How to Keep People Motivated When Working Remotely


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Keith Fenhaus, President, The Forum President/CEO, Hallmark Business Connections and Patty Saari Vice President, The Forum Vice President, Carlson Marketing, presentation on Virtual Motivation, how to keep people motivated when working remotely.

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  • Virtual working has proliferated in today’s connected world. What was unthinkable, in terms of access to data and people, is now expected and commonplace, with one of the latest additions being internet access at 40,000 feet. 24/7 connection has become not just possible, but expected.
  • This proliferation sparked significant interest with the Forum and it’s constituents. We wondered who was doing it well, and what experience has taught us in the past decade or so. It’s clearly no longer the exception, and it’s far from the exotic alternative to the cubicle, yet there hasn’t been a lot of research done in this area.
  • When management thinks about virtual working, the immediate question that comes up is this:How do I know if an employee is productive? Employee productivity is a key source for profit in the service and knowledge economy—the more value an individual can create for each hour worked, the greater the organization profits. And since management often relies on firsthand observation as a leading indicator of productivity, that lack of immediate data plants the seeds of doubt. How do I know if the person on the other end of the computer is potentially the family pet, who is covering for the employee who is off doing their own thing…?
  • Progressive companies who are in–the-know recognize that there are many influencers of productivity, and critical among them is culture. Culture is the “invisible glue” that holds a company together and sets the stage for focused, smart employees who are dedicated to fulfilling on the organization’s mission. Steve Sadove, the CEO of Saks, clearly gets it, and his comments from the New York Times say it all.
  • So finding ways to “watch” my employees work is essentially a very 1990’s question. Instead, our focus should be on the culture and environment we work in, which is particularly challenging for the virtual workforce. This brings us to the new, big questions when it comes to managing employees, and especially the virtual workforce:How do I help team members stay connected?How do I build a virtual culture?How do I keep employees motivated when we’re not together?
  • With this as a backdrop, the Forum set out to learn from companies that have successfully developed their practices in working virtually. What we found out was different than we expected, and has prompted some great dialogue, which we hope to spark today. But before we share our findings, let’s step back and take a big picture look at the world of virtual work.
  • First, here’s some interesting facts:According to the Telework Coalition, 89% of top 100 companies offer virtual work as an option, and 58% of these firms describe themselves as being a virtual company.Telework Research Network estimates that over 30 million employees have some kind of virtual arrangement, and it shows no signs of slowing down.And to show how powerful virtual work can be, 72% of employees surveyed said that the opportunity to telecommute at least part-time influenced their employment decision.
  • There are three primary ways that people work virtually:The first is telecommuting, which really broke the mold on what it means to work someplace other than a cubicleThen we have virtual teams. These individuals may or may not be in a corporate environment, but in this instance, they’re physically separated from one another, sometimes being thousands of miles apart.A variation o the virtual theme is a concept called ‘hoteling’. In this instance, employees don’t have a fixed place to call “home” in the office. Instead, a reduced number of workspaces are made available, and employees check them out, much like we use a hotel room. In these environments, employees are encouraged to work wherever, and whenever they like, keeping their project’s needs in mind.
  • Some of the challenges we learned about in our preliminary research included…Failure to leverage technology…this includes not investing in technology, or investing in it but not fully adopting its potential.Difficulty in building trust, between employees, between employees and management, and with the brand as a wholeDecreased team cohesivenessDisconnection with the culture---essentially creating their own culture, or adopting the culture of the people they spend the most time with, which could be clients or other peersAnd finally, all of this adds up to an increased risk of turnover, which is one of the primary reasons it’s worth paying attention to how you address virtual work
  • But these were overshadowed by the ways an organization can benefit from adopting a virtual workplace. One of the first is that it creates the opportunity for employees to work anytime, anywhere. This can be a benefit to an employee who wants to be available for family activities between 9 and 5, such as a school play. But it’s particularly useful for employers who need team members from different time zones to work simultaneously. This always means that at least one person has to be available during non-traditional work hours.This kind of flexibility also lends itself to the ability to form teams based on talent and not geography. Employees no longer have to sit next to each other in order to work together.And the big one is always the reduction in overhead costs. Real estate is an expense that adds nothing to the bottom line, so it becomes an opportunity to leverage.So now it’s no longer a matter of ‘does virtual make sense,’ but instead it’s how they maximize the potential benefits and minimize the challenges.
