Despite the measurable benefits of the telecommuting work model, from decreased resource consumption to increased employee satisfaction, challenges persist—namely in building a sense of community and loyalty among a remote workforce.
While some companies utilize management strategies and resources geared at holding virtual team members accountable, connecting on a human level may be a better investment in the long run.
Here are our suggestions for how telecommuting managers can better communicate with their telework employees and reduce employee turnover.
Develop a Relationship Upfront
As IT Business Edge notes in “Five Tips for Motivating Virtual Teams,” an important first step in developing a long-term relationship with remote employees is investing time to get to know new hires when they first come on board. Learning about a new employee’s career goals and aspirations, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, can help companies understand what motivates a new team member.
When an employer takes the time to develop rapport, it can pay off in a couple of ways:
First, it creates human connections and reaffirms that a new employee is more than just a cog in the proverbial company wheel—an important first step to fostering loyalty.
Second, building rapport may also benefit the company’s bottom line. By taking time to get to know a new employee, the company may uncover additional skills, interests or experience that the remote worker can contribute—some which may go beyond what the employee’s current job description entails.
Gamify for Team Building
A very real issue remote workers encounter is isolation. Most telecommuters are former employees of traditional, onsite-based corporations and accustomed to day-to-day interaction with co-workers, bosses, and peers. But as teleworking professionals, remote workers may only interact with immediate family members on regular basis, creating a divide in professional relationships.
Progressive companies are learning to combat the solitude of a virtual work environment through innovative communication strategies that foster open dialogue. This has led to the implementation of online communities and forums, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other software-based applications that help emulate the social aspect of work.
One of the more creative engagement methods utilized by telecommute-friendly employers is gamification. This approach is built from a hugely popular recreational segment of tech society: video games. Through gamification, communication, productivity, recognition, and promotion are intertwined. According to Business News Daily,
Team-based goals and competitions help build a sense of collaboration and cooperation. Teams can be based on function or location, with the key goal being inclusion in striving towards a common objective.
Virtual Vocations utilizes gamiciation to foster a positive virtual work environment for its 100% remote team. During our 2016 “March Madness Telecommuting Celebration,” Virtual Vocations held a social media interaction competition to reward the most engaged staff member. Our Employer Relations Manager, Sarah Hill, retweeted and Facebook commented her way to winning this challenge and was rewarded with a $50 Amazon Gift Card.
Simplify Learning the Job
Occasionally, long-term employer-employee relationships fail because a hard-working employee simply doesn’t understand the function of the job. Educators have long asserted that there are several major learning styles experienced by individuals—some people learn best by reading, others by viewing, and still others through a hands-on approach. Once a company has invested time and money to bring someone on board, failing to retaining a new employee can be costly, often forcing a firm to train and retrain additional workers to fill gaps.
Virtual managers can overcome this obstacle by creating a coaching system that addresses major learning styles. We suggest forming a common, shared library of content that remote workers can access 24/7. Fill the library with written instructions, videos, podcasts or audio, and designate an employee to oversee management of the project. This gives the remote team “a name and a face” they can reach out to when questions or problems arise.
Regardless of How You Do It, Communication Is Key
Keep the lines of communication open so that remote employees always feel connected, and never rely on only one communication method. After all, each communication type has its strengths and weaknesses.
Texts and emails are quick and easy, but sometimes the curt nature of the medium leads to a misunderstanding. Newsletters give employees more time to clarify their thoughts, but newsletters can get lost in an inbox or feel taxing to read on a regular basis. Create a method of communication that lets remote workers, and their managers, communicate in a way that is comfortable for each, and yes, telecommuters, that will probably mean using the phone at least on occasion.
In the end, a company that recreates the social aspect of work in a virtual world will reduce turnover and be rewarded with loyal, hardworking, and accountable employees.
What strategies have you implemented to foster a positive virtual work environment for your remote employees? Share your telecommuting story when you connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. We’d love to hear from you!
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