Feature Article - March/April 2016

Remote Control

The Art of Engaging & Motivating Offsite Personnel

By Enter Author HereRick Dandes

The number of remote workers and globally distributed teams is increasing in today's international working environment, and research indicates that within the next few years, up to 40 percent of us will directly answer to someone who doesn't work in the organization's central headquarters. So while companies may reap the benefits of lower overhead costs with more and more work-from-home employees, as well as the benefits that stem from collaboration with across-the-ocean cross-functional teams, the challenges this phenomena represents for organizations are numerous. Employees working from home or distant peripheral offices can quickly become disconnected from a central office, feel demotivated and lose self-discipline.

The same engagement and recognition program that works for the home office, typically works for offsite workers, said Kimberly Abel-Lanier, vice president and general manager, Workforce Solutions, Maritz, Fenton, Mo. "Good program design ensures the entire team is aligned, wherever they sit, to the purpose and goals of the business. The real difference lies in the tools used to manage, communicate and report on the program," she said.

In this respect, virtual workers are different. Virtual workers are on the go—so programs that are accessible via mobile device will have higher participation rates than simply being online. Offsite employees also like communications that show how they're doing and dashboards or reports that highlight how their work is meaningful and making an impact to the organization.

"They often don't get the spontaneous 'positive strokes' that happen in the office environment, Abel-Lanier said, "so ensuring that happens with the right tools and frequent recognition is essential."

That's right, agreed Mike Ryan, senior vice president, client strategy, Madison Performance Group, New York. "A big part of the remote issue is not just a physical and technological issue. To me, it is also an intellectual and emotional issue that executives and managers have to deal with. Consider this: In sophisticated organizations, managers aren't necessarily responsible for individuals, but are responsible for projects. In many cases, project managers call on people based upon their competency, not based on their location or not based on their affiliation in the hierarchy."

So, besides having to motivate people that may be in different parts of the country or the world, or affiliated with different business units, managers have got to do it in a way where often their own project is competing with a variety of other projects that are on a particular employee's plate.

Engagement Strategies

There are several important factors that involve the engagement and productivity of remote workers.

There are several important factors that involve the engagement and productivity of remote workers, noted Ira Ozer, CEO and president, Engagement Partners, Chappaqua, N.Y., and that includes mutual understanding of responsibilities and timing. "Each party also needs to trust the other and know they are mutually accountable to the tasks and deliverables," Ozer said. And recognition and continual reinforcement are important, especially since normal eye contact and physical cues do not exist.

The ability to motivate, engage and inform a remote workforce "technically" has never been easier, contends Paul Gordon, senior vice president, Sales, Rymax Marketing Services Inc., Pine Brook, N.J. "We've come a long way from communicating via the U.S. mail and fax machines," he said.

The connectivity of smart devices, e-mails and business apps has given companies multiple and diverse employee touch points. What is troubling, however, is the widespread misperception that with today's technology, all of these vehicles automatically improve communication and productivity, when the reality is that this is only true when it is executed properly.

"In many cases," Ryan noted, "these workers are not in the same time zones, so you need access to each other 24/7. You need your recognition program, and any other business tool, to be built in responsive design, which means that it renders and appears and functions in the same way no matter what type of mobile device somebody is using."

This is critical, since the bring-your-own device to work philosophy is one that many organizations have adopted. One group of employees might be using an Apple iPhone, another a Samsung Android phone; you want to make sure that whatever technology you are using does not get corrupted if it is not on the same type of a platform.

Meanwhile, companies need to think of their employees' profile and communicate with a few key points in mind, Gordon explained. "A topic needs to be on point in an e-mail or company app and reinforced on the company's website," he said. "In explaining an engagement program, get to the point quickly. Present benefits, but don't bombard employees with a multiple of action items. And finally, measure the effectiveness of the program by incorporating a reward for acting or participating. With employee recognition programs, always use a points system and have communication tied into rewards points. This lets management know who is engaged and also helps spur on additional information."