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Mon, Dec 12, 2011

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Virtually Speaking: 5 Tips for Engaging Remote Workers

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As organizations increasingly expand across the nation and globe, remote work arrangements have become a common part of day-to-day business.  This poses a challenge for managers, who are often left struggling to engage employees they cannot see.

In my book The Virtual Manager, I detail the benefits of targeting the Key Drivers of Employee Engagement with initiatives tailored for the remote workforce.

Here are 5 top recommendations for engaging remote workers:

1. Recognize Your Employees:  HR Solutions’ Research Institute has found that recognition is the most powerful driver of Employee Engagement.

Managers should set daily, weekly, and monthly reminders to consider their remote workers’ accomplishments and identify means for recognizing them.

Recognition could involve bestowing an award on the employee at a virtual staff meeting or sending a thank-you email.  Even a simple phone call thanking your employee for his or her hard work can be a powerful motivator.

2. Address Career Development:  With career development being such a powerful driver of Engagement, many people avoid working from home, believing that remote work could lead to their being forgotten and overlooked when advancement opportunities arise.

Understanding that relationships play a huge role in career success, the best managers ensure their remote workers are able to build beneficial relationships with colleagues despite working outside the office.  Managers can accomplish this by coordinating remote mentorships.

Managers can also group their remote employees into teams for collaborative work and create protocols that encourage them to connect through video conferencing, telephone meetings, and live Internet chats.

3. Instill Confidence In Your Leadership Abilities:  The third most powerful driver of Employee Engagement is employees’ belief in their supervisors’ managerial abilities.  To instill confidence in these abilities, managers must lead by example and demonstrate trust in their direct reports.

With virtual work arrangements being particularly conducive to micromanagement, nowhere is trust more important than in a remote working relationship.  To demonstrate trust, allow reports to make on-the-ground decisions for themselves.

To ensure employees do not feel they are being constantly monitored, ask for feedback from remote workers as to whether status meetings are occurring at the ideal frequency.

4. Bond Employees to the Organization’s Strategy and Mission:  For employees to be highly engaged, they must feel personally aligned with their organization’s strategy and mission.  For virtual workers, who are removed from their organization’s physical community, alignment with strategy and mission is particularly important.

To help align remote workers, list the company strategy and mission on the Intranet.  Computers can be loaded with a screensaver highlighting strategy and mission.  To ensure workers understand how their everyday efforts align with the strategy and mission, initiate a discussion about this during performance evaluations.

Virtual employees and managers can talk about how their performance goals relate to the corporate mission and strategy, leaving the employees with a sense of being integral to their organization’s mission, strategy, and success.

5. Help employees enjoy their job content:  Like employees who work onsite, virtual workers can only be truly engaged if they enjoy the tasks they perform.  Although most employees must face some tasks they find tedious, workers with excellent managers are usually allowed some flexibility in this regard.

To improve remote workers’ enjoyment of their job content, managers can identify tasks their virtual workers prefer and, so far as flexibility is possible, make their employees specialists at those tasks.  Accommodating preferences is best done with the team in mind, so that no individual has to bear a heavy burden of undesirable tasks.

Allowing employees to choose their preferred method for completing work can also contribute to satisfaction with job content.

As technology advances and employees increasingly expect flexibility in the workplace, businesses must learn to accommodate virtual work arrangements if they wish to remain competitive.

Though these arrangements create new managerial challenges, a strategy in which managers target the Key Drivers of Employee Engagement can lead to desirable outcomes for employees and managers alike.

As such, employers would be wise not to shy away from remote work arrangements.  Rather, they should embrace them while creating a framework for Employee Engagement and success.

About the Author

Kevin Sheridan is Chief Engagement Officer and Chief Consultant of HR Solutions and directs all survey work conducted by the firm. He has extensive experience in the field, having co-founded three successful survey-related organizations. Having done consulting for some of the world's largest corporations, Mr. Sheridan has earned several distinctive awards and honors. One of his most notable recognitions was for the creation of HR360™, which won Human Resource Executive magazine's "HR Product of the Year" award.

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  • http://www.boltonremote.com/ Edsel Mendoza

    Remote work arrangements are definitely growing. We see a lot of clients come to us to build remote teams in non-work-from-home setups.

    From your fifth point… “To improve remote workers’ enjoyment of their job content, managers can identify tasks their virtual workers prefer and, so far as flexibility is possible, make their employees specialists at those tasks.”

    This is a very important step to make sure both you and your remote team are on the same page when it comes to certain aspects of a project. Identifying the right set of tasks sets the right expectations. Less pressure is felt by the remote team and more control is established over specific tasks.

    From here, timelines can be set accordingly, and projects can proceed more smoothly.

    Remote Teams Project and Time Management

    Several of our remotesourced clients use this project management method by creating shared task trackers that show how much work is being done per day. Using the tool alongside our Bolton remote best practices helps make the remote relationship succeed. You and your remotesourced staff can work on which areas to prioritize and which ones to leave for a later date.

    The Importance of Structure for Healthy Remote Relationships

    Besides providing a physical office space for our clients’ remote staff, our company Bolton Remote firmly believes in the importance of a smooth and realistic operational structure for our clients and remotesourced staff to work with – something I think every other remote worker business should prioritize even before their remote staff start working.

    In fact, this operational structuring is an essential part of both our client and staff onboarding processes. This way, both parties know why it’s important, considering the setup of their professional relationships.

    Whether you prefer working with a remotesourced team based in an office or a set of work-from-home individuals, a smooth operation structure is crucial because of the remote relationship. As weird as it sounds, it actually makes the operations more flexible since you know what you can and can’t delay in your to-do lists.

    In helping a lot of our clients build remote teams thru Bolton Remote, we see a lot of successful remote relationships work. If you think about it, there’s really not a lot of difference between working with in-office staff and remotesourced teams. What do you think?