Chances are, you employ — or are considering employing — some of the growing numbers of talented men and women who opt to work remotely. Offsite workers comprise an increasingly large segment of the workforce, with as many as 63 million employees expected to work remotely in 2016.
Why this exponential growth? Progressive-thinking CEOs and business owners recognize that a remote team “allows you to source employees — and contract, specialist workers — from all over the world, increasing your talent pool, as well as your company’s global perspective.”
Of course, managing remote employees can be a challenge, in terms of productivity and engagement. Perhaps the single most daunting aspect is the element of isolation. After all, due to their geographical distance, these employees aren’t available to participate in casual workplace encounters, impromptu meetings in the CEO’s office or on-site brainstorming sessions.
“Workers who are more removed from the physical workplace have fewer opportunities for casual interaction with their managers and coworkers,” notes management consultant Darleen DeRosa. “Over time, this can lead remote workers to feel less valued and less satisfied with their jobs.”
So even if you’ve recruited the best remote employees in the global talent pool, if they’re not engaged in their jobs (and therefore feel less motivated and productive), how can they help your business grow?
Here are actionable tips you can take to ensure your remote workforce is aligned with (and enthusiastic about) your onsite company culture:
1. Leverage technology to stay in touch. There’s nothing quite like the casual conversations employees have onsite, both with each other and with their managers, but with the advent of chat tools and video conferencing, it’s possible to replicate informal lines of communication with your remote workers. Using tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, etc., encourages offsite employees to contact you with project-related questions or let them know you’ll “drop in” on them from time to time, just to touch base or get answers to your own questions. Video conferencing enables both sides to have some valuable face-time, which furthers a sense of involvement all around.
2. Always include remote workers in onsite meetings. There’s a tendency to forget or overlook remote team members in your weekly or biweekly staff meetings. Get these meetings on their schedule, so they can actively participate with ideas and feedback. This, too, makes them feel more like part of the team.
“Just as important, when you’re handing out assignments, brainstorming or discussing solutions to problems, remember to include remote employees in the process,” suggests business technology writer Minda Zetlin.
3. Schedule face-to-face meetings. It may not always be practical, but particularly with newly hired remote employees, look for opportunities to schedule a face-to-face meeting in the workplace—or if a manager happens to be traveling near where the remote employee is based. Even a single in-person encounter helps cement a successful working relationship and lays the groundwork for a more engaged attitude with the team.
4. Keep them in the loop with your company newsletter. Maintaining contact through a regularly scheduled newsletter is another great way to boost offsite employee engagement. Content for the newsletter can range from informative (news about product launches, companywide initiatives, etc.) to informal (holiday greetings, updates on physical renovations, etc.).
Consider spotlighting an employee with each issue, so remote workers learn new things about their team members. Or spotlight a high-performing offsite employee, so people in your office better understand the contributions these remote workers are making to the business.
5. Incorporate recognition of offsite employee contributions and milestones. Recognition of remote employees’ contributions doesn’t have to be limited to a company newsletter. Include a public acknowledgement of significant offsite achievements in staff meetings. Salute remote workers’ efforts on your company’s social media networks. When an employment milestone occurs, send them an e-card or offer a digital rewards program where they can choose a gift online. These efforts reinforce the sense among your virtual workforce that “we’re all in this together.”
When it comes to remote employee engagement, “out of sight, out of mind” is a constant peril. But promoting communications and collaboration with these employees is worth your investment of time and effort. As Darleen DeRosa reminds us, “To allow teams to succeed in a workplace that is increasingly remote, employers need to take extra care to do the things that come more naturally in a face-to-face environment.”