Closing the Gap: How to Leverage Tech to Engage a Remote Workforce

Today’s managers and HR directors face the challenge of creating a sense of camaraderie amongst employees who may never meet in person. 43 percent of the workforce is working remotely at least some of the time, according to the latest Gallup survey. Although today’s workers tend to be self-starters with a strong desire to manage themselves, which is conducive to work-from-home arrangements, they are equally hungry for interaction, feedback, and connection.

Using technology to engage remote workers and streamline communications can help managers achieve that necessary balance between micro-managing and providing clear guidance and direction to a distant workforce. From deploying virtual reality headsets for collaboration to virtual happy hours for bonding, there are many ways for successful managers to utilize technology to close the gap between in-house and remote workers.

Telepresence and Virtual Reality Promote Bonding and Collaboration

In the beginning, there was the video conference. Employees in different offices or working from home could see their colleagues during discussions, share screenshots and other material on video, and feel more closely connected. This was one of the first important steps in using tech to engage remote workers.

Telepresence systems upped the ante by offering crystal clear audio and ultra-high definition video, making it easier for conference participants to detect subtle nuances in body language, facial expressions, and speech.

Today, virtual reality headsets and software bring everyone even closer together, allowing them to interact with objects in a mutual, virtual environment. For instance, the VR app BigScreen lets you share your PC monitor in an immersive virtual environment with colleagues in their own home offices, creating a more seamless interaction than other desktop-sharing software might. Other systems, like the HTC Vive, can be used for product development. The days of an entirely virtual office may be years off, but, for now, the technology can improve engagement in meetings by immersing workers in a shared environment.

Video and Chat Apps Simplify Mobile Communications

 While it’s one thing to pull on a headset and collaborate with peers miles away, don’t underestimate the benefits of a simple video chat using an app like Facetime or Skype. Most people today carry this technology in their pocket, encouraging quick face-to-face sessions to hammer out details or gain clarity on an assignment.

When a call isn’t needed, chat applications like Slack and Yammer can help cut down on emails, while making it easier for workers to get a fast response to a quick question. Slack enables one-on-one private messaging, as well as giving users the ability to send a message to a whole group. Users can separate conversations into project-specific channels to minimize confusion and maximize efficiency.

And don’t forget to leave a channel open for non-work-related conversations, an important way for members of a virtual team to bond. You might even host a Friday afternoon virtual happy hour to help boost remote workers’ sense of belonging.

Project Management Tools Keep Everyone on Track

While video chat and messaging apps enable smoother planning, project management tools help ensure the work is being completed. Employees work best when managers provide clear expectations. Cloud-based platforms like Asana, Teamwork Project Management, and Basecamp create accountability to employees for their responsibilities and project timelines. Many also offer time-tracking capabilities so managers can monitor that remote employees are working efficiently.

Cloud-based File-sharing Tools Help Employees Work from Anywhere

From real-time document editing to outlining workflows or creating mind maps, cloud-based collaboration tools make it easy for remote employees to connect with colleagues through their desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Workers can easily share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in the popular Google Drive platform, with an integrated chat app so team members can discuss projects and make changes all in the same window. Changes are saved automatically, so everyone always has the correct version of the file. Cloud-based file storage systems like Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive also permit users to edit files and share changes instantly within the program while working on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

These file-sharing tools may not be as sophisticated as VR, but they are affordable, easily accessible, and can help employees get the job done whether they’re in the office, at home, or at their local coffee house.

Depending on your collaboration needs, your company’s technology budget, and your employees’ comfort level with new technology, implementing some or all of these tools can help engage your mobile workforce, close the gap between in-house and remote employees, and help recruit top talent from across the country into your organization.

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