How to Keep Remote Employees Engaged

Doug Horn on September 17, 2014 12:34:00 PM EDT

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Managing remote employees may seem intuitive to some, but to others, empty desks may prove to be too much of a distraction to justify paying those who are supposed to be filling them. That’s not to say that remote employees are a “good” thing or a “bad” thing. Each company boasts a distinct corporate culture complete with its own idiosyncrasies. You know how that “Diff’rent Strokes” theme song goes: “What might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

Yet if you decide to undertake employing (and therefore managing) remote employees, you must know the best practices in order to keep them engaged at all times. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a handful of workers who marathon “Game of Thrones” all day instead of hitting their deadlines.

Below are some of the key methods to ensure your remote employees are both engaged and motivated.

Stress Communication
Communication should be a major point of emphasis in any office, but that goes double for remote employees. Since they are not present every day, remote employees are at risk of being forgotten. They also may not be as willing to ask questions as their in-office counterparts because lines of communication are more fractured. To combat this, you must stay on top of their work and be in constant communication. This can (and should) include email, GChat, and phone calls.

Try to begin each day with an email letting them know what your expectations are for that particular day. Stay in touch via GChat or a comparable chat service throughout the day. At RecruitiFi, we use Slack, and it's done wonders for keeping our remote team members abreast of what's happening in the office.  It's also had the duel benefit of allowing individuals to communicate internally without distracting the whole office for every conversation, so I would recommend it even if you don't have remote employees.

 

And of course, there's the dreaded team conference calls.  When the whole team is in one spot, these sort of meetings can be redundant time sinks.  But as long as they're succinct, with a well-defined agenda, having scheduled phone call or screenshare at least once a week is highly effective at making sure everyone is on the same page.

Communication is the most important factor in keeping remote employees engaged, so you must be sure that just because they are out of sight, they are not out of mind. When organized through the proper channels, communication can break down the barriers of distance and make a national or global team tighter and more efficient than an onsite workforce.

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Top FedEx employees like Tom Hanks work remotely--pictured here with executive assitant, Wilson.

Expect Quality
Remote employees should be held to the same standard as in-office employees. That goes for both the quality of their output and their presence in meetings mentioned above.

If they cannot physically make a meeting, they had better be able to conference in. It’s 2014 – you can dial into a meeting no matter where you are. Absences add up, and if you justify it by saying, “They’re allowed to miss meetings because they’re remote,” you will not be holding your employees to the highest standard, and your business will suffer because of it.

We originally used Join Me for external conference calls and demos, and found it to be a fairly reliable screenshare service (if there is such a thing).  Now we use it internally to work with our remote team members--especially in conversations about site architecture or design when visuals are crucial to the calls.  A picture says a thousand words, and on a conference call, a thousand words may as well be a million.

Other quality control items can include a task management system. Especially when you're managing a remote workforce, timing and task distribution can be crucial. You never want to be approaching a big dealine where nobody knows who's responsible for what.  We've found Trello to be helpful to keep remote workers looped in and hitting deadlines without having to micromanage their work. Asana has also helped to organize projects for some of our remote developers.  But these systems are only as good as the people using them.  You have to keep them up-to-date or they'll end up becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with fragments of former projects and broken dreams.

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Don’t Skimp on the Personal
Remote employees tend to miss the socialization that accompanies working in an office. It’s your job to make sure remote employees feel welcome to attend company functions if they’re based nearby. Just because they work away from their coworkers doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be encouraged to come to a holiday party or corporate retreat. Additionally, if a certain remote employee is based elsewhere, and you happen to travel to that city on business, schedule a meeting. It can be drinks, dinner, a game of bocce ball – it really doesn’t matter.  Just make sure your remote employees know you haven’t forgotten about them. They need to feel like they are an integral part of the team.

Group communication channels like Slack also excel in this realm. We have a specific channel where remote workers can jump in on office humor and get a feel for company culture without having to stand around the water cooler. Having a tight knit team doesn't necessarily mean sharing an office.  Sometimes sharing a joke, an article, or a picture of your vacation is more than enough.

At the end of the day, remote employees are a part of your workforce, and should thus be treated like their in-office counterparts. Expectations should never be lowered due to their location, and communication needs to be stressed in order for you to get the most out of them. How strong your remote employees become will be a direct result of how you manage, oboard, and interact with them, so heed the pointers listed above, and you’ll find that engagement will be a worry in your rearview mirror.