How to Keep Remote Workers Engaged


The ranks of telecommuters and remote workers grow every day.  Many managers want to know how to keep these workers engaged.

There are many reasons that a remote worker may become disengaged.  First, he may feel that he is not part of a cohesive team.  He may also lose interest in the work he is doing, or in the company’s mission.  A remote worker may also sense a lack of rewards for effort and good work.

In order to keep remote workers engaged, focus on three key areas.  First, build a sense of community that fosters teamwork.  Second, keep employees interested in their work and in the company.  Finally, offer rewards for exceptional work.

Build a Sense of Teamwork

If you are a manager, boss, or company owner, you should aim to build relationships with your employees.  You should also try to make sure that employees build relationships with one another.  In addition, make sure that everyone is clear on company goals, and how their work contributes to those goals.  Finally, build up your company culture, so that people have a good feeling about the company overall.

Get to Know Employees

Take a little time to learn a little about your employees.  In order to coax people to share, you will probably need to share a little about yourself!  Tell them about your family, hobbies, and goals for the company.  In exchange, they will be more willing to share details of their lives with you.  Ask about these details once in a while, and update your notes accordingly.

Example

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for finishing those reports early – they look great.

I hope Joey will feel better in time for the game on Friday.  I know he is looking forward to the season opener.

Talk to you soon.

By including the tiny little detail about Jeff’s son Joey, you are showing that you are a human being.  Show that you care about the employee, and he will begin to feel like part of the group.

You should consider jotting down some quick notes when you talk to an employee.  Some people think that it “doesn’t count” if you can’t remember these details.  I completely disagree.  Taking the effort to take notes shows that you care enough to make the effort.  This is true even if your memory is not as great as it once was.  (Maybe it was never that great in the first place!)

In-Person Gatherings

This might not be feasible if your employees are far-flung.  Still, you can make an effort to invite everyone to an in-person gathering.  If there is a slow season in the business, you could invite everyone to bring family on a vacation somewhere.  You could also plan for everyone to attend a conference or seminar that lasts a few days.  These gatherings can help everyone to feel a bit closer to coworkers.  This is especially true when they might only see or hear these coworkers during video or conference calls.

Set Goals that Involve Everyone

Your company should have goals, for both the short-term and long-term.  However, these goals can also serve to build teamwork among your employees.  For instance, you could have a friendly competition between two sales groups, to see who has the better quarter/year.  Then, you could give the winning group an allowance.  They could use this to treat themselves and the other team to some type of perk.  Amazon, FedEx, and UPS can deliver almost anything to your remote workers!

When you have these companywide goals, each team member will feel that his work is more important.  If he fails, he won’t just be letting himself down.  He will be letting down his entire group.  This will make him more likely to seek improvement and ask for help if he needs it.  He is also more likely to offer help to coworkers in need!

Build Your Company Culture

When employees work in-person at a company, there are usually events like cookouts, holiday parties, and guest speakers to attend.  When your employees are remote, it is not practical for them to attend all of these events.

Keep Employees Interested

To keep remote workers interested, make sure that they understand the role their work plays in the company’s success.  Also, provide training to keep them up to date on the latest developments in your industry.  In addition, you should ask employees for their input to generate some ideas, and to spark some interest.  Finally, hold meetings and ask questions that are on-point and on-topic.

Make Expectations and Reasons Clear

Don’t just give an assignment.  Tell your employee how the work will fit into the bigger picture.  Instead of the work seeming like an isolated task, it will seem like part of a group effort.  If your company has a policy or certain way of doing things, make the reasons clear.

Example

Don’t say “Make this Java code run faster”.

Instead, say “If we can make this Java code run in 30% less time, than we can improve customer satisfaction.  I think this will increase revenue by 10%.  Can you make it work?”

Provide Online Training

There are several ways to provide training to remote employees.  You could give them an allowance to take courses at a college, either in-person or online.  You could also give them a training stipend to spend as they see fit.  The employee could use the stipend for online courses of the employee’s choosing.  He could also use it for seminars or conventions in your industry.

You could even have members of your team provide online training via Skype, using screen sharing.  Each member of your team can likely teach something interesting and helpful to the rest of the group.  Ask for suggestions and see if anyone has any ideas for training!

