There’s no doubt the world of work is changing. The internet, the cloud and apps have successfully untethered work from the office. You can run your business from anywhere, which minimizes startup costs and creates a culture of flexibility. Your lean startup has the potential to thrive as you channel the savings into marketing and innovation. Sounds great, but nothing’s perfect. If you don’t keep your virtual team engaged, it’s easy to lose them.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report reveals that, in terms of engagement, the optimum amount of time away from the office is three to four days, or 60 to 80 percent of the workweek.
What if there is no office? Employees who work remotely 100 percent of the time are the least engaged, and overall, 51 percent of employees are looking for a new job. Chances are your disengaged remote worker is trying to engage somewhere else.
So how do you keep them engaged? This infographic from Villanova University provides some helpful insight:
Use communication tools
You need to actively facilitate communication with your remote team, and the more, the better. There are a number of tools available for this purpose and using more tools than you need is counterproductive.
The key is to narrow it down to what you do need, such as:
- Social Media: Slack has quickly moved to the forefront of social media platforms for work, to the extent that it was one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies of 2017; if you’re running a pretty small team, Google Hangouts may be enough for you.
- Project Management: Project management software is an essential part of your small business stack, because you need a place to centralize projects and tasks; Teamwork Projects is a fine option, as is Asana.
- Video Conferencing: Regular meetings via video help provide the benefit of seeing each other’s faces; of the top video conference apps, RingCentral Office and ClickMeeting score the highest with PCMag’s editors.
- Smartphones: You can take advantage of WiFi calling, which your team can use in most countries to eliminate long distance fees. Of course, you’ll need to be able to text, and you can even make an occasional video call via Facebook Messenger or Skype.
- Email: This may seem like a given, but you can’t underestimate the value of a good email platform with cloud space included.
Strong communication is the core of any great team, and that rings especially true for virtual teams. As you’ll see, communication plays into every other aspect of keeping your team engaged.
Be clear about challenges, expectations and incentives
Your remote employees must have a complete picture of what’s going on. If they don’t, they’re laboring in the dark without the benefit of office friends and interactions that provide a modicum of solace.
Be very clear about challenges your team needs to surmount and what you expect of each individual. Provide checkpoints for meeting short-term and long-term goals. If those checkpoints can include a reward, that’s fantastic. Make rewards bigger for major accomplishments. At the very least, acknowledge accomplishments through private messages that communicate your enthusiasm.
Along with incentives for accomplishments, be clear about benefits. If having a virtual team is saving you money that goes toward employee benefits, be sure to let them know that’s the case.
Don’t let your virtual team overwork
Remote workers clock about four hours more per week than office employees, which translates into 13 percent more work. That’s great, right? You’re getting more productivity out of your employees.
High quality production isn’t the result of more time worked. Overwork hurts both companies and employees, as a study by Erin Reid (Boston University Questrom School of Business) showed that managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who faked an 80 hour week and those who actually worked 80 hours. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that overwork results in myriad health problems, which affect performance, and the less sleep you get, the more likely you are to make mistakes.
To limit overwork from remote employees, use a time-tracking app, and pay attention to employees’ hours. You’ll likely see that more than 40 to 50 hours a week isn’t helping their output. Give them a call and discuss the issue if you see they’re quite simply putting in too much time.
Empower employees to make decisions
The more decisions employees get to make, the more they own their work. The employee who is invested because he decided how to run a project will be more engaged in making sure the project goes well. Don’t just let them make decisions. Let them know you’re confident in their choices, ask their opinion, do everything you can to solicit proactivity. Once they make a decision and take the lead, check in with them regularly, provide encouragement, and give them candid feedback once the project is completed.
Provide opportunities for advancement
If business is going well, make new positions and promote from within. This is the final step to showing employees their future is with your startup. Don’t wait, let them know they can and will advance as the company grows. Now you’re promoting loyalty just like an office-based enterprise does, but you’re providing remote flexibility on top of that. If an employee doesn’t want to stay, they’re missing out on something special.