Keeping Remote Employees Engaged and Productive in a Virtual Office Setting

By Helen M. Lapointe, Joann A. Somerville, and Brenda J. Glover

Remote employees are becoming the norm for many medical call centers and telehealth companies for economic reasons, as well as employee flexibility. In many instances, the employee can set their own schedule, which enables them to have a greater ability to manage work/home-life situations. This increases job satisfaction, improves productivity, and decreases burnout.

However, it can be challenging for them to not feel socially isolated, and it can be difficult for the supervisor to keep them engaged. Working from home sometimes does not appear as official as the typical workplace environment we are used to participating in our culture.

To be successful work at home employees, they must possess strong interpersonal and social skills, coupled with a balance of technical skills. They must be conscientious, self-motivated, well organized, adaptable, and flexible. Also, they must be receptive to new experiences and be creative with opportunities to socialize.

Managers of the remote employee must possess these qualities as well and be willing to spend more time than the traditional workplace manager engaging their employees in their duties. Qualities of these managers must include organization, but first they must be excellent communicators. They must be skilled at building relationships.

Employees need to be kept well informed about changes that affect the virtual workplace. Short, frequent contact is necessary to keep the employee abreast of happenings within the company, and the manager, not being able to have the face-to-face contact with the employee, must deliver the information to keep the employee connected. It is important to remember that communication within the company as a whole will keep the employee feeling connected.

There are many ways remote employees can stay connected. Social networking sites are popular ways for remote employees to connect with each other, share pictures, and other personal issues that ordinarily would be shared during lunch and break times in the traditional workplace setting. Linked-In is fast becoming a popular professional connection site.

It can be difficult to maintain trusting relationships between the remote employee and manager without access to frequent, reliable communication within the virtual environment. Telephone and email communication are essential. It is easy to misinterpret communication in emails, so telephone communication is always the most reliable. Other effective means of communication within the virtual environment that prove to be effective are scheduled audio/Web conferencing and employee chat rooms for business related communication.

Remote employees many times express their own stresses and burnout from feelings of isolation and being under-valued. Communication is essential to preventing this. Recognizing accomplishments is important in keeping employees engaged and interested in improving skill sets. Offer bonuses for those employees who go “above and beyond” in an attempt to highlight the value of their work.

Positive reinforcement, monthly newsletters with employee recognition and birthdays included, and sharing of photos and other important personal events can give the remote worker a sense of involvement and importance. Employers can provide a means for employees to nominate fellow employees for “exceptional employee awards,” which will recognize and encourage positive behaviors that maintain productive workflow.

These examples will increase comradery, retention, productivity, and loyalty among employees. Managing virtual teams and keeping them engaged is quite a challenge, but both the employee and employer will reap the benefits if the lines of communications are kept open using all of the technology available to today.

[From the June/July 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]