It’s time someone said it: the traditional office is dead. RIP 9-5 workplace with endless cubicles and private offices. According to Gallup, 43 percent of U.S. employees work remotely in some capacity, and of those people, one in three spends more than 80 percent of their time working remotely. This is a 7 percent increase from just four years ago. Workers aren’t confined to desks anymore, and they’re not seeing their coworkers and managers every day. Some may never meet their leadership team in person. This revelation may cause some to recoil, but it’s simply where the American workforce is heading. It’s time for organizations to dig into what makes remote workers tick, and learn how we can engage them just as much as those we work with in the office.
1. Accept that remote workers perform just as effectively as those in person, if not more so.
Time to level set. Employees don’t slack off when they’re not in the office. According to Gallup, employees who work remotely 60 to 80 percent of the time are more likely than employees who work remotely less than 60 percent of the time to make more progress in their workday. Said differently, spending time in a location different from their coworkers is not detrimental to employee progress. In fact, this autonomy and flexibility could give rise to better performance and employees who feel more connected to their company.
If you are a people a leader who has someone on your team that perhaps gets distracted easily at work and isn’t performing to their highest potential, instead of restricting an opportunity for them to work remotely (for fear of them veering off-task), perhaps a change of scenery is exactly what that employee needs to be more creative, productive, and focused.
2. Understand that everyone works differently.
While studies show the percentage of employees who work remotely is growing, that doesn’t mean they all do so in the same way. For instance, some employees may prefer to get started before 7 a.m. and wrap up work early. Some may be night owls who are most productive after the dinner hour. And some may feel most productive when they can hunker down at a neighborhood coffee shop. Understanding this, it is worthwhile to get a pulse check from your remote workers on how they prefer to work. What is a happy medium for meeting times? Which employees prefer to avoid messaging during their most productive hours? Is everyone comfortable with video conferences? What times are off-limits due to personal or family responsibilities?
It may seem basic, but taking the additional time to poll your workers on how they work best is essential to ensuring their needs are met throughout their workday, and it indicates to that employee that you care about them as a whole person.
3. Hold productive development discussions.
Regardless of their work location, studies show that career growth opportunities are the number one reason employees leave their company. For this reason, leaders of teams in person, remote, or a combination the two, need to prioritize development conversations with their employees. While still important for in-person workers, discussing development opportunities with remote workers carries additional weight, as those working remotely don’t experience the natural exchanges with employees of other departments and roles every day. These experiences “can spark feelings of hope and growth as employees envision their future with the company,” and those off-site may not have this same opportunity.
According to Gallup, managers of remote workers often avoid these conversations because “they assume that there may not be as many opportunities for fully remote employees. But growth doesn't have to mean a typical promotion; it can also mean expanded responsibilities and more challenging assignments.” When bringing on any new employee, it’s important to know: what do they find passion in, what do they know they are good at, and what do they want to do more of in their roles? When opportunities for employees to flex these muscles arise, ensure remote workers have the capacity to participate and grow in their roles. Keep these conversations regular and productive and the engagement of your remote workers will be a natural result.
4. Provide diverse avenues for keeping in touch.
This is a tough one, because managers don’t necessarily have input in what communication methods are put in place at organizations. That being said, connection to their coworkers and their organization is a must for employees to feel engaged. No worker wants to experience FOMO, and remote workers often do not get that opportunity to connect, which can make them feel isolated and disconnected. It might seem impractical to bring remote workers into the office with any frequency, (more to come on this below), but organizations and managers need to find ways to connect these employees to their teams and the company.
The solution here is not “email more.” What really makes a difference in today’s modern workplace is offering real-time communication options. That could be Google for Work, Skype for Business, Slack, or a number of other platforms depending on your organization and your budget, according to Forbes. This should also mean integrating video into your regularly scheduled meetings. As Gallup explains, video conferencing is a viable and important alternative to face-to-face meetings and should be taken as seriously as the latter. “People on video or Skype shouldn't be made to feel like outliers.”
5. If possible, create opportunities for teams to meet in person.
Understanding for some this may simply not be an option, it’s important for people leaders who do have the flexibility to meet with their employees in person to do so, at least occasionally. One example from Gallup that truly brings new employees into the company culture is to conduct onboarding training at the "home base" and include onboarding activities that allow employees to meet at least some of their coworkers (and ideally their leader, if possible) in person. Additionally, remote workers should be brought into recognition ceremonies, formal training, and conferences where appropriate to connect with their larger team and organization.
In the modern workplace, it’s time we acknowledge that remote workers are the future, and that this trend is something we should embrace, not reject. After all, studies have shown that working remotely 60-80 percent of the time actually boosts engagement; it does not hinder it. For this reason, leveraging these five techniques for continuing to motivate remote employees should be a priority for the people leaders of this growing workforce.