How to keep employees engaged when they work remotely

Telework offers many benefits but some challenges—particularly engagement. Here’s how to maintain team spirit when employees work outside of the workplace.

We live in an era of increased telecommuting, and employees love it that way.

Global Analytics Workplace estimates that roughly 3.7 million employees (2.8 percent of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time; 50 percent of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is at least partially compatible with telework; and approximately 20-25 percent of the workforce teleworks at some frequency

There are compelling reasons to support remote work arrangements. Global Analytics Workplace has found that 80 percent of employees consider telework a job perk, with two-thirds wanting to work from home; 36 percent of employees would choose working from home over a pay raise; and 37 percent would take a pay cut of 10 percent if they could work from home.

Clearly, working from home improves employee satisfaction, and it offers other significant benefits as well. Telecommuting creates some challenges, though—which I’ll get to in a moment. First, the positives.

Global Analytics Workplace has found that working from home:

  • Reduces attrition
  • Reduces unscheduled absences
  • Increases productivity
  • Saves employers and employees money
  • Equalizes personalities and reduces potential for discrimination
  • Cuts down on wasted meetings
  • Increases employee empowerment
  • Increases employee leisure time
  • Reduces stress, injury and illness for employees
  • Increases collaboration
  • Provides new employment opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed
  • Expands the talent pool
  • Slows the brain drain due to retiring baby boomers
  • Reduces staffing redundancies and offers quick scale-up and scale-down options
  • Reduces traffic jams
  • Prevents traffic accidents
  • Takes the pressure off our crumbling transportation infrastructure
  • Offers access to grants and financial incentives
  • Ensures continuity of operations in the event of a disaster
  • Improves performance measurement systems

It’s pretty compelling case. According to Global Analytics Workplace, a typical organization can save $11,000 per person per year with just half-time telecommuting, and those telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year.

On the flip side, telecommuting does present some difficulties:

  • Management mistrust
  • Adjustment problems
  • Career fears from the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality
  • Co-worker jealousy
  • Security issues
  • IT infrastructure changes
  • Collaboration concerns
  • Double taxation
  • Employment law and OSHA concerns
  • Local zoning issues

Millennials are particularly attracted to flexible work arrangements, rating them eight on a 1-10 scale of benefits contributing to overall job satisfaction. Work-life balance is one of the most overarching goals of Gen Y workers, so offering telecommuting can pay off especially well in increased employee recruitment for this group. Perhaps this is why, again according to Global Analytics Workplace, Fortune 1000 organizations around the globe are entirely revamping their operations around the fact that employees are already mobile.

The challenge is engagement. How can you help remote employees feel that they’re a part of a team? How do you create a sense of camaraderie and collaboration? It’s a question we encounter quite a bit at Causecast, and fortunately one we have an answer for: strong employee volunteering and giving programs.

A robust program that offers a mobile, social and interactive experience in the real world and online isn’t the sole panacea for the challenges of remote employees, but it’s a good start. Many of the suggestions for engaging remote employees I hear about from HR experts involve solutions that play right into organizations’ social impact efforts:

  • Get to know remote employees as people
  • Gamify the work
  • Make remote employees feel that they’re a part of a team
  • Create informal channels of communication outside of work topics
  • Build a strong culture steeped in common values
  • Meet face to face at least a few times a year
  • Maximize technology to bridge the distance

All these steps can be addressed through a robust volunteer and giving program that uses giving back as a channel for what I call the six Cs: communication, culture, connection, creativity, collaboration and camaraderie.

When considering how to engage your remote employees, think about using volunteer and giving programs as a unifying thread to make everyone in your organization feel enthusiastic, inspired and proud. Create occasional opportunities for remote employees to volunteer alongside their colleagues, and make sure they feel connected to their peers and management the rest of the year through an online platform like Causecast, where they can share their stories of volunteering and giving back alongside their peers and participate in organization-wide challenges as a part of a team. Build a rockstar culture that defines your organization far more than any physical space.

Working alone offers many benefits, but it can be lonely. Connecting all of your employees to each other and to the organization as a whole through giving back, especially by engaging them in innovative, employee-directed corporate philanthropy efforts, helps your workers feel that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves—and certainly bigger than the bricks-and-mortar office buildings where some of them do and some of them don’t actually do their work.

Ryan Scott is CEO of Causecast. A version of this post first appeared on the Causecast blog.

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