As the ranks of remote workers in the U.S. continue to expand, more managers will need to figure out how to motivate employees they never see. Tim Eisenhauer says traditional techniques for connecting with colleagues, like water cooler chats, monthly happy hours, and spontaneous lunch dates, don’t apply when most people work out of the office.
As president and cofounder of Axero, Eisenhauer manages more than 20 remote workers and calls himself an engagement expert. His opinions on social intranets, employee engagement, business communication, knowledge management, and collaboration have been featured in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, and elsewhere.
He shared these tips for keeping connected with remote workers.
1. Start by hiring differently. Skills and experience are still important, but behaviors and personality traits rank just as high for independent workers. “Not everyone’s personality is well-suited to working without direct supervision and the structure that comes with an office environment,” Eisenhauer says. “When hiring remote workers, look for those who are naturally motivated, self-starters, and intrinsically driven. You can always train for skill, but it’s virtually impossible to change an individual’s personality.”
2. Trust your employees. Eisenhauer recommends letting your remote workers demonstrate their commitment to the job by giving them the flexibility and freedom to set their hours or work at their own pace as long as it won’t disrupt the team’s workflow. If a remote worker shows that she is more productive in the morning or late at night, why demand she be answerable at her desk during the same 9-5 hours as those in the office?
3. Keep up communications. Take advantage of web-based video conference calls, social platforms, and collaboration tools to keep all members of a remote workforce on the same page, Eisenhauer suggests. “Video conferencing is especially helpful in creating a more intimate connection,” he says. “Sure, voice-only calls and online chat get the job done, but it’s nice to connect a face with the voice occasionally.”
4. Create a virtual water cooler. “Beyond engagement with the work, employee engagement is also about being engaged with one another,” Eisenhauer says. Personal relationships engender more cohesive, creative, and productive teams. His ideas include encouraging employees to share their personal interests, celebrations, and family news on the company intranet, and planning out-of-office activities that build camaraderie, such as an online employee book club or a cooking club that allows participants to share favorite recipes with one another. “This type of socialization, even if it is conducted online, can help connect co-workers over non-work-related activities to build team cohesiveness and morale even among those who may have never met in person.”
5. Encourage ergonomics at home. “If your remote employees are trying to squeeze into a workspace between the fruit bowl and the dirty dishes at the kitchen counter or hunched over the coffee table, that’s not conducive to engagement, concentration, their comfort, or long-term health,” Eisenhauer says. He recommends that employers offer stipends for appropriate office furniture, to perform low-budget home renovations to create a reasonable workspace, or even to cover the cost of a local co-working space where they can be productive in a comfortable and distraction-free environment.
6. Provide easy access to information and people. “Isolation from the social atmosphere at the office is only half the battle. Isolation from the data and resources they need to do their jobs is an even bigger obstacle,” Eisenhauer says. He suggests using collaboration software and document management and sharing technologies—such as Axero’s social intranet software—to provide all team members access to what they need when they need it.