How to Engage Your Remote Workforce
Many of today’s businesses have multiple sites around the country and around the world, and telecommuting employees are less uncommon than before. Technology designed to bring employees together despite their geography isn’t new; however, the growing trend towards employing remote staff members has organizations looking at this technology in a new way. Tools that were once too costly to share with employees working from home offices are now more affordable, making it easier to connect remote workers and increase their engagement, regardless of physical location. Employers have more options now than ever to bring their virtual workers closer to the business.
Creating Personal and Professional Relationships
One of the primary drivers of employee engagement is the personal and professional relationships between team members. Frequent communication and time spent face-to-face builds trust, making teams far more effective. However, remote employees find developing these relationships challenging, as their primary method of communication is through email and instant message. In fact, one study determined that a full 81 percent of virtual employees consider development of rapport and trust within a virtual team the number one work related concern.
Fortunately, travel is no longer required for face-to-face meetings. Video conferencing technology is now so economical that businesses can offer the option to all remote employees without incurring significant expenses. Staff members find they can fully participate in relationship building with colleagues through daily use of video conferencing applications, and they are comfortable with the technology because it is now an everyday form of communication between family and friends.
Adding a Personal Touch
Increased use of inexpensive video conferencing, instant messaging and other forms of communication are proven relationship builders, but they can’t entirely replace the personal touch. Consider organizing regular in-person meetings, first when the team is formed, and then at least once a year. Spending several days together gives virtual colleagues an opportunity to develop solid personal relationships through informal interactions, which facilitates effective collaboration through virtual channels later.
Between in-person occasions, managers can build engagement by holding regular virtual team meetings and actively seeking team-building occasions. Including informal brainstorming and problem-solving on the agenda is critical, because 90 percent of the virtual workers in one study indicated that they don’t have enough time to develop relationships during team meetings. They explained that they appreciate the opportunity to share experiences and gather feedback from their teammates, which cultivates relationships and increases their engagement.
Low Cost Technology for Virtual Teams
Regardless of the department’s budget size, there are high quality solutions for virtual communication and collaboration. Many employees already own personal mobile devices that support applications like Skype and Facetime, which means no investment is necessary to create the opportunities for face-to-face conversation so critical to employee engagement.
Team efforts are made easier with user friendly project management and data collection software designed with features to promote virtual collaboration between remote workers. Such tools permit task assignment, in-application communication and a wide array of reporting and analysis functions, making it simpler than ever for employees to work together regardless of their physical location. This ease of communication and collaboration keeps staff members engaged in their work, as it prevents many of the traditional frustrations that once accompanied managing group projects without in-person group meetings.
Keeping remote staff members engaged is a challenge that concerns many leaders in today’s business environment. However, improvements in technology and the rapidly falling cost of these tools addresses many of the most difficult obstacles managers have historically faced when engaging virtual workers.