It’s one thing to recognize employees you visibly encounter on a daily basis. But what about those employees who telecommute or work in off-site field locations?
A lot more employees deserve recognition than meet the eye—literally. Consider that 82 of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” provide opportunities for telecommuting, compared with eight companies in 1998.
Trend research suggests telecommuting, or teleworking, is only going to increase. According to the Society for Human Resources Management’s 2007 Annual Benefits Survey, SHRM members indicated that telecommuting programs increased from 26 to 33 percent for part-time employees; 45 to 48 percent for ad hoc employees; and 19 to 21 percent for full-time employees in just one year.
While telecommuting is seen as a benefit helping to improve retention and productivity, there is still the perception and reality of employees being out of sight, out of mind. This also holds true for smaller satellite office locations or field employees who are physically removed from the company head office.
So how can managers and employers effectively recognize the ever-growing number of employees they can’t even see?
A key strategy is to develop and build ongoing relationships with field or telecommuter employees. This can be achieved through the very same tools teleworkers use on the job. Create detailed personal profiles of all virtual employees, recording both personal and work achievements. Use automated recognition or reminder systems to mark anniversary milestones. Make a special note of family names and significant others, along with interests and aspirations. Attach a photo or insert one electronically so you’re connecting by putting a face to the name.
Schedule regular phone calls with your employees to keep them informed work-wise and with customer updates. Also, make those spontaneous personal calls to focus on the individual, their family, and utilize their profile, as well as trying to add to it.
E-mails are an obvious communication tool for most work-related tasks. But before hitting “send,” occasionally ask about them or their family. A simple question in a “P.S.” tag line may be all it takes.
Naturally, it’s hard to have frequent visits with virtual employees. Whenever you do have on-site visits or meetings, be fully present with your off-site employees. Employees have shared that whenever their manager comes to town, the leaders make whirlwind, obligatory visits and disappear.
Talk with field employees individually. Ask about their current assignments, explore what they have completed, and discuss future projects. Take an off-site employee out for lunch to their favorite cuisine choice and just listen.
These employees do not experience the same things that happen in the regular office. Sometimes the reality of distance creates the perception for mobile workers of unfair treatment and a lack of regard for what they contribute. Rectify these perceptions and frequent complaints by sending out meeting notices first to off-site workers a day before notices go out to main office staff.
Vary Recognition Types
Head office staff tends to see their manager more frequently than their virtual counterparts and can actually receive more acknowledgments. Managers also rely predominantly on e-mail to recognize off-site employees, which lacks the personal touch.
The key is using as much variety as you can in saying “Thanks” and conveying recognition. Our research demonstrates that a personal handwritten thank-you card is more highly valued than an e-mail. So periodically handwrite a card instead of e-mailing a message all the time. Spoken praise may not often be possible face-to-face, but you can still use the telephone.
Armed with an employee’s profile of likes and dislikes, you can find one of many gift delivery companies to help personalize the perfect gift for a deserving off-site employee. By observing or collecting information such as hobbies, talents, food, and reading preferences, you can make saying “thanks” much more meaningful. Never forget to carefully word the accompanying gift card with a sincere expression of appreciation.
Off-site employee recognition requires an investment in time, but the return on retention is a big deal in today’s constantly changing workforce.