How to engage remote workers

Keeping remote workers connected, engaged and feeling valued

Working flexibly and remotely is becoming more of the norm than an exception these days.  In fact, by 2020 it is predicted that half of the UK and US workforces will be working remotely.  Savvy businesses are already reaping the rewards it brings. Employees see it as the most desired employee benefit.  And the advances in technology and focus on environmental issues and well-being mean that perhaps we should all be considering remote working.

Many types of employees are classed as remote workers, whether they get the chance and flexibility to work wherever or whenever they wish to, or not.  Train drivers, sales forces, factory production line staff, and construction site workers are all ‘remote’ as they’re not headquarters or office-based.  However, while they play a crucial role in the success of their business, as Gatehouse’s State of the Sector report cites, remote workers can be a big barrier to effective communication and engagement. 

If you have a remote workforce, or are considering implementing more flexible working, what do you need to do or consider to keep your remote employees engaged?

Remote working can bring its own challenges with feelings of loneliness, disconnection from the business and being undervalued if employers don’t make an active effort to include and engage this highly prized working population.

Here are five tips to ensure that everyone involved reaps the full benefits of remote working.

1) Understand how remote workers work

Having a deep understanding of others allows for mutual trust, better communication and effective working. Spending time talking to and getting to know your remote workforce is therefore critical.

Find out and understand:

  • What their role entails and how they work best
  • Where they work, e.g. from home, on the road regularly visiting customers, production line  
  • What challenges they face  
  • Their preferred communication channels (and whether there’s a communication gap that needs filling, e.g. mobile app for news and information on-the-go).

Seeking to understand their working needs and challenges will inform how best to connect, involve, and enable two-way communication with them in order to help them do their jobs to the best of their ability.  

2) Keep communication open and inclusive

Feeling isolated, disconnected or excluded is commonplace for colleagues who work away from the main company offices, according to a recent Forbes report.  A culture of thoughtful inclusion needs to be instilled if the benefits of remote working are to be realised. It’s not difficult (or expensive!) to stay connected, it just takes active thought and then it’ll become the way you do things.

Make inclusion and collaboration the norm.

  • Ensure everyday communication channels are easy for the remote worker to access and use, to stay informed.  Depending on their role and working needs, especially since almost everyone has a mobile phone these days, communication platforms and channels, like Poppulo, that are mobile friendly work well.    
  • Treat them as you would office-staff and make them feel part of the company by ensuring they have branded materials like calendars, mugs, pens to reinforce their sense of belonging.  Send out desk-drops, company magazines and anything that office staff might receive to their home address.
  • Ensure town halls, team meetings and one-to-one meetings are inclusive.  Maximise technology with videoconferencing and webinars. Upskill line managers to be confident communicators and informed company advocates.  Be mindful of time - consider when best to hold the meeting and how long it lasts, for maximum attendance and engagement.
  • Actively involve and encourage participation from remote workers in virtual meetings with good chairing, open questions and participative activities like polls and question forums
  • Encourage others to leverage and include the knowledge of remote workers.  Use online collaboration and communication tools to encourage inclusivity. There are some great free tools out there like Slack, Trello, Google, Chanty and many others.

3) Build personal connections

There is nothing more powerful than a personal touch.  Remote workers need this more than most, because their day-to-day interactions with colleagues can be more limited.  Knowing somebody has thought of you and made an effort to connect with you goes a very long way to boosting morale, engagement and loyalty in the remote worker world.

Remote workers especially want contact with their line manager, but whether you’re their line manager or colleague, make the effort to get to know each other and place value on the time to talk about non-work related topics.  It will build trust, reduce conflict and even allow better knowledge sharing if you do. We know that employees are much less likely to leave an organisation if they have respect for their line manager and strong friendships at work.

Remember birthdays and key personal events like work anniversaries.  Diarise such events so you can send a card, and even share a post on your social network too, to celebrate on the right day.  

4) Set clear objectives

Setting clear expectations on performance, attitude and behaviour should be the company standard for all employees, regardless of where they work.  Interestingly though, having clear objectives and expectations agreed upon is something remote workers value highly. With the more physical disconnect from the main office environment and corporate communications, having objectives aligned to the business provides a constant reminder of the value they add to the company.  Objectives become a critical anchor to feeling valued.

This anchor does rely on good line management and thus communication training and support for line managers and the provision and access to relevant company communications is essential to engaging remote workers and supporting them in achieving their objectives.

5) Recognise and reward

Recognising and rewarding good performance and positive outcomes is a really important way to make remote workers feel valued, included and part of the company’s success.  It will instill a focus on high performance rather than presenteeism, and will further boost morale and reduce turnover.  

Reward and recognition can come in the form of awards, thank you cards, peer-to-peer recognition, a team celebration or acknowledgement of success, to name a few ideas.  Ensure that corporate communications like intranet stories and magazine articles reflect the lives and business impact of remote workers to further showcase their value and build inclusion.

To sum up engagement of remote workers, it requires the capitalisation of both technology and humanity with thoughtfulness and understanding to truly leverage all the benefits that this fast-growing employee population has to offer to the working world.

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