Jan. 13, 2021 | Updated 2:41 PM ET
When the coronavirus pandemic began almost a year ago, many businesses quickly shifted to a new employment model where most or even all employees started working virtually. The rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine could represent the beginning of the end of the pandemic, but many businesses may choose for some employees to continue their virtual work arrangement.
While there are many potential benefits to adopting a virtual or virtual employment model, there are also a number of challenges. Keeping virtual employees engaged in their work and motivated to give their best effort is one of the biggest challenges. Here are eight strategies for motivating virtual employees.
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. A lack of communication with their supervisor and coworkers is often cited as the biggest frustration by virtual employees. So it’s critical to create a platform for effective communication with virtual workers.
You have to be deliberate when it comes to communicating with employees who aren’t physically located in a central office location — you can’t adopt a “no news is good news” or “out of sight, out of mind” attitude toward them. Establish regular check-in calls with them, including video calls via Zoom or Skype. And make sure virtual employees feel comfortable contacting their supervisor any time they need to (within pre-established time boundaries).
2. Provide virtual workers with the latest technology. Virtual employees can’t communicate effectively if they don’t have the most up-to-date communication technology. This starts with computers that are capable of handling video calls and conferencing without crashing or crawling. Computers should be equipped with videoconferencing and direct messaging software as well as a virtual private network for securely sharing and downloading files.
Virtual employees should also have access to high-speed internet connections at home to ensure the fastest and most reliable digital communication — even if your company has to pay for this. Collaborative project management tools such as Wrike, Asana, and Trello can also help virtual employees work more efficiently.
3. Challenge virtual employees with growth goals. This includes not just company growth, but also setting growth goals for employees’ professional careers. Lay out clear pathways for career advancement and make sure employees know that their virtual working status won’t hinder their growth opportunities within the company.
4. Don’t micromanage “seat time.” One of the biggest concerns some employers have about letting employees work virtually is that virtual employees won’t be as productive working at home as they are working in a central location. So they sometimes take extreme measures to make sure virtual employees are at their workstations a certain number of hours each day.
A better approach often is to focus more on virtual employees’ achievements and accomplishments than on how many hours they’re logging. This keeps the attention where it belongs: on what kind of results employees are achieving for your business. Many virtual employees feel more motivated when their employers adopt a results-oriented mindset like this instead of obsessing over how many hours they’re working each day.
5. Recognize and reward virtual workers’ accomplishments. All employees appreciate recognition for a job well done — in fact, some rank this ahead of salary when it comes to motivating factors in their jobs. Therefore, don’t hesitate to lavish praise on virtual workers when it’s deserved. Also look for opportunities to reward these employees, such as by sending them gift cards or baskets to recognize especially momentous achievements.
6. Share the big picture with virtual workers. As the leader of your organization, it’s up to you to share your vision for the company with all employees so they can see how their work impacts the big picture. This includes virtual employees who can sometimes feel like “outsiders” when it comes to their role in helping achieve your vision. So don’t forget your virtual workers when sharing corporate vision with your workforce.
7. Help virtual employees with time management. Managing their time effectively is one of the biggest challenges faced by many virtual employees, especially while they’re adjusting to working virtually. Without the structure of the office environment and with so many potential household disruptions, it can be hard for them to stay focused on tasks at hand.
This makes it critical to provide time management tips and guidance for employees who will be working virtually for the first time. Also consider having more experienced virtual workers serve as mentors for newer virtual employees, answering their questions and helping them adapt to working virtually.
8. Trust your virtual employees. If virtual work is new for you and your company, it might take a little while to get used to the idea that you can’t see what your employees are doing at any time during the workday. But once they have proved that they can work productively and efficiently in a virtual setting, you need to let your virtual employees know that you trust them to do their jobs virtually just as much as if they were coming into a central location.
Some experts are predicting that even after the pandemic is over, we may never go back to the type of employment model where most employees come to work in a central office location. If so, it will be more important than ever to keep virtual employees motivated and working efficiently and productively.