Management 2.0: Tips on Engaging the Remote Workforce
Let’s talk tech. Which iPhone do you have? 12, 13, 13Pro? Sleek. Mod. Hip. I feel bad for the stubborn ones stuck with a 6, like my parents, who decline upgrades just to stay with what they know. Would you ever refuse an iOS upgrade and forgo those enhanced camera options? No, never. Who would turn down a better version of a good thing? Well, the same holds true for management styles and employee engagement in our increasingly virtual world. The remote workforce grew faster than you could say Zoom, and most evidence suggests it’s here to stay, at least in some form. The time has come to make adjustments and adapt. We can’t keep managing like the “before times.” Our world is advancing, and with that, we must consider a more modern management “operating system,” particularly as it relates to employee engagement.
Creating team cohesion and fluidity while working virtually is a contemporary issue, but employee engagement has always been a Best Practice of successful corporate cultures. According to Forbes.com, “Employee engagement is traditionally defined as a sense of loyalty, commitment, and an emotional connection to one’s workplace. The more engaged a person is, the more likely they are to exhibit improved efficiency, job satisfaction, and to go above and beyond in their job whenever possible.”
Connection to one’s workplace can be tough if your office is your dining room and even harder if there is no shared workplace at all, even for occasional in-person meetings. The need to keep our team in check and foster a shared mission is real and presents new 21st century challenges. It’s safe to say that engaging the remote workforce requires a bit of a reboot, and here are some tips to help.
Actively Planned Communication
Good managers know that the key to employee loyalty is to communicate clearly and often. This is not new, but it needs tweaking with the onset of virtual teams. Communication skills are more important than ever and need to be varied. Ben Wigert, Ph.D., MBA, director of research and strategy for workplace management at Gallup, states, “Engaging remote workers largely depends on effectively communicating, building relationships, providing meaningful feedback, and developing employees while they are working from home.”
According to Forbes, “Having an agile communication toolbox is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to elevate the productivity levels of a remote team. You’re making a tremendous mistake if you exclusively use email. You’ll need a mix of tools for groups and teams, one-on-one collaboration, and company-wide collaboration.”
What’s lost with remote teams are the snip-its of communication and relationship building that go on at the physical office. To compensate, managers need to take a more aggressive approach to schedule time with employees in group and one-on-one meetings. The key here is – scheduling. Not sharing physical space leaves no opportunity for impromptu catch-ups. Instead, organize touch-points with your team, and make sure they are regular and ongoing. Employee engagement is not a quarterly event. It’s cultural and ever-present, and it takes planning to foster.
Consciously Increase Inclusivity
Modern managers will have to make efforts to increase inclusivity when workers are remote consciously. For example, when in-office workers get business done on the elevator or in the cafeteria, they often forget to update those working from home, and it can leave some team members feeling out of the loop. 15-Minute daily kick-off meetings can help with this. Or, make use of project management software like Trello or Asana to keep information fluid and transparent.
Get Personal & Visual
Increase personal connection opportunities. Gone are the days of poking your head in a colleague’s office and seeing pictures of kids, awards, or the family dog. These personal curios help us feel connected to our fellow humans and allow for identifying common ground and maybe even friendships. According to Harvard Business Review, “… employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.”
Creating opportunities to get to know co-workers on a personal level is healthy for the employees and the company as well. If you can’t meet in person, use video regularly. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language are often important cues lost in slacking or email. Delivering a message with a smile can be far less intimidating than an email with a pointed directive.
First off, if you don’t trust someone you’ve hired, you’ve made a bad employment decision. Add to that the fact that micromanagement is a definite barrier to employee engagement. If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that people actually DO work from home. Indeed.com quotes a survey that states, “…remote employees work 1.4 more days every month (or 16.8 more days every year) than those working in an office setting”.
Trust that your remote employees are getting their work done. If you are concerned, develop measurable goals and due dates. If individuals meet these established targets and deadlines, they earn their keep. Relax about school pick up and switching the laundry. Are they meeting goals? Is their work done well? Manage that.
Spend on Some Togetherness
Remote work is all well and good, but it is still critically important to gather in person from time to time. As companies save money on things like physical brick and mortar, reinvest some of that savings into quarterly meetings or training sessions, periodically bringing the remote members into the office. According to the Washington Post, “MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab spent hundreds of hours tracking performance drivers across industries by collecting data from electronic badges that covered everything from tone of voice to body language. The results showed unequivocally that the most valuable communication is done in person. Typically, 35 percent of the variation in a given team’s performance was explained by the number of times team members actually spoke face-to-face.”
Good Managers… you know how to manage, but don’t be a Neanderthal. Stay current. Make use of your “before” skills but upgrade for better results. Make strategic decisions about employee engagement, and be proactive about it. Offer your employees the latest management “update.” Let’s be honest- you’d never take a selfie without portrait mode now, would you?
At EnformHR, we offer customized HR solutions for your teams wherever they are located. If you are looking for management training, strategic solutions, or basic outsourcing, one of our HR Business Partners can advise you accordingly (in person or remotely).