Working remotely is getting to be nearly as normal as working in an office. In fact, last year, 43 percent of employed Americans spent at least part of their time working remotely, according to a Gallup survey.
Of course, there are major benefits that come from telecommuting—avoiding traffic and flexible hours, just to name a couple. The problem for employers comes with keeping remote employees engaged and feeling like they are actually part of the team. Remote employees miss out on day-to-day company culture, which can play a large role in engagement levels.
But geographic distance from one's co-workers doesn't mean a virtual employee has to feel disconnected. The key is effective communication.
When managers and company leaders make employee engagement a priority, regardless of where the employee is actually working, the organization as a whole thrives. Here are some ways you can make your virtual staff feel like they're truly part of the team.
Keep the lines of communication open. Remote employees, especially those who work nontraditional hours or in a different time zone, can sometimes feel left out. Even though no one can be available 24/7, your employees should know that they can reach out to their colleagues and stay in touch through digital communication methods.
Online communities, social collaboration software and chat services help bring remote employees into the conversation. When the whole team is working together on a project, use a voice or video conference call to encourage group collaboration. If possible, bring the entire team together monthly or quarterly for an in-person meeting. This gives everyone the chance to get to know one another.
Establish a time and method for regular communications. Variable work schedules and time-zone differences can make it difficult for other employees to reach remote workers when they need to. Establish specific times when remote workers are to be available to respond to phone calls, email, or other messages--rather than have them forced into an established schedule that may not be the best for their work patterns or home situation.
Use team goals to keep remote employees engaged. Team-based goals and competitions build a sense of collaboration and cooperation. Teams can be based on function or location, with the key goal being reaching a certain objective. Competitions and rewards for everyday activities can be an effective employee engagement strategy.
Implement personalized digital employee recognition programs. A digital recognition program for all employees can level the playing field for out-of-office workers. Offer badges or rewards for employee achievements. Your team will know that you are recognizing their efforts.
A simple badge or reward communicates to employees, especially those that work out of office, that their accomplishments matter.
Make sure everyone knows that they are part of the team. It's important to include remote workers in team meetings and publicly recognize their contributions as it is for on-site employees. Resist the temptation to leave remote workers out of quickly scheduled ad-hoc meetings because it's too much of a bother to let them know--you should have a quick and easy means of communication.
With a little bit of planning and ingenuity, you can keep all of your employees happy and engaged, no matter where they are actually doing their work.