Four Ways to Engage Remote Workers

When you think of the team you lead, it’s easy to picture the faces of the people you interact with in the office on a daily basis. You understand their personalities, their quirks, their communication styles and numerous other aspects because you can observe them closely and regularly if you work in the same office location. However, in today’s day and age, employees are spread geographically across the country or perhaps globally, and a good majority of organisations have started to adopt a work–at-home option for their business.

Technology has connected the world in such a way that it has reduced the importance of geographic location considerably. Organisations can save time and money by allowing employees to work from home, the neighborhood coffee shop or in satellite locations. Individuals who work remotely stay connected to their responsibilities and the flow of energy at the office thanks to video conferencing, email, texting and comprehensive project-management applications like Slackand Asana. Unfortunately, these advances in technology cannot duplicate the experience of being physically present, which can sometimes lead to remote workers feeling disengaged and perhaps undervalued.

Every one of your employees needs to be kept abreast of the day-to-day business, performance, objectives, challenges and ongoing workplace discussions. I have often witnessed firsthand, remote workers being forgotten or kept out of the loop in meetings, various projects and initiatives. Often this is unintentional, as “out of sight, out of mind thinking” permeates, which is not a good thing for morale, employee engagement or your bottom line.

There are simple and practical steps you can take to ensure that your remote workers feel like they are part of the action and connected to the entire workforce. Consider the fact that more than one-third of workers perform their jobs remotely these days. That number isn’t going to decrease, which means that the leaders who excel at integrating all of their employees regardless of location will be the ones who experience the most success.

Here are some suggestions to ensure every member of your team — both in the office and elsewhere — feels like they are a valued part of the organisation. It is important to note that none of these ideas are revolutionary, yet why is it that a good majority of leaders within companies still struggle to get this right?

#1 — Recognise Effort

When Tina in the office down the hall just secured a big account for your company, it’s easy to stroll down there to give her a high five and verbally acknowledge her for a job well done. When Jill, who works from her home in the suburbs, does the same thing, she may have to settle for a congratulatory email at best. Guess which employee stays more engaged and productive?

It’s critical that you make every effort to recognise the contributions your remote team members make just like you do with your onsite employees. According to Gallup, when employees do not feel adequately recognised for their efforts, they are twice as likely to consider quitting within the next 12 months. You can’t afford to let this happen in your organisation, especially if you risk losing top talent.

To make up for the lack of physical proximity, consider ways in which you can ensure that your remote employees get recognised for the great things they do in a more personalised manner. This means making other employees aware of the accomplishments, both in email and verbally in team meetings. As their leader, it’s up to you to ensure you are fair and consistent in the way that you recognise all your people.

I also recommend using your employees’ Emergenetics Profiles to guide how you give recognition. For example, someone with a Social preference may be more interested in a heartfelt message, while those with an Analytical preference may respond better to an efficient note. Structural thinkers will want timely recognition, while Conceptual thinkers may be more appreciative if you find a creative, imaginative way to say thank you. Considering your employees’ Profiles can make recognition even more meaningful.

#2 — Include Everyone in All Meetings

I understand that sometimes you just want to get the gang together for a quick stand-up meeting or a brief huddle. And when you do this, it can seem like quite a hassle to take the steps necessary to include the workers who may be operating remotely. If you exclude your remote employees, what do you think the outcome might be?  Disengagement, lack of care or concern?  Perhaps, all the above emotions may set it, and that makes your job as their leader ten times harder to re-engage them, get their commitment and buy-in.

Your remote workers should be present for all meetings just like onsite workers are. Taking the extra time to pull them into the group, whether it’s through video conferencing or via a conference call, may take discipline and a little bit of extra effort, and it’s worth it. Even the briefest discussions can produce the most amazing outcomes and results by ensuring everyone is onboard. Worst case scenario, if you cannot garner their direct participation, debrief with them afterwards, allowing them the opportunity to voice their opinion and better understand what was discussed in the meeting.

#3 — Stop Worrying About When Work Gets Done

One of the most beneficial aspects of allowing work to happen remotely is that employees get to construct their workday and define how they manage their workload for the most part. Sadly, too many managers obsess over their remote workers keeping odd hours and not staying integrated into the standard workday of the organisation.

Stop focusing on “when” and worry about “what” gets done, and frankly this holds true for employees working onsite as well. The days of punching a time clock are long gone, and it’s important to measure success and productivity based on what your employees accomplish and contribute to the organisation. If those efforts happen outside the confines of the traditional workday schedule, that’s fine so long as it aligns with the job requirements and both your expectations are being met. Get with the times and work together to come up with a plan that allows some flexibility to satisfy both parties’ requirements. When you allow for this type of flexibility, you increase employee engagement and satisfaction at a much deeper level.

#4 — Check in on a Regular Basis

Don’t wait for your scheduled one on one sessions to check in with your people. Take every opportunity to do so informally on a regular basis to stay connected and show your support as their leader. Checking in with your in-house employees is often an easy task and doing so with your remote workers requires some planning and scheduling. You should treat coaching, communication and feedback as an ongoing dialogue, which means that you cannot neglect your remote employees due to physical limitations.

I strongly suggest working with your remote employees to identify pre-determined times when they are available for regular check-ins. It could be early morning before their day kicks off or perhaps wrapping up at the end of the workday. Come up with a plan that works for you both, and don’t forget to ask them how they are doing and is there anything they need from you? This should happen at minimum once per week even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Use other tools such as texting, messaging apps and company-wide chat tools to stay engaged with your team. Communication doesn’t always have to be verbal although I recommend that the personal touch of live conversation goes a long way in building trusting and meaningful relationships. Based on your employees’ Emergenetics Profile preferences, you can decide how often that live conversation occurs.

For example, if your employee has a first-third preference in Expressiveness, you may choose to send an email or text more often, while those with a third-third preference may be more interested in a phone call or video chat. Be sure to use your employees’ preferences as a guide to help you build your communication plan in your check in. Their Assertiveness can guide the pace of your conversation, and their Flexibility may help you determine how many topics you cover.

How Are You Handling Your Relationship With Your Remote Team Members?

Managing and leading a team that consists of both onsite and remote workers requires you to develop a modern mindset and skills to address the diverse needs of your people. The future of work is here to stay, which means that you must embrace the idea that your team may never be fully co-located in the same place, and how you show up and engage as their leader will make a world of difference in the overall results and performance of your team.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in leading remote workers? How have you handled communication with those who rarely make appearances in the office? Have you noticed any changes in engagement with your remote team members vs your on-site employees? 

This article was originally published in Emergenetics International Blog "Four Ways to Engage Remote Workers".

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