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- Poor communication, physical distance from the employer’s main location and a tendency to be overlooked by managers can lead to a drop in motivation for remotely-located staff.
- Employees based away from the main workplace may feel detached, and one way to combat this is through visible recognition schemes.
- Recognition schemes for remotely-based staff may involve sending gifts, such as retail or motivation vouchers, to their homes.
- Close communication about issues such as benefits can boost motivation and engagement, and the latest multimedia channels can help to achieve this.
- To ensure staff feel part of the organisation, regular face-to face meetings with managers and colleagues should be set up and, possibly, social events arranged.
Staff working at home or in satellite offices set particular challenges in terms of recognition, says Ben Jones
In an ideal world, employers would be able to access a tool to motivate and engage all groups of staff without much effort or cost. But with many employers reliant on staff who work from home or in small satellite offices, keeping everyone motivated is a key business challenge.
Factors such as poor communication, the physical distance between employer and employees, and a temptation for managers to regard some staff as being out of sight, out of mind can all lead to a drop in motivation. Pat Gilbert, a partner in the employee research group at consultancy Mercer, says this can have serious implications. “If staff become disengaged, the outcome will be high levels of absence, staff dissatisfaction, poor customer service, and an impact on the bottom line.”
But Francis Goss, head of commercial operations, reward services at provider Grass Roots, says employers can face similar challenges wherever their staff are based. “Whether it is home workers, remote workers or people in satellite offices, the same challenges apply: it is all about motivation. We look at motivation in two ways: intrinsic motivation, which is an inbuilt drive to succeed, and extrinsic motivation, where the company sets goals to incentivise people.”
Two types of motivation
An employee who wants to be successful is likely to need some intrinsic motivation, but the extrinsic kind can be used to show an employer is ahead of the game.
Employees based away from their organisation’s main locations may feel detached. One way to combat this is to use visible recognition schemes. “When giving recognition to someone, it should be done in front of peers and in a spirit of celebration,” says Goss. “With remote workers, that is not easy. One thing that can be used is a roll of honour on the front page of an internal website listing the names of those being recognised.”
Even in smaller offices or among home workers, peer-to-peer recognition schemes can be a motivator. Sheila Sheldon, European operations director at provider Michael C Fina, says: “It is still important that, at some point, employees are given their reward publicly and have a tangible form of recognition.
“We have satellite offices that are going to do peer-to-peer nominations, because having approval in the workplace is important.”
If staff are not office-based or rarely go to their employer’s main location, recognition schemes may involve sending gifts, such as retail or motivation vouchers to their homes.
Employers could also use a points-based scheme, with reward points paid into an online account for staff. These points can then be spent on a range of products.
Keeping in close communication with staff about issues such as benefits can also boost motivation and engagement. Newer multimedia channels can help with this. Email and text (SMS) messages are good mediums as long as messages are personalised to each employee. “SMS is good because it is instant and very personalised,” says Goss. “It addresses the ‘what’s in it for me?’ issue, but employers must use SMS in a way that gives the employee what they want.”
Sometimes the physical distance between an employer and home workers or those in small offices can aid motivation because these staff can have more flexibility to manage their work-life balance, for example.
Flexible working seen as a benefit
“Working in a remote way provides for flexible working,” says Gilbert. “People often become more engaged in their job because they see flexible working as a benefit, whereas businesses see it as an operational thing. People who do not have to commute can become immersed in their task.”
To ensure staff feel part of the organisation, regular face-to-face meetings with their manager and colleagues should be set up. Social events can also be arranged.
“One of the key things about engaging with an audience is the role of the manager,” says Goss. “It is vital for them to communicate goals and objectives. One thing they can use is a weekly team conference call where goals and incentives are part of the agenda.”
If an organisation runs performance-based incentive schemes, managers could use these to keep staff updated on targets and how they are progressing.
But however employers choose to motivate remotely-based staff, they must not go too far, says Goss. “I know of one manager at a large petrol company who had a life-size cardboard cut-out of his ‘employee of the month’. But it would not suit everyone.”
Case study: TD Waterhouse
Stockbroker TD Waterhouse International knows the importance of keeping staff in smaller offices motivated. The firm’s headquarters is based in Leeds, but it has smaller offices in Manchester, Birmingham, London and Luxembourg. Just six staff are based in its London office.
Ann Broughton, senior manager HR, facilities and procurement, says keeping staff motivated is vital to the company’s long-term success. “We want to make TD Waterhouse not only a great place to work but also a successful place to work.”
The company gives staff one-off awards for good work, and there is also a quarterly ‘champions programme’ in which employees can nominate their peers. Each year, the best of the champions is selected to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to the company’s annual conference, which this year takes place in San Diego.
The company is also a registered call centre for the televised charity events Sport Relief and Comic Relief, and transports staff in from other offices to work on those events.
“We are making a concerted effort to make TD Waterhouse successful and working in HR we are at the forefront of that innovation,” says Broughton.