

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