Before current circumstances, why did companies begin allowing their staff to work from home or from other parts of the world? Wasn’t it better when we were all under the same roof? The answers are “keep reading” and “no,” in that order.
A distributed workforce doesn’t have to be remote
A distributed workforce can be a great boon for a company. According to a Walden University report, distributed workers are often more productive than their office-based counterparts. With not as many employees in the office, companies can save on rent and other facility costs. Plus, with a distributed workforce, employers can hire talent anywhere (broadening their employee pool exponentially) without the need for relocation expenses.
You might have noticed we’re using the term “distributed” instead of “remote” when referring to offsite employees. That is a very conscious choice. As Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s CEO, explained in his TED Talk, “Notice I don’t use the word “remote,” because it sets up the expectation that some people are essential and some aren’t. I use the word “distributed” to describe what we do, where everyone is on an equal playing field.”
Worse than that, the word “remote” can alienate distributed workers making them feel separate from the rest of the company in more than just distance. It can cause them to retract from their coworkers and become less engaged with the company. Now that more of us are working from home, this, in the immortal words of Dr. Egon Spengler, “…would be bad.”
The importance of an engaged distributed workforce
83% of all employees are not engaged at work, with distributed employees comprising almost half that number. The monetary cost of non-engagement is staggering (estimated around $550 billion). Distributed employees often find engagement difficult due to a variety of reasons, most centering on company culture.
It makes sense. Employees in an office can chat in the kitchen, on their way to and from the rest room, or even in a cubicle or office. They are active in their company culture by being on site. Distributed employees don’t get that luxury due to distance. This results in them feeling separate from company culture and friendless. Future Workplace and Virgin Pulse have found in The Work Connectivity Study that distributed workers are “more likely to quit because of loneliness and low engagement.”
That same study found 50% of employee interactions are digital and “more than half feel lonely as a result.” Lots of avoidable loneliness if those same digital interactions were focused to actively engage all employees. So how do we pull distributed employees together into one engaged workforce? Internal content marketing.
Connect with content
On paper, it’s pretty obvious. Content marketing makes connections between your company and your audience. It makes them feel one with your company’s message, which gives them a favorable reaction to your company’s brand. This is the same thing you want with your distributed workforce; you want to engage them. But, just like there are a variety of ways to reach your customers with content, there are many ways to connect to your distributed employees.
Start your content marketing during the recruiting and hiring process, spending extra time during the onboarding process with those farther away from your office. Send them a welcome packet with company swag so they can be surrounded by your company’s name and logo just like those employees in your office. Show them right away they are part of a team.
Some companies have an intranet or company-wide messaging program, which can normally be skinned to reflect company colors and logos. These are virtual watercoolers around which employees from any location can chat and form bonds and friendships. As management, make sure you’re taking the lead and using these internal communication tools to the maximum. A study (Corporate Culture: Evidence from the Field) reports that 74% of employees looked to senior management as an example and reinforcer of company culture. Use your virtual watercoolers as a place of engagement.
Video chat is a wonderful tool to keep distributed workers having face-to-face conversations. If you are able, use video calls and conferencing often and incorporate them into various team activities. That said, be mindful of the time zones of your distributed employees and schedule meetings when all employees will be at their freshest. Remember, a 9 a.m. meeting on the East Coast means a 6 a.m. meeting for your distributed employees on the West Coast.
Finally, don’t forget the three-letter word that makes all good content instantly engaging: fun. Find ways to have games and challenges with all your employees no matter where they work. The gamification of office interactions can increase employee engagement by 48%. Make sure these fun activities are as inclusive as possible without feeling forced and remain playfully competitive. You want to create bonds in your company, not adversaries.
This isn’t a plan for everyone to follow
It’s a collection of ideas of what you can do. Your company’s program to keep your distributed workforce connected and engaged might be similar to another company’s, but each one will be unique.
It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” approach, nor is it a “set-it-and-forget-it” operation. Maximizing the connectedness of your distributed employees will take work and monitoring. But the end, your employee engagement, company culture, distributed employee morale, and quality of work will all benefit. With carefully designed internal content marketing in place, your company can prove that “separate” can be a synonym for “united.”
ADG is no stranger to using content for our workforce. We would love to share some of our secrets and help with your content marketing strategy and execution.