4 Keys to Engaging Your Remote Workforce

For me, a remote workforce fall into two categories: those who actually work remotely and those whose jobs simply keep them away from their desks.

The first group is easy to track — 37 percent of the workforce has telecommuted at one time or another. The second group, often referred to as non-desk workers, includes people who don’t even have a desk or fixed workspace, such as nurses covering a whole floor, a retail sales person on the shop floor, or production workers in a factory.

Of those who work in an office, 36 percent claim they would prefer work-from-home benefits to a pay raise, and 62 percent would choose a job that let them work from home full time over the same job that required an office presence.

The challenges of a remote workforce will accelerate as more people start working remotely. Business leaders and human resources leaders will struggle more and more with reaching, engaging, and communicating with their remote workforces. How can they prepare to get ahead of those challenges?

Losing the Remote Control

The primary issue with working remotely is, unsurprisingly, being remote. Not having colleagues in the same physical location presents major issues in two categories:

  • Willingness to work, or engagement: While working from anywhere sounds nice at first, separation from co-workers can reduce the drive to collaborate with the team. Usually, this is the consequence of remote workers not feeling included in important conversations, not interacting socially with colleagues, and being left out of joint experiences.
  • Ability to work,or empowerment: Even on the most well-equipped island, people need other people, data, and tools to work effectively. This leads to challenges, such as a lack of access to subject matter experts and systems, lost context on initiatives, and unequal participation in meetings. This also includes corporate and HR communications, leaving employees ill-informed about the company’s goals and objectives and making them less able to help meet those benchmarks.

Eliminating the Remote Barrier

The whole issue starts with the idea that the office is the center of the company. As leaders, we need to take down those barriers between the office and “the others” outside.

  1. Make interactions personal.Combat the lack of physical presence by transforming digital interactions into personal interactions. Mobile technology allows you to turn every phone call into a video session. Distance doesn’t have to feel inhuman, so make remote interactions as personal as possible to lower that barrier. Ban services that require a physical presence, even if it requires upgrading technology.
  1. Reach all employees, even non-desk workers. If you can’t all be in the same room, shrink the distance between people. The more people on IM or ready for immediate communication, the better. Even executives should be available and lead by example. You’re not hiding under your desk, so don’t hide in the digital world.
  1. Make mobile universal. An intranet that’s unavailable to half your staff isn’t just a tech hurdle — it’s a disservice to non-desk workers. The same is true for HR processes, such as requesting vacation days or getting payroll information. Start everything with a mobile world in mind.
  1. Prioritize results over time. Establish a culture that values results over hours logged. While technology can help this along, the core of the change must be in the leadership philosophy.

This shift in approach can be summed up in one concept: people. If you have a 10 percent remote workforce, act like that figure is 100 percent. No leader treats left-handed people differently — the workplace is designed so that such distinctions don’t matter. Aspire to create a workforce in which remote work is not only accepted, but also a part of everyday life.

Daniel Kraft is the president and CEO of Sitrion. Sitrion provides millions of people with a mobile and socially enabled workplace that’s tightly integrated with SAP, Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365, and Salesforce. Daniel is a public speaker on topics involving employee engagement and productivity and was featured on TEDx.

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Communities Go Mobile With Real World Exploration Apps

Thanks to a new set of location-based mobile applications that have cropped up over the past year, our social interactions online are beginning to impact our real world lives in very real ways. Here’s how they work now:

  1. Users open a location-based mobile application like Whrrl, Foursquare or SCVNGR and find recommendations from other users for how to experience different places near them.
  2. Within the applications, users bookmark recommendations that they want to do.
  3. Users then use their virtual to-do lists to explore the world around them.

Here’s a use case: I’m waiting in line at the ticket booth of the San Diego Zoo. To kill time, I open my Whrrl application. I view a few recommendations from other users who have been to the zoo. One recommendation from a friend of mine says, “Get to the back of the zoo right when it opens. You’ll get to see the lions eating their breakfast.”

I think to myself, “I don’t want to miss that!” and I dog-ear that recommendation. Forty minutes later, I’m watching the lions chow down with a few other spectators who were wise enough to download Whrrl. The rest of the park is waiting for the sloth exhibit in the front of the zoo to open. I click the “I did this” button on Whrrl and my friend who made the recommendation about the lions receives a reward within Whrrl.

That reality is evolving quickly, and with it, affiliate marketing is about to change forever.

Recently, Foursquare released its “Add to Foursquare” button, which allows anyone to tag places (and eventually recommendations) into the Foursquare network from anywhere on the web. Here’s where the fun begins. Remember that old  pay-per-click model affiliate marketers used to base their income on? It’s about to be taken to the real world. Here’s how these location-based exploration apps are going to work after a couple of more years of innovation:

  1. An affiliate marketer or influencer will be given designated links to specific recommendations and will plant those links using technology like the Foursquare button.
  2. Users will add those recommendations to their virtual to-do lists, and the marketer or influencer who planted the recommendation will be compensated for the real world “click.”
  3. If a user acts on the recommendation on his/her to-do list, the marketer will be paid even more.

When this world becomes a reality, my friend who made that recommendation at the San Diego Zoo will be compensated with a real world reward (monetary or otherwise). That new incentive may be enough motivation for mass adoption of mobile applications that guide real world experiences.

This is how technology will drive real world action. This is how social influence online can translate to the real world. So what does it mean for your social community? It means that with every new innovation in location-based technology, we are closer than ever to breaking down the boundaries between online and offline experiences.

Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups are on the verge of becoming experience-based, not just interest-based. Niche social networks on Ning will provide digital incentives for real world experiences. Facebook groups will be married to verticals of exploration and activity. As community managers, we no longer need to limit our thinking to what our communities can talk about on discussion boards, chats and blogs. We can now start to strategize about enriching our community members’ lives while they aren’t sitting at their desks pounding away on their laptops.

If you haven’t tried out a location-based app like Whrrl or Foursquare, I highly recommend it. Understanding the dynamics those applications use will be key to running a successful community in the very near future.