Remote working isn’t just a nice to have anymore. It’s fast becoming a core part of how businesses operate. 31% of companies are now fully remote, and a third of business owners think half of their workforce will work remotely by 2020.
While remote working is a necessity for some, many businesses are adopting it for the benefits it offers. It reduces costs, attracts talent, and can give a productivity boost equivalent to a full day’s work each week.
But keeping remote workers engaged can be tough. We’re going to explore why – first, though, let’s explain what we mean by employee engagement and remote working.
Defining the problem
A remote or ‘hard to reach’ employee is someone who works outside of a standard office space. They have limited connection with the central organisation. And we’re not just talking about people working from home. Remote roles cover any number of roles that happen away from the office, including:
- delivery drivers
- roadside maintenance teams
- warehouse operatives
- field sales representatives
This is a complex one. Improving employee engagement isn’t just about making your people happy. They also need to feel an emotional commitment to your culture and goals. And every business is different. There are ten key elements to look out for – but ultimately, you need to create your own unique definition of engagement.
So, the crux of the challenge is making sure hard-to-reach staff are content, emotionally invested, and working to your goals. How hard can that be?
Remote workers can feel left out
Engaged employees are invested because they feel like their input matters. But unlike their on-site colleagues, remote workers aren’t in direct contact with the daily activity of the business hub. Which means they have fewer opportunities to give feedback or have their say on key issues. They can also miss out on peer-to-peer recognition, which is vital for employee engagement.
Remoteness affects them on a social and cultural level, too. Because they’re not based at the heart of your business, remote staff might miss events and team-building opportunities. They don’t get to build rapport with central management and peers face-to-face. And they’re more likely to feel left out compared to their co-workers. This can leave them isolated and disengaged.
You’ve also got to work harder to ensure everyone clearly understands your vision and mission statement. If you don’t clearly communicate these to remote teams, they’ll be unsure about what they’re working towards. Without that direction, they can end up developing their own ideas about goals and culture that don’t match up with the rest of your business.
Traditional approaches won't work
To overcome these challenges, you need a strong internal communications strategy. But this is easier said than done.
Traditional approaches aren't effective for remote teams. Internal network or email systems aren’t always readily available to them. So, if you send out updates through a weekly newsletter, there’s no guarantee they’ll see it.
Cascading information isn’t effective either. It’s a one-sided form of communication that doesn’t encourage open discussion. It can be inconsistent, too. Messages change as they’re passed down the chain of command, and some managers might not get around to relaying the message at all.
You might think that you can solve this problem by giving remote workers access to a central intranet. However, these systems often aren’t designed to be natively mobile. This is one of the key reasons why intranets fail to engage. If they’re confusing to navigate, it doesn’t make for a good user experience.
How to engage a digitally overlooked workforce
As you can see, there are many hurdles to engaging remote workers. But it's possible if you have the right tools and approach.
Employee engagement apps, for instance, are perfect for getting communication flowing between the hard-to-reach and the rest of the business. These apps allow employees to easily and instantly access communications channels, on browser or mobile, from anywhere and at any time. They can view the latest news, post questions in forums, start debates in polls, and give feedback in surveys. And because most employees will have smartphones, getting them set up with the app is easy – all they need to do is download it.
West Sussex County Council is an excellent real-world example of an organisation that used this kind of app to get more input and ideas from its hard-to-reach workers.
Communication is key
To keep remote workers engaged, you need to develop an effective internal communications strategy – and use the right tools to deliver it.
Luckily, everything you need to know is in our guide. Download it today and learn how to get internal communications right.