Do you want to know how you can keep your staff engaged and motivated no matter where there are? The answer is, you mostly can’t. No one is productive at work all the time, but when you hear the boss’ footsteps, you might pick up the pace a little. So then, what do you do with remote staff that won’t hear those footsteps? How do you ensure that these individuals, who likely will never set foot in an office, pump out the work and embody your brand like those in a cubicle?

Hiring the Right Remote Employee

Founder working with staff

For starters, don’t use the word remote at any step in the employment process. There’s a strange connotation with that word, remote, that feels distant, separate, less important, and wild. Instead, treat those employees as more of a distributed workforce. Language is a powerful motivator and if we don’t get a grip on it before we start, then we tend to let it slip away. Language of inclusivity, even spatially, has to be important. Hiring in and of itself is difficult, but there are a few things to look for in a distributed staff.

Likely the top contributing factor of a strong distributed employee is self-discipline. These people have bonafide intrinsic motivation to not just prove their worth but to also deliver on time because after all, that’s sort of how this whole arrangement works. If you’re confident your employee is self-disciplined, then from there it’s all about trust. Trust is a powerful motivator because it shows a mature confidence that the relationship will work.

Setting Up a Remote Workplace Culture

CEO emailing employees working remotely

Now then, to properly shape your distributed workforce, you have to set some ground rules, which isn’t really any different than if they were in the office, but since they’re not, these workers can’t pick up on company culture in a passive way.

Ground rules, which are more or less just consistent guidelines, help keep expectations clear and goals attainable. All of us want to thrive in the workplace, but if we don’t know what that looks like, then we feel unaccomplished, which leads to discontentment. Maybe your distributed workforce needs to work set hours like your on-site workers do. This could be the full day, or more likely, blocks of time where crossover (possibly between time zones) can happen. This is how you can then have weekly scheduled face-to-face time, which undoubtedly grows connection and engagement.

Another aspect that shouldn’t be disregarded is social media rapport. Personal phone use at work is casually intermittent, so developing a social media policy that helps your employees, both near and far, stay on brand is critical. One insensitive post can cause a lot of damage for your company.

Motivating Employees Who Work from Home

Unmotivated employee working from home

But how can we bring the unmotivated and disengaged back? Often this can look like disciplinary action. Even as an adult, I don’t actually want to get written up or be told that what I’m doing is not ok. It feels petty and makes me feel immature, but sometimes constructive feedback and criticism can help lead someone to straighten up or realize that they should move on. If you’re really not into being the bad guy, or fear retribution, try encouraging them. I know that seems counterintuitive. Depending on the severity of the situation, sometimes people just need reinforcement and praise.

Speaking of praise, never forget to celebrate success. Whether it was a good quarter or it’s someone’s birthday, send out personal messages of commendation to your staff. It’s almost a silly thing, especially because I don’t really “sound-the-alarm” when it’s my birthday, but that acknowledgment feels pretty good. Humans are great at pretending; you just never really know what someone’s going through. That little bit of acknowledgment could come at just the right moment for them.

Distributed Workforces are Happening Now

Smiling employee working remotely from the coffee shop

If living in the gig economy has taught me anything it’s that the employee is more powerful than meets the eye. On the surface that seems to contradict itself; an employee usually isn’t a gig worker, and a gig worker isn’t a real employee. However, I think a growing number of us out there are both because personally, I am. I work an 8-5 job, but I also have freelance side hustles, and it’s the gig work that’s the most attractive. It’s the remote work that shows me what’s possible and what the future will look like. Employers have to consider how to integrate a distributed workforce or prepare to be replaced by those who do, because we, the workers, are demanding it.

What has your experience been like managing a distributed workforce? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.