  • With that in mind, we turned our research attention on exploring the virtual workplace. This included investigating how an organization can develop teams, build their culture and motivate employees, all while working in a remote, dispersed, virtual way.
  • We approached this study by identifying organizations that have spent extensive time developing their virtual expertise, and make it a big part of how they do business. Organizations that floating to the top of our list were:Adobe, Cisco, Accenture and UnitedHealthcare, which are all names that are probably familiar to you.We also included to smaller organizations: Automattic (which is also known as Wordpress) and Performics, which is a search and digital marketing company.As you might imagine, technology companies have made virtually working a routine part of their business. But all types of companies work virtually, so we made it a point to seek out some strong non-technology examples.Once we settled on our selections, we then interviewed their top leaders in order to identify ideas and best practices.
  • We’d now like to share what we learned in our research. We’ll highlight six key insights, and offer examples of each based on the interviews we conducted. We’d also like to hear from you and build on our research by gathering some additional examples. As you’ll soon see, this is a very rich topic and no one of the realities is that no one has it entirely figured out. So further discussion will add to the foundation of knowledge we’ve established.
  • Our first insight is our observation that the best companies see working virtually as a key part of their employee engagement strategy. When people started working remotely years ago, attention was primarily given to the tactics. How do you provide online access? How do you have meetings by conference call? How do you track progress and report on results? Leadership believed that once these tactics were figured out, everything would fall into place.But what we saw in our selected companies is that they see working virtually as a big part of their overall employee engagement strategy. These organizations have devised new ways of running their businesses in order to accommodate the changes that working virtually requires.
  • Examples include….Several companies have dedicated resources that devise systems exclusively for virtual employees. So it’s not just embedded in individual jobs, but there are people who focus entirely on making virtual a success for everyoneFeedback systems are designed just for virtual employees, so they can understand what’s working and what’s not from that populationThis one’s interesting…Performance Reviews are timed to coincide with project completion. That means there are natural results to look at for giving feedback, rather than the daily and informal ebb and flow that goes with traditional timing.
  • Additional thoughts:Assigning both project and reporting teams based on many critieria—skill development, mix of talent, customer relationships—but not physical geography.Performance review expectations capture virtual abilities and skills.
  • Next, we recognized that companies have gone well past using technology to monitor and control the work of their employees. Frankly, if you’re that worried about whether your team members are actually working or not, then you need to rethink your employee selection and hiring practices!Once companies gained comfort with the opportunities that virtual work provided, they focused on using technology to lower barriers to great performance, with excellent results.
  • First, there is a heavy reliance on technology for communication and collaboration. People use technology and work remotely first—even when they are geographically housed in the same location.Technology is also invested in routinely, and people are expected to leverage and learn the latest that’s availableThere is little concern for the hours people keep, as long as the work is getting done. People are encouraged to work when they want, but along with that goes the expectation of pretty immediate access and quick answers to questions and concerns.
  • Additional example:Best Buy “smashed the clock” when they adopted ROWE, for "results-only work environment." They have been working for several years to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours. This combines the access of technology with a shift in strategy.
  • An interesting thing then happened as technology made things easier and virtual working became more commonplace. Companies started to realize that the traditional limitation of geography was no longer a barrier for employee selection. They recognized that they could go anywhere to find great talent, and it didn’t matter if the person wanted to move or not.
  • This statement speaks for itself…here are some quotes from our interviews. They reinforce the belief and mission of the Forum, which is that employees are at the center of business success. These companies clearly see that working virtually is simply one of many ways they create a workplace that supports the needs of all their employees, even if it’s not convenient for leadership.
