Engaging a remote workforce

A critical challenge for the 21st Century organisation is in understanding how to engage employees in a world where geographical boundaries have no limits and remote working is commonplace, says HDA. 

Flexible and home-based working has become a norm within many organisations; with the worldwide population of home-workers expected to grow to 46.6 million by 2011.

In addition, the frequency with which teams/individuals are being seconded to various locations around the globe, or expected to operate long-term across boundaries, is increasing.

Although, virtual and remote workforces, such as this, can create competitive advantages and operational efficiencies; managing such a workforce also creates complications – for example, how can employee engagement be established and sustained for this group?

Employee engagement is consistently correlated with factors such as culture; environment; leadership; communication; and processes so what does this mean for the many workers that now spend a considerable proportion of their working life at a location other than the ‘base’ office?

How can the engagement initiatives introduced in the traditional workplace be replicated in alternative working environments? Recent research suggests that of the various factors that can impact on employee engagement levels, effective leadership has the highest positive correlation with employee engagement.

Effectively leading remote workers requires tailoring the leadership skills that are readily used in the workplace to fit the needs of a disparate workforce.

Although remote workers are not physically present in the workplace it is equally important (if not more important) for staff to believe that you are an active role model for the organisation and this will involve ‘walking the talk’ and rewarding behaviour that is consistent with organisational goals.

In addition, the ability to demonstrate effective approaches to conflict management will be a key success factor for leaders of remote workers.

Conflict should not be avoided but rather effectively managed – issues should be proactively tackled. Alternative strategies for conflict resolution will be required for cross cultural teams based in multiple locations – understanding different cultures, biases and breaking down stereotypes will be crucial in this process.

Leaders should define clear objectives and goals for staff members. This will give some much needed structure and direction to individual roles; ensuring they are fully aware of where their role ‘fits’ in the organisation and what they need to achieve to be successful.

It is important to create structures and processes that integrate remote workers – such as, developing a rigorous and extended induction process so that all staff are aligned and engaged with organisational goals and therefore consistent in their approach to promoting and representing the organisation.

Effective communication is another factor that is central to creating and sustaining a cohesive organisation; where staff are engaged with and committed to the organisational goals. With this in mind, developing an effective approach to communicate with remote workers will be a key influencing factor in engaging this group.

This can be achieved by communicating with and engaging people in a way they are familiar with. Given that 65% of UK households currently use the Internet and the majority of remote workers use the Internet to interact with the organisation; Internet-based social media applications would appear to be an obvious communication solution that is high on impact, low on cost and available on demand.

Social media applications such as Interactive podcasts, blogs, video-casting, or online social networks all will encourage company wide discussion and feedback, while building a cohesive organisational community.

Without an effective approach to engaging all staff; remote workers will become disengaged and the organisation will inevitably become fragmented.

With the continued rise of flexible working, virtual teams and home-based working; it is imperative that organisations work to successfully engage this group in order to create a competitive advantage that maximizes on the many benefits that this operating structure has to offer.

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