One of the hardest things to deal with in an increasingly Work from Home business environment is the need to properly supervise employees scattered all over the place at a time when travel is not that easy. It is still possible to wield the stick of close supervision fairly effectively through employee tracking programs that are a big part of any off-campus work environment but giving these people a little bit of the carrot as an offset is not quite as easy to accomplish.
Perhaps it might be better to say that it is easier to fall into the negative aspects of online management than it is to craft a way of truly encouraging and rewarding exceptional performance at a distance. It is something that managers should definitely pursue, however. Hammering on employees who only hear negative comments from their boss all day long is a good way to motivate them to look for another, more amenable opportunity elsewhere. They have lots of time and nobody looking over their shoulder, if this is what they want to do.
So, the key to knowing how to reward employees working at a distance is to not get lazy. With nobody around to personally supervise, it is pretty easy to fall into the trap of sending out blast emails to the entire department at regular intervals. Yet it is also very easy for someone working at a distance to see how insincere this system is. You need to stay involved, personally involved.
Your first job is to let them know that you are still there and that you actually care. Call them in person. Ask how they are doing. Inquire if there is anything they need or anything you can do to make their job easier. That is always the first principle of successful management. Encourage every man every day.
The next arrow in your quiver is that of surprise. See that they get a little something now and again. Drop some event tickets in an envelope. Send them an online gift certificate. These are not necessarily as rewards for specific performance but merely to let them know that they aren’t forgotten or insignificant to your plans. Don’t provide any notice. This is a surprise, remember.
Napoleon once observed that he could get men to die for little bits of ribbon. Don’t ever discount the value of dropping some token of personal recognition on your people. Don’t do it as a rah-rah go team group thing. These people are alone at home. Do it as an individual thing.
Set some goals for them to meet. Even if it really isn’t that important in the great scheme of things, let them know that you’d appreciate it if they could get X done by date Y. This sets a yardstick for them to work towards as well as creates an opportunity for you to extend formal recognition on a job well done.
Finally, you can bring out the heavy artillery when they do something spectacular. Send a limo to take them and their family to a nice restaurant. Deliver some flowers or chocolate. The important point to keep in mind is that you want them to feel valued and a critical part of the company.
Happy employees aren’t looking for other jobs or carrying home extra office supplies. Their job is their home, and they are very happy in that home. The confidence and loyalty you show towards them will be returned many times over. If your motto is “The beatings will continue until morale improves”, then you aren’t going to get nearly the same level of performance out of your distant cadre of workers.
Management at a distance requires a different approach than watching over the cubicle farm or looking out over the production line from your upstairs office. You have to care, or at least be a good enough actor to pull off a convincing fake, and things will go smoothly for all concerned.