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Engaging a Remote Employee

The law is changing regarding flexible working arrangements.  Currently, only parents have the legal right to request flexible working, but from June 2014 any employee will be able to request flexible working after 26 weeks’ service.  Despite technological advancements in e-communication, including video conferencing, 87% of employees are still office based.  Although according to Stanford University research, remote employees are 13% more productive, some managers have little trust in remote workers’ engagement and are not sure how to measure their output.  However, the predictions are that remote working will increase substantially during the next decade and a survey of business owners by Virgin Media Business predicts that 60% of office-based employees will be working remotely by 2022.

Remote working may not suit everyone, but for those who already work from home, how can employers ensure that remote workers feel a sense of belonging to the organisation?  How can managers ensure that they feel part of the team?

Keeping connected and informed

It is important for managers to build relationships and to keep remote employees informed of relevant events in ‘real time’ and of any developments or changes that may have an impact on their work.  Planning regular updates and sharing diaries are crucial to effective working that will benefit both sides.  Regular ‘check-ins’ can create a sense of working as part of a team, rather than in isolation, and include remote employees in decision making and the feeling that their contributions are driving the business forward.  Sharing business priorities and an on-going professional dialogue, are crucial to successful engagement and increased self-motivation.  It is important for managers to find time for ‘remote’ conversations in order to keep their home-based employees fully involved in business affairs for better outputs.  Not everyone is equally motivated and frequent, regular contact can help with greater engagement of home-based staff.

Acknowledgement and feedback

Providing regular feedback on the work output of remote employees is key to keeping them involved.  When people feel valued, their productivity is likely to increase.   Working away from office, employees may feel detached and unsure of their performance in relation to others, and therefore it is important for managers to acknowledge their performance and to assess it against the agreed objectives.  Effective feedback is the best method of developing staff and increasing productivity.  It is particularly important for people working from home as they lack the social engagement or office camaraderie that may give an indication of how their input is perceived.  Also, setting clear expectations is part of good leadership and staff development.

Team meetings

A plan of regular meetings between team members and their manager is essential to effective team development and on-going engagement.  It ensures that remote workers feel valued, are part of a bigger team and can see their input in more holistic terms.  Team meetings can also provide a forum for sharing ideas, co-ordinating activities, planning between different team members and face-to-face communication which is important, especially to remote employees.  These meetings need to be structured, not left to chance, to encourage greater engagement and involvement for all.  Good leaders need to ensure that remote employees feel valued and included, and that their contribution is formally acknowledged. 

Working from home may not be for everyone and some jobs require physical presence on site as they cannot be done remotely.  However, as it is envisaged that more office work will be done remotely, it is worth thinking about effective engagement of remote employees.

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