In this age of technology, more companies are offering remote working options. According to Global Workforce Analytics, since 2005, the number of people who regularly work from home has increased by 103 percent. Today, it isn’t uncommon for managers to oversee a team of employees whom they don’t actually see in-person very often, if at all. At Heritage Golf Group, almost all of the managers I interact with regularly are stationed at various courses across the country. While managing a remote workforce requires that I take a different approach than I would for the traditional in-office setting, there are plenty of ways to make sure it is just as – if not more – effective.
Most of the issues managers face with having employees in various locations can be attributed to the lack of face-to-face interactions. If not handled with care, the digital divide can create somewhat of a disconnect between coworkers, negatively impacting performance. Fortunately, there are simple strategies you can use to ensure your team remains productive and engaged – regardless of proximity to their leaders and colleagues.
Support unstructured “watercooler” talk
To effectively manage a remote workforce, it is important to identify and breakdown the barriers that are often present in a geographically dispersed team. The Harvard Business Review suggested implementing a SPLIT framework: structure, process, language, identity, and technology. These five components all play an important role in ensuring employees aren’t hampered by social distance.
Of course, embedding structure into all processes is imperative. Clear expectations should be set so employees always understand what is expected of them and when. To help keep everyone on the same page, there should be regularly scheduled meetings. If employees are spread across different time zones, find a time that works for everyone or rotate the meeting so it isn’t always more convenient for certain workers.
Keep in mind, though, to fuel engagement throughout your remote workforce, you should also make room for unstructured time. It could be a few minutes before formal meetings to carve out time for personal and casual conversations, allowing employees to get to know each other better and strengthen their connections. Using an online platform that enables employees to chat, post pictures, video messages, and other types of content facilitates ongoing communication and interactions between coworkers. Not only can this help boost morale, but it can also lead to higher levels of collaboration and, therefore, engagement.
Obviously, it’s impossible to manage a remote workforce without some form of digital connectivity. But, aside from phone conferencing tools, there are many ways that technology can (and should) be leveraged to increase engagement. Encourage your team members to purchase webcams or, better yet, purchase and distribute them yourself. You’ll likely be more incentivized to do this when you consider the return on investment: your people will be much more engaged when they can see each other and you!
Adding a face-to-face bit to your meetings can go a long way. Also, consider starting meetings off by sharing a few pictures or video footage of something that can introduce each speaker (like a photo collage with a few bullet points about the speaker). This adds a more personal and human aspect to the remote workforce – which is important for employees who don’t get the one-on-one, in-person interactions they would if they were all in the same office every day.
There are many digital tools and technologies available today that can help spark engagement in geographically distant teams. You just need to find the ones that make the most sense for your specific needs.
Empower your people
To ensure your telecommuting workers stay engaged, it is important to give them the necessary tools, training, and technology that allow them to do this. Many of today’s workers are tech-savvy but not all are. For example, at Heritage Golf Group, many of our older employees who had been in the industry for decades never even turned on a computer before, let alone had exposure to their various systems. The computer training sessions we provided when we implemented Dayforce Human Capital Management software offered them a new skill to add to their resumes and also enrich their personal lives (if you have ever met someone who does not know how to turn on a computer, you know what I mean). Suddenly our managers had transparency into each employee record and added a new proficiency to their skillset to use both in and outside the office. We received incredible feedback as a result. Many felt empowered with the new tool, their new skills and, as a result, they really embraced the important change we were asking of them.
It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, regardless of where they are geographically located, your employees are certainly still people. You don’t need to completely overhaul your management and leadership style: the goals and objectives are still the same – the only thing that changes is the way you go about achieving them.