Motivating work-from-home employees is a struggle for many business owners, but it's an important topic to address. Ask any employee what they want most out of their jobs and I can almost guarantee you’ll hear “the ability to work from home” from nearly all of them. That’s because working from home is increasingly important to the American workforce, particularly the Millennials, who value flexibility and a stronger work-life balance than any previous generation. Employees are demanding that traditional work structures be broken down, and they’re often willing to work under freelance or independent contractor status to make it happen. Are they crazy?
Perhaps not. While traditional corporate structures have put everyone in the office in an effort to strengthen company culture and increase collaboration and productivity among employees, the newest scientific studies show that employees are happier and “massively” more productive when they work remotely most of the time. They stay in their jobs longer and actually save companies some money because they don’t require rented office space. Perhaps the Millennials are onto something after all.
Still, working from home can make some business owners nervous. They can’t “watch” their employees when they’re not on-site, so how can they possibly keep them motivated and contributing to the company? What keeps an at-home employee engaged from a distance?
Based on my own experience working from home on occasion and watching our team in action, here’s what I suggest.
- Communicate frequently, and across multiple channels.
Regular communication keeps your team members in the loop and helps them feel more connected to your organization. That being said, don’t rely on just email to do it. Take advantage of video conferencing, screen sharing, webinars, Skype, social media groups, phone calls, and other methods to make your employees feel needed and a part of the team. Today’s technology makes it easier for people to feel connected even when they are away from the community. Take advantage of it, and do it regularly enough to create a sense of belonging and give remote employees a better sense of direction with their work.
- Be deliberate with praise and recognition.
When people work from home, they too often receive assignments, deliver them on time, and only hear back when their managers want revisions. In other words, they only receive negative feedback. That’s extremely demoralizing.
To be motivated at home, employees must get the same encouraging nods and responses that they get in the office. That means you, the manager, have to be deliberate in offering praise. Implement an employee recognition program and make sure your remote employees are part of it. Praise is most effective when it’s immediate, relevant, specific, and public. Keep this in mind as you look to create a recognition program that engages your virtual team.
- Offer opportunities for growth.
Because remote employees aren’t in the same office as you, they may become worried that there isn’t a clear path to advancement. This concern only grows with time. A new employee may stay motivated for awhile, but after “the grind” sets in, they will begin looking elsewhere if they don’t see any opportunities for development and promotion. Be clear and intentional with this, too.
- Don’t forget to meet up in person.
If possible, invite your remote employees to come in once a week for your status meeting. According to a recent Gallup study, only 30% employees who commute every day are "engaged" at work, meaning that they feel a sense of belonging and responsibility to the organization. Similarly, only 30% of employees who work-from-home all the time are engaged at work.
By contrast, 41% of employees who commute to work 1 or 2 days a week (and work at home the rest of the time) are engaged at work. Apparently, a weekly appearance at the office helps work-from-home employees stay connected, while still maintaining their independence.
Not possible to have them come in weekly? No worries, but schedule a monthly working lunch or other semi-frequent time for them to visit the office and feel like part of the team.
- Don’t slack on pay.
Offer raises as you would your traditional employees, and be sure to pay all freelancers/independent contractors according to the time schedule set forth in their contracts. Not being paid on time tells your workforce that they're not really part of the team, and their contributions not really valued. If you’re having trouble financially, find alternative solutions to your problem besides foisting the burden on those working for your company.
It’s fair to say that managers must take more responsibility for keeping work-at-home employees "plugged in" to organizational goals and expectations, but the rewards can be worth it. Acknowledge the challenge, but don’t be afraid to go for it. Your employees will thank you.