Solicit Employee Input

Asking employees for input can make them feel valued and respected.  For instance, say that someone on the team has an eye for design.  In that case, ask him to take a look at the website and see what he would improve.  If someone else likes computer programming and automation, you could ask him for ideas for automating repetitive tasks.

Another benefit of asking for employee input is that you see your company from a perspective other than your own.  Others might see weaknesses that you don’t, and they can help you fix them.  They might also see strengths that you didn’t realize your company had, which you could exploit to gain an advantage.

Example

Joseph works as a paralegal for Alex, who is a tax attorney.

Alex is always complaining about clients who are late to pay his fees.

Joseph looks for ways to increase revenue to help pay the bills while waiting for client fees to come in.

He notices that a tax attorney’s website is a great place for accountants to advertise to wealthy clients.

Joseph proposes the idea to Alex.

Soon, Alex soon finds an accountant willing to buy the advertising space on his website.

Joseph feels like he has contributed something important to the company.

Alex is happy that he doesn’t have to worry so much about late payments from clients.

Keep Meetings Brief and On-Topic

A good employee wants to avoid wasting your time, and you should offer him the same courtesy.  First, make sure that a meeting is really necessary.  Even then, only invite those who need to be there to offer input.  If an employee only needs to know the outcome of the meeting, send them a note afterwards.

Also, avoid talking “one-on-one” with someone in the meeting about a subject that is off-topic.  If you need to discuss the idea further, schedule a real one-on-one with that person.

Finally, have a brief agenda for the meeting, and make sure you hit all the points you need to.  Set a time limit for each topic if needed.

Ask Questions, and Elaborate

Instead of simply assigning work and collecting it a week later without a word, ask employees about the details.

Before a project begins, ask about a timeframe.  Even a rough estimate is fine.  If the estimate is way off, you can use it as a “teachable moment”.  Think about why the employee completed the project so much later (or sooner) than expected.  Come up with ways to anticipate delays and factor them into time estimates in the future.

During the project, ask about what challenges the employee is facing.  See if there is anything you or another team member can do to help.  For instance, let’s say Derek is a web design expert, and Carl is a new intern.  It might make sense to take an hour from Derek’s day to solve a website technical issue.  You could also ask Carl to spend that hour taking care of some of Derek’s other work.

After the project, ask the employee what he learned.  Technical topics, such as “I learned to program in VBA” is fine.  However, also look for lessons learned about time management, customer retention, or any other important factors.

Reward a Job Well Done

The last thing you want is to have lackluster rewards for employees.  This is especially true for those who consistently give 100% and drive results beyond what you hoped for.  Thus, you should encourage exceptional results and reward them accordingly.  Also, offer company recognition for those who achieve at a higher level.

Encourage and Reward Exceptional Work

There are many types of compensation that you can offer for excellent work.  This could be in the form of cash bonuses or a raise in the future.  It could also be stock options or profit sharing in the company.

In addition, you could have a reward in the form of an educational benefit for anyone who exceeds expectations.  The employee could use this benefit to take a course or attend a seminar.

Finally, you could offer a vacation/conference package to employees who achieve the desired results for the company.

Whatever you decide, make sure that expectations are clear, and that each employee knows how to earn a performance bonus.

Recognize Those Who Go Above and Beyond

If an employee does outstanding work or goes beyond his job description, give recognition.  Tell other employees about how his efforts helped to earn a new customer, or meet an important deadline.  This makes employees feel good about the work they are doing.  It also encourages others to work hard and give their best, so that they too can receive recognition.

Conclusion

There are many different ways to keep remote workers engaged.  You can mix and match, using some or all of the ideas in this article.  The most important thing is to unite your employees in a common goal.

In addition, make sure that they understand how their work contributes to that goal.  Finally, reward employees who produce exceptional results.

If you are thinking about how to engage remote employees, you may have already hired some.  If not, check out my article on the benefits of hiring telecommuters.  If you are sold, check out my article on how to hire remote employees.   You might also want to find some more information about running a remote company.  If so, check out my post on running a remote business here.

I hope this article answers your questions about how to keep remote workers engaged.  Please leave any comments below.

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