According to the IDC, the number of mobile workers will reach 1.2 billion people worldwide by 2013, which is roughly one-third of the world’s workforce. Broadband networks and mobile technologies continue to accelerate the progress of mobile work. While creating more flexibility for employees and cost savings for employers, these advancements also create more complexity for managers.
The challenges of communication, engagement, process monitoring, and collaboration are just a few of the complexities leaders must manage in a mobile work environment. Each is a key factor that influences an employee’s motivation and overall performance on the job. Numerous studies support the notion that an employee’s environment is a key in determining their level of motivation and performance. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these studies have been conducted over the past 20 years and are based on co-located managers and employees. One thing is for certain; in our new world of work, managers must evolve their leadership practices to be successful.
Increasing Motivation for Virtual Employees
Based on many years of study in the area of work motivation and my experience working in a highly virtual environment within a company, I have found five key behaviors that help increase employee motivation.
1. Practice Communication Equality. I’m not going to preach constant communication to employees. You already know that is important. I will, however, emphasize the importance of intentionally communicating information to all employees equally. Managers must manage the dispersion of information and ensure all employees, wherever they are located, get the same information. Communication inconsistency and bias can occur easily among dispersed employees. When employees find out they have missed out on receiving information, they can easily feel dismissed and devalued. Is this a factor that highly motivates employees? No, but communication is foundational to employee motivation and performance.
2. Use Collaborative Video Technologies. – Using only voice communication during virtual meetings can hinder your ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. Video technology is now available that is both highly reliable and inexpensive. I recommend utilizing video conferencing via AT&T Connect at the very least. You may also want to invest in Telepresence technology that allows you to see a person’s facial expressions and body language in high definition during a meeting. When you account for better working relationships, increased trust, and increased quality of collaboration, there is a high ROI for the integration of video technologies.
3. Facilitate Connection Between Employees. You can build connections, camaraderie, and trust by helping employees get to know each other better. While this may start with likes, dislikes, and hobbies, you will want the connections to grow stronger by facilitating trust-building where people get to know each other’s work preferences, personalities, and passions. You can accomplish this through team building activities, meeting ice-breakers, off-site meetings, and celebrations. I recommend www.teampedia.net as an excellent resource for team activities and ice-breakers. Some of the ideas are great for virtual meetings, while others are better for face-to-face meetings.
4. Hold Interesting Meetings. Nothing takes the winds out a person’s sails more than boring, negative, or unnecessary meetings. Managers can support employee motivation by being intentional about how they run their meetings. A good start to being a good meeting leader is to schedule shorter meetings with no more than 2-3 key outcomes. Start the meeting off by highlighting positive news. Start an interesting discussion related to the business. Take time for getting everyone’s feedback and ideas. Take time to recognize and reward contributions. Finally, finish the meeting with a statement that casts the vision or communicates the common purpose of the team or organization.
5. Focus on Motivating Each Employee. We are all fundamentally motivated by internal desires that are unique to each of us. These internal desires are often described as our values and include such values as acceptance, curiosity, status, and power to name a few. Motivating managers make it a priority to know people well enough to understand each person’s unique desires and position each employee to live the values about which they are passionate. Highly-motivated employees are those who connect their work with their values and desires.
The new mobile work world is both exciting and challenging. While creating a greater level of complexity for managers, it is an excellent opportunity to evolve management practices to increase employee motivation and performance.
What is your organization doing to keep mobile workers connected and motivated?
Reference: Garretson, Rob. “IDC: Mobile Workers Will Pass 1 Billion in 2010.” CiO Zone. February 24, 2010.
Dr. Jason Jones is the Director of Executive Development at AT&T. He is the author of the book 28 Days to a Motivated Team and blogs on the topic of employee motivation and leadership at DrJasonJones.com.