More than 3.3 million Americans work from home at least half the time, not counting those who are self-employed, according to the latest figures from American Community Survey data. Many more-an estimated 25 million-work at home at least occasionally.
While technology and changing workplace policies have granted employees more flexibility, it has also made them more isolated. Workers who are more removed from the physical workplace have fewer opportunities for casual interaction with their managers and coworkers. They may be overlooked when impromptu meetings or brainstorming sessions occur among employees who are co-located.
Over time, this can lead remote workers to feel less valued and less satisfied with their jobs. Fortunately there are some simple things you can do as a virtual leader or employer to help remote workers stay connected. Here are three practical tips for engaging remote workers.
Build in Frequent Communication
Think of all the casual interactions you have during a typical day at the office. There's a coffee break, a lunchtime conversation and several times a day when you might stop by just to chat.
When you have virtual employees, you need to find ways to replicate those interactions online. Using chat tools, such as Google Hangouts, HipChat or Campfire, allows virtual workers to ask questions and have casual conversations more easily, similar to tapping someone on the shoulder.
In addition, don't forget to set regular meetings for team discussions and one-on-one conversations. This builds relationships with your remote workers, which is one of the foundations of a high-performing virtual team.
Make Time for Face-To-Face Meetings
Even virtual teams where none of the members are co-located should make an effort to meet in person when time and budgets allow. We recommend a face-to-face meeting with new team members within the first 90 days if possible to help establish a connection.
If that isn't possible, the virtual leader should schedule a series of short, one-on-one meetings or team icebreakers using collaborative software to help facilitate the kind of conversation that forms lasting bonds.
Recognize Team Member Contributions
Acknowledgement and recognition is an important part of motivating your employees, but it tends to happen less frequently when employers don't see their workers in person. Make an effort to periodically send e-cards, online certificates or social media shout-outs to team members who have made significant accomplishments. You can also implement a rewards program that allows employees to select a gift online when they reach a certain milestone, such as a birthday or work anniversary.
Take time to recognize individual successes during team meetings, or mention them in weekly team emails or newsletters.
When your employees feel their accomplishments matter, they'll be motivated to keep up the great work.
To allow teams to succeed in a workplace that is increasingly remote, employers need to take extra care to do the things that come more naturally in a face-to-face environment.
The RAMP model-Relationships, Accountability, Motivation, Purpose and Process-is a good way to think about the fundamental elements needed to keep virtual employees engaged. That includes taking the time to build strong bonds among team members, providing them with meaningful results-oriented goals and coaching them along the way. It means taking the time to motivate them with rewards and establishing a shared purpose and processes so everyone is moving toward the same objectives.
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