One of the most radical changes the digital revolution has brought to the workplace is the diminishing importance of the office. We’ve always thought of work as somewhere we need to go, but technology has changed that. Generally speaking, this is a great thing. It means people can live more flexibly, and companies can take advantage of a global workforce.
Working remotely has lots of upsides, but one major downside: engagement. When people aren’t in the office, there is a greater risk of them disconnecting from the work. Employee engagement is critical to the success of your company, but achieving it is a challenge. And sadly, according to MIT Sloan Management Review, the “out of sight, out of mind” trap can make it more likely that remote workers receive less praise than their non-remote counterparts.
Somewhat surprisingly, if managed correctly, remote workers are actually more engaged than those in the office1. But that’s the trick; how do you manage them correctly?
Consider the following ideas below to keep remote team members engaged
Communicate Often But Effectively
One good way of keeping employees engaged is staying in touch with them. This is why “management by walking around” is considered to be so effective. When people build a relationship with those asking them to do work, they are more likely to want to do a good job.
Yet when dealing with a remote team, you don’t have the luxury of simply getting up and going over to their desk to ask them how things are going. Instead, you need to rely on emails and instant messaging.
But you need to be careful here. Sending lots of emails asking for status updates is going to make people micromanaged, which can push them away.
It’s much better to try and create a more open flow of communication. Consider using productivity suites such as Slack. Here you can ask people to check in on their own, and you can also create separate threads among different team members.
Make yourself available so that people can reach you when they need to, but don’t pester employees with constant check-ins. You want people to feel like the work they are doing is essential, but you also want people to fully enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with remote work.
Go Out of Your Way to Make them Feel a Part of the Team
When people work remotely, they are going to miss out on certain things that go on in the office. Parties, meetings, and general office team building will never be the same. For some, this might not be a huge deal; they may even prefer it. But for others, this will create a feeling of isolation that can hurt engagement.
To combat this, you need to make a point out of making people feel connected to the team. Obviously, they need to be included in team meetings, connecting via conference call. But you need to do more than this. If there’s a big party at the office, have a cake sent to your remote worker's house. If they come into the office for any reason, make the time to have a cup of coffee with them and have a general catch up. And make sure to include time on conference calls for people to ask remote workers questions about their lives. Making these little extra efforts will go a long way towards making remote workers still feel like they’re an integral part of the team.
Embrace the Flexibility
Something that helps encourage engagement for both remote and traditional workers is a feeling of autonomy. Knowing that you don’t have someone breathing down your neck, and that you are free to make some decisions completely on your own, is empowering and will make people more willing to dive into their work.
This is one of the reasons why remote workers are often more engaged. They get to choose exactly when they want to work, and then when they do sit down to get things done, they are more motivated to do a good job. Remote workers want to protect this privilege of being able to choose their own schedule.
You need to do all you can to not infringe on this. If people start to feel like they’re being watched or monitored, this feeling of responsibility to the work can diminish. People will start doing work not because they want to but because they just want to get you off their back. This is not a recipe for engagement.
Remote workers can be a powerful resource for your team. And just because they aren’t in the office, it doesn’t mean they will be less engaged, especially if you use these tips and ideas to help keep them connected to the company and its overall goals.
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1 Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged. Harvard Business Review. Scott Edinger. 24 August, 2012.