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Remote Control: The Art of Engaging & Motivating Offsite Personnel

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