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6 Ways to Motivate, Engage, and Support Your Remote Workers

August 02, 2016 by Nell Thayer Heisner

As the traditional workplace shifts to a distributed model, managers are increasingly tasked with having to support teams across various geographic locations and time zones. Whether you manage a team of road warriors who work remotely or your team is distributed across multiple office locations, you’ll want to ensure that you all stay connected. Preventing these mobile employees from becoming detached from their team, distant from their organization, and disengaged from their work is challenging for even a seasoned manager.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, 3.7 million employees (2.8 percent of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time. As more organizations and employees embrace this remote work trend, we decided to revisit some tips from a classic Fuze blog on improving remote work engagement – as relevant now as it was when it first was written. Below are a few ways managers can motivate, engage, and support their remote teams to achieve meaningful results throughout the organization.

Ask questions. In today’s workplace, the question is the answer. Managers should stop expecting workers to respond well to commands without first asking for input. Instead, they should learn to transform requests into questions posed to trigger action and greater accountability. How? The right questions engage the brain, creating stronger associations to the task at hand. For example, a simple question like, “What has stood out for you since we last talked about this?” can lead to a rich and often unanticipated review of a project or key learning from a specific scenario.

Balance the good with the bad. According to research by psychologist, Roy Baumeister, people are more strongly impacted by bad events, such as negative feedback. To avoid letting setbacks hinder the success of a project, managers must address them outright and be sure to counteract critique with positive reinforcement of good thinking and contributions of workers who may have gotten off course. When keeping this in mind, workers will continue to move forward rather than looking behind at past mistakes, helping the entire team make progress and effectively collaborate to advance toward the goal

Take time to recognize each employee. It’s especially important as a manager of a remote workforce to recognize and connect with employees individually: take the time to do so daily. As you start a meeting, take time to recognize employees for both who they are and what they do. And take time to recognize progress made as it happens to leave employees feeling engaged and involved. If you have only five minutes each day, go online with just one staff member. Think of this as a kind of virtual “water cooler” moment with your staff. Leave the five minutes open-ended to learn and connect with employees who report to you. Given that 93 percent of communication is based on nonverbal body language, connecting face to face is key to establishing a solid rapport with mobile employees. Try to incorporate video conferencing into everyday communication, especially these quick touch bases, to ensure your team gets the face time they need and deserve.

Don’t find meaning, make meaning. Being involved with meaningful work is a rich source of engagement for workers. Companies can’t assign meaning to a project and they can’t lead workers to feel a sense of meaning surrounding their work, but managers can co-create meaning in work through connection and conversation with team members while respecting individual differences and workstyle preferences. To rephrase Victor Frankl, when a person has a reason to work (a.k.a. a “why”) they can bear almost any “how”.  Holding short meetings that offer individual and team responses to “why I do what I do” and “why we do what we do” respectively will help employees find greater meaning and ownership of their contributions to projects, instead of leaving this to chance.

Record and review. Record early meetings and take time to review them (make sure participants know the meeting is being recorded). Reviewing collaborative moments helps managers determine strengths and development areas across a team. Though most people don’t like how they sound or look when they begin to listen and watch themselves, reviewing performance can be an excellent accelerant to professional growth.

Consistency is Key. Keeping a regular cadence of 1-on-1 meetings with your team members is extremely important. This allows you to ask questions, provide feedback, discuss the “why” of their work and to solicit feedback from them as well.

Are you tasked with managing a distributed workforce whether your team works from home or from another office location? We’d love to hear your additional tips for greater team engagement in the comments below.

Nell Thayer Heisner
Nell Thayer Heisner
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