  • Our next insight was an interesting twist on working virtually. We found that the best organizations gained a real appreciation for the value of face-to-face communications and relationships. They saw some of the shortcomings which can come with a remote workforce, and found that one of the antidotes was to make sure that true relationships had a chance to develop. Without that, business becomes too task oriented, which ultimately leads to disconnection and a sense of being disenfranchised.
  • There are several ways that organizations countered the ‘remoteness’ of working remotely. One approach was to require that new remote employees start their transition with a lengthy stay working with team members or in the home office. This allowed some of the subtleties of relationships to flourish, which could then be carried back to the virtual environment. Another organization has powerful, well designed business meetings that are equal parts content, contact and motivation. They create memorable events that carryover for many months, thus buffering the effect that isolation can have.Video conferencing—which is also a technology enabler—is also routinely used.
  • Examples:Replace real estate budget with a tweak in the travel budget…encourage employees to meet face-to-face “halfway” or at corporate offices. Or travel to a client site and then find a place to meet together for company business.
  • Just as working remotely requires a different set of skills and resources, so does leading a virtual team. How do you offer support when it’s difficult to tell when support is needed? How do you identify performance issues when they’re hard to spot? How to you extend your culture beyond the four walls of your business? These are just some of the challenges that leaders of virtual teams face, and they require their own set of skills. The best organizations recognize this and their leaders have adapted.
  • It isn’t assumed that leaders automatically know how to manage remote employees. Specific skills are taught and leaders are judged on their own performance in leading in a virtual environment.Leadership comes not just from “formal” leaders. Informal leadership comes when mentors are assigned to new employees. These are senior individuals who can help decode the culture and convey the ‘behind the scenes’ knowledge that only comes from routine contact and the help of immediate geographic proximity.
  • Advanced communications—superior writing and listening skills that transcend the shortcomings of the mediaTrust building – leaders know how to quickly create trusting relationships and work to maintain themMasterful at technology – Maximize resources like WebEx—it’s not just to show and control PPT but can be used for dynamic team meetings
  • Our final thought is an observation we made when looking at the large corporations as compared to the smaller firms. Just as small and large companies have different personalities due to their size, we saw the same thing with their approach to being virtual. With large corporations, teams are already spread out across different territories, so there’s a “built-in” capability that lends itself to working virtually. But it’s also easier to become isolated. Small companies seem to more acutely feel the struggles of separation that come with remote jobs, but if they can overcome the challenges, they can reap the benefits.
  • Big or small, virtual needs attention in order to make it work. The risk of not doing so is to create “orphans” who are disconnected, demotivated and at risk of defection.
  • How to Keep People Motivated When Working Remotely

    1. 1. Virtual Motivation How to Keep People Motivated When Working Remotely 11
    2. 2. Keith Fenhaus President, The Forum President/CEO, Hallmark Business Connections Patty Saari Vice President, The Forum Vice President, Carlson Marketing 22
    3. 3. 3
    4. 4. What does it mean to be a Virtual worker ?4
    5. 5. How do I know if an employee is productive? Or is the family petmanning the computer?5
    6. 6. “When I talk to Wall Street, people really want to know your results, what are your strategies, what are the issues, what it is that you’re doing to drive your business. They’re focused on the bottom line. Never do you get people asking about the culture… Yet, it’s the reverse, because it’s the people, the leadership, the culture and the ideas that are Stephen I. Sadove ultimately driving the numbers Chairman and CEO Saks Inc and the results.” New York Times, May 29, 20106
    7. 7. The NEW BIG Questions… How do I keep employees motivated when we’re not together? How do I build a virtual team culture? How do I help team members stay connected? 77
    8. 8. Research Vision What can we learn from organizations who have made Virtual Work a successful part of their enterprise and a contributor to their bottom line? 88
