Growing Engagement with Remote Employees

Image: Growing Engagement with Remote Employees

Making Everyone Part of the Team

There was a time, not so long ago, where everyone who worked for an organization did so by “going to work” and physically being in the office. However, this is no longer the case. Many of our clients are transitioning to fluid work spaces which encourage employees to work remotely, to not be tethered to desk and to move freely.  In addition, with the increase of contingent / freelance employees, which was a hot topic at a conference I presented at yesterday, most organizations have at least some team members who work remotely some or all of the time.

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 37 percent of U.S. workers say they telecommute at least some time during an average month. This is up slightly from 30 percent a decade ago, but four times greater than the 9 percent found in 1995.

A 2010 Statistics Canada report on the subject found that, in Canada, the number of paid employees who worked from home at least once a week grew almost 23 percent, from 1.4 million to 1.7 million, between 2000 and 2008.

There are many reasons why remote employees and working from home is more commonplace. The first is technological changes have made it possible for employees to be productive almost anywhere they can access wifi. Other business reasons include that it is highly cost-effective to have some team members work remotely in order to reduce office space. In addition, increasingly employees are requesting to work from home at least part of the time in order to provide greater flexibility. Finally, as a presenter from Upworthy (a global freelancing platform where businesses and independent professionals connect and collaborate remotely) noted, Millennials are eager to embrace the gig econonmy by choosing to do freelance work in order to provide them with a fluid lifestyle on their own terms. As traditional organizations are realizing this desire, they are looking for ways to provide remote / virtual work opportunities in order to increase engagement and retaining of top talent across all generations.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, 70 percent of Millennials would be more satisfied in their jobs if they could work remotely. And Millennials aren’t the only generation that would like more remote work; Gen Xers and Baby Boomers also wish for more such opportunities.

One reason that some organizations remain hesitant to allow more remote work is because they worry about decreased engagement and productivity among those who telecommute. This point is especially a concern for team members who work remotely 100 percent of the time.

That said, keeping remote team members engaged is certainly possible. Here are some tips that leaders may wish to consider:

  • Focus on Results
    • Rather than putting an emphasis on when work gets done, leaders should stress the importance of quality work. Remote employees may not all work the same hours, so tracking the number of hours that someone works might not be the best way to foster engagement and productivity. Instead, focus on ensuring that remote employees are constantly achieving, even if they’re doing their jobs in the middle of the night while everyone else is asleep.
    • Respecting an individual’s work schedule while still holding him or her accountable will increase engagement and drive productivity.
  • Stay in Touch
    • Communication is always important and has become a critical ‘must have’ with remote employees. For this reason, it’s important to have multiple lines of communication open at all times, using multiple platforms. This can prevent the situation where a remote team member only interacts with one person in the office, which can be limiting and feel isolating.
    • In addition, scheduling voice or video calls can greatly help build relationships with remote team members since tone and body language are critical for successful communication. It can also help managers and colleagues get to know each other on a more personal level since it allows for “water cooler” type conversations at the beginning and end of virtual meetings.

Frequently teams are made up of a blend of remote employees and co-located employees who work in the same office. In these situations, dispersed team members can feel left out of important team discussions, decision making and team collaboration. Since they aren’t there to chat with the rest of the team or connect casually over lunch or drinks after work, it’s important that leaders make an effort to include remote employees in team events. If possible, try to schedule face-to-face meetings at least a few times a year.

Building High Performing Teams with Remote Employees

Manager often ask me how to ensure they can maintain a high level of performance with a virtual team. The answer includes three parts:

  1. Demonstrate the right leadership behaviours
  2. Effectively manage performance
  3. Engage using technology

There are assessment tools that we use with clients when delivering leadership training around leading and managing virtual teams.  The assessment provides each leader with a rating on key capabilities that are critical for success when managing a remote team.  They include:

  • Relationships
  • Flexibility
  • Productivity
  • Culture

Understanding where a leader’s gaps are and what to do to close those gaps is essential, as a not all leaders are able to easily and quickly transition to effectively leading virtual / remote team members.

Effectively managing performance for remote team members, is very similar to the process for employees that are onsite. The difference is it requires great rigor and discipline by the leader to apply 10 action steps:

  1. Set clear expectations in advance
  2. Identify clear lines of accountability
  3. Set monthly, quarterly, yearly performance goals
  4. Conduct regular performance up-dates as per agreed upon schedule
  5. Consistently apply standards to all team members
  6. Visit face to face regularly – predictability is more important than frequency
  7.  Establish communication protocols – speed of response to emails / calls, when check-ins will occur, obligation to stay in contact
  8. Hold virtual office hours
  9. If performance gaps exist, seek to understand why and gather 
appropriate data
  10. Provide direct feedback, coaching and mentoring opportunities

Finally, leveraging technology in the right way at the right time, will ensure higher levels of performance. Be open to using a range of platforms, trying out new tools and finding a cadence that works for both the leader and team members to connect both on a professional and personal level. Ultimately the goal is to foster a team spirit, collaboration, high levels of engagement and great results.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.

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