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July 30, 2014 / Molly Moseley

How telecommuting can boost employee engagement

blog imageEveryone seems to have an opinion about telecommuting and workplace flexibility these days. While a myriad studies show employees want workplace flexibility more than ever, why have big companies like Yahoo and Best Buy abandoned telecommuting programs? Furthermore, does telecommuting increase or decrease employee engagement?

The demand for workplace flexibility is growing. A whopping 73 percent of employees want more flexibility in the workplace. Despite salary remaining a priority, 45 percent of working adults would give up a portion of their wages for more flexibility in the workplace.

The big issue for HR becomes how to maintain employee engagement while offering telecommuting and other flexible scheduling options to employees. After all, HR Executive magazine reports the top concern keeping HR up at night these days is engagement.

Consider these ideas that help remote employees maintain deep levels of engagement:

Management communication: Keeping a positive relationship between employees and management is key for boosting telecommuter engagement, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to micromanage. Instead, make regular communication a priority. That might mean staying connected via instant messenger, scheduling weekly one-on-one meetings or checking in daily via email.

Virtual all-company meetings: A telecommuter might feel connected to his or her immediate supervisor but very disconnected to the company as a whole. Encourage employee engagement by including remote staff in all-company meetings. Adding a video element to a meeting can be another way to bring everyone closer together, even if they are located on different coasts.

Think beyond the email: Yes, email is a critical component for communicating with employees, both internal and external. But communication must go beyond email to increase engagement. This is particularly important for millenial employees who rely less on email than older generations. Try using social collaboration tools and establish text messaging parameters for remote employees who prefer to stay engaged in these ways.

Blog about it: A group or company-wide blog for employees can be a great way to keep in touch, especially for those working remotely. A traditional blog with longer posts is appropriate from managers or HR leads. Microblogging – a blog with shorter, more concise posts – might be a good option for individual departments or specialty groups to encourage communication and collaboration.

Don’t forget to ask: Keeping open dialogue between employees and supervisors/HR is critical for engagement, but the quality of those conversations is just as important as the quantity. For remote employees, ask what would be most helpful for them to stay in touch, engaged and productive. Perhaps new technology would be beneficial, or maybe they have a new idea for an impactful monthly meeting.

While the element of the unknown may cause HR to worry, there’s a growing body of evidence that working remotely at least some of the time actually benefits employee engagement. The Gallup “State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders” is just one example that found this correlation (bonus: remote employees logged more hours weekly). With an open mind and a few proactive steps, telecommuting policies can boost employee morale and engagement simultaneously.