How can you manage employee engagement in the workplace when teams are becoming increasingly distributed? Instead of the regular full-time worker, employers are utilizing more flexible methods for skilled work and labor. From part-time employees to freelancers, the need for managing distributed teams is becoming the new norm.
With the number of freelancers growing from 53 million in 2014, to more than 55 million in 2016, the trend of flexible labor is getting larger. It is estimated that the freelancer market generates more than $1 trillion in revenue and represents 35% of the U.S. Workforce.
You might be surprised that companies like Upworthy, Stack Exchange, Mozilla, and many others are 100% distributed. With that in mind, how can companies maximize their return on this new flexible workforce and keep workers engaged?
Stop focusing on hours and focus on getting work done
The man who stays the longest is the hardest worker! But in the 21st century this is no longer the truth. More of us prefer the luxury of working from home. It provides flexible work hours, the freedom to travel, and much more. But to get the most from these workers, you can’t be focusing on arbitrary metrics like 40-hour work weeks or 2 weeks vacation per year.
According to Josh Steimle, the CEO of MWI, a marketing agency with workers in more than 4 countries, instead of focusing on hours you need to be thinking, “We don’t care when you work or how you work, as long as your get the work done.” To do this, you need to define exactly what “getting work done” means. Maybe it means checking off a task on your company’s Intranet, or maybe it’s getting the “okay” from one of the managers. Either way, focus on the work rather than the hours.
Keeping close your team of skilled freelancers
Instead of hiring for a full-time position, you can shop out work to a team of skilled freelancers. This works well in situations where you intermittently need a service or require a very specific skill set. Even though freelancer rates tend to be higher, you can save between 20-30 percent by not spending on benefits. Here’s the problem; not every freelancer is created equal so here’s what you can do:
Use test runs before committing to a freelancer
Test out multiple freelancers before committing the majority of your budget to any one person. You might pay a bit more for the upfront cost, but you will save money in the long run.
Create relationships with trustworthy freelancers
Utilize your current network of freelancers for recurring jobs. Why? Because you are more likely to find a successful working relationship within your network of already trustworthy freelancers (rather than searching randomly for a new freelancer).
Create a system to alert your team to new jobs
If your company uses an Intranet you can create a job board for your team of freelancers. Maybe someone on your team has an extra skill and can help you with one of these jobs. Maybe they have a freelancer friend who can help you. Make it easy to find the right people.
By keeping freelancers in the loop, you will foster an environment where they feel valued. 69% of workers said they would work harder if they were better appreciated, according to Globoforce.
Freelancers can also struggle to maintain a steady stream of work. If they see that you are committed to helping the freelancers who are already onboard (instead of shopping out work randomly), you will foster loyalty within your distributed team.
Create a Schedule of Structured Meetings
The Harvard Business Review recently completed an employee engagement survey which revealed something astounding but simple; 70 percent of employees were most engaged when senior leadership continually updates and communicates the company strategy.
According to a Gallup survey of 193 companies, it has been confirmed that employee engagement is responsible for improving operations and increasing profits by 22%. Keeping the team updated does not have to be time-consuming either. It can be as simple as getting the company together for 10 minutes a week to update them on the current company problems or successes.
Implement a Company Intranet
With a team from possibly all over the world, you need a place to consolidate projects, announcements, training modules, and policy materials. More importantly, a cloud-based Intranet provides remote workers with more structure and a place to interact with your company.
Instead of an ephemeral organization, your Intranet can be the foundation of your company (like an office). As well, Intranets offer many opportunities for companies to improve their workforce:
- Easily accessible training
- Track project progress
- Communicate publicly and track worker contributions
- Easily accessible documents with search capabilities
Use Collaborative Group Chat and forget Email
Email just doesn’t work in a distributed team. When working on a team project, you aren’t going to communicate one on one throughout the lifespan of the project. Instead, you might sit around a coffee table or go to a small conference room and work problems out as a group. With 72% of internet users already active on social media, you need to be using collaborative chat platforms.
This will allow you to build ideas through discussion. You can also expect an increase in the quality of ideas because people’s names will be tied to their input. Here’s the problem; platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram do not have the built-in capabilities to manage documents, events, and workspaces. An enterprise social network allows teams to work together in a collaborative environment.
Give Growth Opportunities Through Training
Only 43% of employees believe their organization provides ample opportunity for career growth. That’s a shame. Talented workers want the opportunity to learn from experts, on-the-ground experience, and they want it now.
As employers consistently fight for talent to join their organizations, the opportunity to engage and support highly skilled people remotely means there’s nothing holding you back from building a highly capable and distributed workforce.
Don’t expect the trend of distributed teams to slow down. By 2020, freelancers are expected to make up 40% of the workforce. To flourish in the next generation of commerce, employers are going to have to understand how to manage distributed teams. If you don’t, then you might end up with a distributed workforce of unengaged employees. When low employee engagement costs the U.S. Economy $370 billion a year, this may impact the long term performance and viability of your organization.
If you are looking for a way to help manage a distributed team, then we recommend taking the free 14-day free trail of Stream Workspace. Help build work relationships within your company, improve projects through team discussion, and increase the engagement of your employees.