Telecommuting, working virtually, WFH (working from home) -- whatever you choose to call it, it’s on the rise. UpWork confirms just that in their Future Workforce Report; more than one third (38%) of the 1,000+ polled hiring managers anticipate running predominantly remote teams of employees within the next 10 years. In addition to the 3.9 million U.S. employees who currently work from home at least half of the time, many employees conduct business offsite while traveling or working in various office locations. Remote working from home among the non-self-employed workforce has grown 140% from 2005 to 2018. Today, 63% of U.S. companies have remote workers. The number of employees working remotely is up an incredible 115% since 2005. Many companies are opening their doors to allow remote workers in an effort to attract top talent when geography poses a barrier.
With such an influx of remote workers, employers must invest in new and innovative ways to encourage open communication, collaboration, and support employee engagement for their teams, inside the office and out. What is the impact on employee engagement for remote workers? The simple answer is that the more connected remote employees feel, the more likely it is that they'll remain engaged. The more engaged they are, the more willing they are to give extra effort to see their employer succeed, stay for the long haul, and recommend purchases and even employment with loved ones. Fortunately, new software and advances in technology provide many options to solve the challenges faced by teams spread across the globe.
Introducing new tools works best when leaders and key influencers become early adopters. Rather than forcing the change, offer it gradually, and as a supplement to existing channels, such as email.
Convenient Communication Channels
When pondering employee engagement ideas and new technology, cover the basics first. Provide employees with equipment configured for easy communication via video conferencing. Conducting virtual face-to-face meetings can help remote employees and their office counterparts to feel more connected. WebEx and Zoom offer video conferencing solutions for teams of all sizes and have added some interesting features like the ability to broadcast instantaneously via your company Facebook page.
Email should never be the only means for communication for a remote employee. Setting up chat options like Slack, Skype for Business, or Google Hangouts, supports the need for more casual discussion and collaboration among team members. Using the Slack interface, teams establish channels for conversation and discussions about products or projects. Think of it as a more sophisticated version of the chat room. Information can be easily communicated by topic in these channels and made searchable and accessible to everyone. Offering this easy-access communication avenue increases the likelihood employees in different locations will reach out to one another with questions and share information.
Tools for Collaboration
There’s hardly a project that doesn’t require teamwork in some form or another. Project management, collaboration, task management, and workflow programs help to alleviate common obstacles faced by teams when individuals need to work simultaneously on a project. Wrike is a leading cloud-based solution that allows teams to live edit documents, request proofing and approvals, and manage workloads through dashboards, reporting, and calendars. Another project management program, Trello, leverages highly visual boards for teams to stay in sync and track progress together.
Learning in the Workplace
Online learning platforms make training and continued education for employees easily accessible and trackable. Employers can customize learning paths and content for different groups. Employees can access the courses online, and at their own pace, without having to complete any in-person training.
For internal knowledge sharing, some companies use an internal wiki to share information, such as documented processes held by a select few individuals within the company. Often, multiple versions of the same documents exist and information updated by one department is never communicated to the next. A shared site like tried-and-true SharePoint for employees to house and update information benefits those in house and working elsewhere.
Your Social Presence Matters
If you’re not a retailer, establishing your company’s social media presence may be an afterthought, but it’s important because it can be viewed as a reflection of your employees, and indicative of the culture of your company. Through sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, employees, remote and otherwise, can engage with you and with each other. Last year, Facebook launched its Workplace in an effort to extend its success into the corporate world. This dedicated space feels familiar to traditional Facebook users, and has been adopted by brands like Starbucks, Columbia Sportswear, and HelloFresh for internal news and discussion.
A Place for Recognition
Lastly, a little kudos can go a long way. Offering up recognition to employees, especially those working outside of the office, can boost employee engagement. Platforms like Bucketlist or Bonusly (used by Oracle and ZipRecruiter) are being used to increase performance motivation through gamification. Users (employees) can collect points, earn badges, and even redeem rewards like gift cards for performance. Peers and leadership recognize each other’s accomplishments and offer recognition and shout-outs.
These programs, unlike in-person team building or a face-to-face pat on the back, can be enjoyed by remote employees and their office counterparts alike. The more connected remote employees feel, the more likely it is that they'll remain happy and engaged with their work. Offering solutions to include them and make collaboration and communication easier demonstrates that their engagement matters to you, which is ultimately a worthy investment in your business.