Looking for ways to engage a geographically distributed workforce and trying to overcome the challenges of managing distributed teams? Expressing your culture and keeping your people connected when your team is ‘free-range’ or even global, places new challenges on already time-constrained human resource and benefits teams.

Here are six ways you can create an inclusive and engaged culture, even when team members are out there rocking it in the free world.

1. Prioritize Great Communication

One of the most important things you can do when managing a distributed workforce is to prioritize great communication. Video conferencing through Zoom, Google Hangouts, WebEx and Skype, or communication tools like Slack and Teams keep people meaningfully connected.

When we see faces, there’s a better connection with the employee. It stops us from multitasking and commands our attention, so turn your video camera on! Employees follow the lead of their leaders, and if they have their video switched on, it’s more likely that employees will switch on their cameras too.

Sure, you have your lone wolves out there who don’t require (or want) as much interaction with others. But you still want them to feel supported, appreciated, and part of your workplace family.

2. Personalization Matters

Including benefits that extend beyond headquarters, or particular campuses, provides personalization that addresses the individual and really makes a positive difference to levels of employee engagement.

From HR’s perspective, how do you extend that group meditation or yoga class off-campus? For remote employees, knowing that HQ has subsidized lunches and a free gym, or company-supported employee resource group (ERG) events, can be frustrating. Now more than ever is the time to make the inclusion of benefits a top priority. That’s where mobile- and web-based technologies can do the heavy lifting to take the burden off HR while putting relevant, equal, and balanced experiences and personalized benefits in employees’ hands, wherever they are.

While personalization can seem insurmountable when you have a global team and thousands of employees, using technology to capture employees’ individual characteristics and preferences can help. Find out what makes each person unique and try to show a personal interest in them. Also, do yourself and others on your benefits team a favor – don’t track this stuff in a spreadsheet or Google doc. 2020 is kind to HR with automated tools. It’s all about simplifying your job while creating deeper personalization for others.

Additionally, be sure that you’re giving your people time to talk about their needs. And here’s where you really want to pay attention and document trends. If you are communicative and a great listener, your employees, remote or otherwise, will help you build the bottom-up culture they want to see.

3. Freedom with Accountability

When you have a geographically distributed workforce, it’s important that you have a way to keep your free-range workers also accountable. Make sure the manager provides feedback on their work. Set clear expectations and check on progress while striking a balance of not being a micromanager.

Having a system in place for quick and constructive feedback is infinitely better than blindsiding an employee on an annual performance review. Educate managers to schedule regular check-ins with your team. Be ready to provide guidance as needed to keep them on track while allowing them the space to get the work done, their way. Also, consider replacing Annual Performance Reviews with Quarterly Goal Setting and even weekly check-ins. It’s more exciting to build a plan exploring one’s personal trajectory with a mentor and leader – and then, achieving it, together.

4. Upskill for Individual Growth

Upskilling is one of the most desirable benefits in 2020. Developing your people is a strategic benefit to positively impacting business outcomes, while also providing a key benefit that will enhance an employee’s happiness. Not to mention that it sets them up for a brighter future. It’s amazing when your culture is known externally as one of inclusion and also for helping foster professional growth. That’s one way to get on one of those ‘Best Places to Work’ lists!

Going back to communication for a minute – consider also training on basic productivity and time management. While some of your distributed workers will already have these skills, there are quite a few who could take a crash course on company communication expectations.

Here’s a simple example: Tara sends Rohit an email. She’s asked very clearly for three things. Rohit responds answering only for one of those but doesn’t provide any timeline for delivery on the other two. Now, Tara has to write back and time is lost in inefficiencies. This issue is more pervasive in companies than one would think. And that is a skill that will work for everyone, everywhere, no matter where they go, and extends to other communication mediums. Another good example is precision questioning and answering. Replying to answers in a more precise fashion helps communication and reduces the potential frustration of working with a remote colleague.

5. Come Together, Wherever You Are

Frequent virtual meetings or happy hour mixers with employees that are both on and offsite can be connective and fun! For example, we’ve had clients provide an allowance to remote employees for pizza and drinks. These have even included themed parties where everyone dressed up. We’ve seen virtual Game of Thrones watch parties and other affinity community groups get super creative. Another example is having a cooking event, where all participants are on video streaming live from their kitchens (or microwaves).

Isn’t that the fun part of being in HR – bringing happiness to people?

If possible, give your employees the chance to also meet in person. While connecting through technology is convenient, efficient, and necessary, nothing can replace human interaction in live-action! Well – until virtual reality takes over, and we can be in the virtual office from the comfort of our pajamas and bunny slippers. We hope someone is on this… hint, hint, Google. One way to do this is to have executives schedule meetings in remote locations where there are significant employee pools. Then the evening can be reserved for gathering all to meet and connect.

6. Gamify Your Workflows

Gamification is a popular way to motivate employees and can be highly effective for engaging a globally distributed workforce. Gamification includes introducing game-based elements into your everyday work activities – to which we say, “Challenge accepted!”

And you can gamify anything. Onboarding a new employee, for example. Instead of taking them through the run-of-the-mill, why not make it exciting? Let them earn points and trade them for branded swag. Give them a reason to want to get through training modules or sessions. Plus, you can help employees find community by giving them rewards for joining an ERG, giving a peer-to-peer award, or attending a company-sponsored event.

A bit of healthy competition mixed with positive reinforcement is a great way to engage your people. Plus, if you are analyzing the data as HR people, you can find your internal culture champions.

Successfully Engaging a Geographically Distributed Workforce

The workplace is going distributed and global. Which provides great savings on office space and a lower carbon footprint per person. Plus, does talent really need to be confined to a particular city? In this crisis of finding the right talent and the right culture fit, why not expand your reach to anywhere with an Internet connection?

Need help keeping your team engaged? Check out this recent HRchat interview and contact the Espresa team today to learn more about how we help HR empower teams, wherever they are.


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