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Keeping remote workers engaged

Anusha Balasubramaniam
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In today’s work culture, employees are hired to work in varied environments, quite often away from the traditional ‘office’. Hence, the concept of working remotely is becoming a key topic in corporate HR. What was once an option available only to female employees on extended maternity leave or for those dealing with medical problems, is now becoming a viable option for several professionals.

Remote workers need to work in the field, travel constantly, work at different corporate offices, at client locations or just telecommute from home in order to balance work and family. Further, there is a rise in the number of small businesses and home-based entrepreneurs looking to hire people who can telecommute.

Several MNCs are also offering ‘work from home’ option as a valuable perk to some employees in order to cut costs and also get better quality of work and increased productivity. IBM, Cisco, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are some of the leading companies in the country who offer work from home option to several of their employees. As per statistics from The Economic Times, “There are nearly 50,000 employees at IBM India and over 20,000 tech workers at HP India’s operations, for whom telecommuting is an integral part of their work life.”

The need for remote working is increasing as both employees and employers are keen on reaping the benefits from this arrangement.

While employers are benefited from a fiscal point of view (rising infrastructure and real estate costs) in encouraging remote work, employees are attracted to it to get away from the perils of daily commute and to have a better work-life balance.

Another supporting factor in this situation is the improved internet connectivity with Skype, video conference and online chat availability that makes it easier to connect, communicate and function effectively with the rest of the team.

However, there are times when a remote worker often ends up feeling disconnected from colleagues in the office and also has a tendency to feel lonely. The loss of daily human connection poses a challenge to sustain remote working for a continued period of time.

Hence, it becomes crucial to engage remote workers and find innovative ways to keep them motivated, connected and engaged within the organisation. Here are some strategies on how remote workers can be integrated into the corporate culture.

Establish clear expectations

The foremost challenge that several remote workers encounter is not having clear expectations from their manager and team.

While the manager’s concern is that the employee may not be able to deliver timely results without supervision, the employee may feel lost due to the lack of direction and also feel left out when important communication or feedback is provided in the office.

However, setting expectations for remote workers requires more effort and increased communication than for in-house employees.

According to a recent survey done by the Gallup group, “The most critical factor for engaged workers is the effectiveness of the direct manager.” While long distance and time limitations pose difficulties in meeting often, and sporadic e-mail communications won’t make up for face-to-face exchange of ideas and deliverables, managers need to personalise and fine-tune their communication strategy to suit every individual remote worker they supervise. As a manager, staying involved in the remote employee’s work progress and interacting with them on a daily basis will make a difference.

A good approach would be to have in-person meeting with the employee from the start and then continue to follow-up with regular email, phone and video conference meetings.

Setting clear cut expectations from the start and ensuring that the remote employees understands what is expected of them will make the arrangement a mutually productive exercise.

Answerability and measurement

The next stage after expectations are met is to ensure that remote workers are accountable for their work. Managers need to evaluate their performance. Offering feedback and staying on top of deliverables by reviewing work performed on time and within budget are obvious ways to evaluate. Another metric is the trust factor in the offsite work scenario. Some remote workers log in at 8 am in the morning and log out at 5 pm and are in their seats in front of the computer all day, while others run errands and work only a few hours.

But what counts is the amount of work that gets done and not the manner in which it is performed. Hence, it becomes crucial to have the right metrics to measure the quality of work.

The manager must develop these metrics in consensus from the remote workers. Having objective metrics will result in getting higher quality of work and also enhancing remote employee engagement.

Maximise the use of technology

Technology is the key driver that allows remote workers do their work, stay connected and progress in their career. Setting up high speed broadband access at the home office or elsewhere will have its challenges.

Relying on your own technical expertise or having your IT department’s support in troubleshooting computer related problems will make remote working a hassle-free experience. Several companies have intranet, e-learning modules and online resources to enable remote workers to participate in the company’s activities.

Whether it be enrolling for a specific e-learning course offered to employees, taking part in a company raffle, signing up for a wellness check or asking a benefit-related question, ultimately the point is to integrate and engage the remote workers by maximising technology.

The company must offer an online platform that caters to every individual remote worker’s needs.

According to the founder of Edinger Consulting Group, a US based consulting organisation, “Managers are more well-versed in technological tools these days, and thereby, better leaders in the organisation.” By fostering a technologically advanced company culture, both home office and remote employees will feel empowered in staying with an organisation that values their learning and growth.

To sum up, the key to engaging remote employees lies in making them feel involved and supported.

The organisation must make the remote workers understand that their work is as critical as the work of any in-house employee and provide them with adequate resources, have personalised manager support and a great technology set-up at home.

Anusha Balasubramaniam

faqs@cnkonline

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