In recent years, the number of people working remotely has grown considerably. Faster Internet speeds and hyperconnectivity—the ability to be connected to the Internet using a wide variety of devices—make it possible for employees and contingent workers to make their home their workplace.
In fact, GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com reports that 3.7 million workers, equaling 2.5 percent of the U.S. workforce, now work at least half of their working hours from home. The number of self-employed workers who work from home has increased by 103 percent since 2005. It grew by 6.5 percent in 2014 alone. And while the total number of employees grew by 1.8 percent from 2013 to 2014, the telecommuter population grew by 6.5 percent.
Why motivating remote workers is more challenging
Considering the growing ranks of the remote worker, it’s crucial that you, the manager, know how to motivate your remote workers. However, the truth of the matter is that with remote workers, you miss out on that all-important individual and group face time that allows you to gauge morale and respond appropriately.
For example, when you see one of your office workers sighing and looking depressed, you can walk over, ask what’s going on, and respond supportively and in a manner that motivates him or her to keep going. If a remote worker is having a rough day, you’re unlikely to hear about it unless he or she reaches out and tells you—and since most people don’t want to be seen as needy or negative, the chances of that happening are slim to none.
Common de-motivators for remote workers
Before we examine strategies to motivate remote workers, we need to look at those things that commonly de-motivate them.
First, isolation is a common de-motivator. There are, of course, remote workers who excel at working alone. But there are also many who miss interacting with colleagues and clients, and a lack of teamwork and synergy can take its toll on them.
Second, feeling kept out of the loop regarding positive project results can be extremely demotivating. Many remote workers receive assignments, deliver them on time, and only hear back when their managers need more work done on those assignments. Basically, all they get is negative feedback, while in an office setting they’d probably get a thumbs up when the project is finally completed to everyone’s satisfaction.
Third, not being directly engaged with company developments can result in demotivation. If the only contact a remote worker has with the company is via the manager, there are no opportunities to feel engaged with the company as a whole.
Strategies for motivating remote workers
Fortunately, the same technology that makes remote work possible is also key to motivating remote workers.
Collaboration software makes it easy for workers to connect with one another. For example, Google offers a secure way for your team to direct message each other and share projects using Hangouts, Drive, and Documents. There are also a number of commercial options such as Slack that offer similar capabilities. By giving remote workers the tools to reach out to others on the team, you can effectively strengthen the bonds between colleagues and establish a feeling of community, which in turn works as a motivator.
Providing positive feedback is also very important. Remember to not only reach out when something needs more work, but also reach out with praise when a remote worker does well. Be sure the results of a project with remote workers. For example, if your graphic designer works from home and he or she created the imagery for a hugely successful presentation, telling him or her how much of a success it was is certain to inspire.
Gamification is a strategy often employed by companies working with remote teams in telemarketing or contact centers. As Nicole Fallon points out in her Business News Daily article titled “No Face Time? No Problem: How to Keep Virtual Workers Engaged,” establishing competitions and rewards for employees can be an effective team building and motivating strategy.
Finally, getting remote workers involved with the company is critical to inspiring them to give it their best. Hold regular events such as mixers or dinners where remote workers are invited to meet the rest of the team in person. If the team is dispersed over too large a geography, it can be useful to create an online employee portal where socializing is encouraged by means of forums and message boards.
As remote work becomes more prevalent, it’s likely that more managers will be tasked with motivating virtual workers. By always being aware of what demotivates workers, it’s easier to create effective motivation strategies for employees who aren’t always in the office.