    9. 9. Virtual Facts 89% of top 100 companies offer 30 million + virtual work as employees work an option virtually at least one day a week 72% of employees say that flexible work influenced their employment decision Telework Coalition 2007 – 2012 Telework Research Network 2009 The Edge Report 2008 99
    10. 10. Virtual Variations • Telecommuting – Working from home (or elsewhere) full- or part- time • Virtual teams – Team members are geographically dispersed • Hoteling – Desks are “checked out” on a daily basis; employees work where and when they want 1010
    11. 11. Common Challenges • Failure to fully leverage technology • Difficulty in building trust • Decreased team cohesiveness • Disconnection with the culture (“going native”) • Risk of turnover 1111
    12. 12. Benefits • Anytime, anywhere workplace • Flexibility to mix teams • Reduction in overhead costs 1212
    13. 13. The Forum Research 2011 How can an organization… Develop teams Build their culture Motivate employees …in a Virtual Workplace? 1313
    14. 14. Research Method 1414
    15. 15. What We Learned 1515
    16. 16. Virtual Insight 1 Working virtually is a Strategy not a tactic 1616
    17. 17. How have companies made virtual work a strategy? • “Virtual Resource Teams” are dedicated to building communication systems, motivation, technology and other forms of support • Employee Engagement surveys are segmented and analyzed by virtual roles • Performance Reviews are driven by project timing and results, not the calendar year or employee anniversary date 1717
    18. 18. How have you taken a strategic approach to working virtually? 1818
    19. 19. Virtual Insight 2 Invest in technology to Empower people and not entrap them 1919
    20. 20. How do companies use technology to their advantage? • Instant messaging, intranet services, file sharing resources, web conferencing and more are all maximized. • No hesitation in investing in the latest technology if it supports virtual access • The workplace is viewed as 24/7, and everyone is encouraged to work when they want, where they want, regardless of their geography 2020
    21. 21. How have you used technology to enhance your virtual strategy? 2121
    22. 22. Virtual Insight 3 Take advantage of a richer Talent Pool with a virtual strategy 2222
    23. 23. It’s all about talent “It’s the talent that matters, not where the person is.” “We would not have the quality of people we have if we forced them to move locally.” 2323
    24. 24. How has working virtually allowed you to rethink talent selection? 2424
    25. 25. Virtual Insight 4 Create a hybrid remote/live environment to facilitate relationships and not transactions 2525
    26. 26. How is a hybrid environment created? • Employees in new positions are required to spend a lengthy period (up to several months) working geographically with their new team • Business meetings (often quarterly) are an everyday investment. – Design includes a mix of content, contact and motivation • Video conferencing is an everyday enabler 2626
    27. 27. How can business relationships be enhanced in a virtual environment? 2727
    28. 28. Virtual Insight 5 Build Virtual Leadership capabilities 2828
    29. 29. How do you promote virtual leadership? • Leaders are taught “virtual leadership” skills. It’s treated like any other business skill and people are expected to learn and apply proven techniques • New remote employees are assigned a “mentor” in addition to a manager. The mentor is a go-to resource to help navigate cultural, relationship and communication issues. 2929
    30. 30. What are some examples of virtual leadership skills in your organization? 3030
    31. 31. Virtual Insight 6 The Virtual Workplace looks different in Small vs. Large companies 3131
    32. 32. How do different sized companies adapt to the demands of virtual? • Large companies have embraced the virtual challenges like other business problems— they’ve invested time, money and talent to make things work • Small companies have done a more “grass roots” approach and success is tied to individual performance 3232
    33. 33. Do you work for a large or small company…and how well have you adapted to the challenges of working virtually? 3333
    34. 34. Summary • It’s a Strategy • Invest in Technology • Seek a richer Talent pool • Create a Hybrid environment • Build Virtual Leadership skills • Leverage the opportunities of Large vs. Small companies 3434
    35. 35. Closing Thoughts • With a Smartphone in their pocket, every employee is in the virtual workplace • Establish best practices that benefit the business and the employee • Encourage expansion of skills sets—especially leadership and technology adaption—to fully leverage the potential 3535
    36. 36. Forum 4th Annual Think Tank October 26, 2011 Chicago Experience the Forum’s latest research with Second City Communications 3636
    37. 37. 1601 N Bond Street, Suite 303 Naperville, IL 60563 630.369.7780 3737