Research company International Data Corp. (IDC) estimates that, within the next three years, mobile workers will account for more than one-third of the global workforce
. In the Americas alone, IDC expects a 16 percent increase in the number of off-site employees between 2010 and 2015.
We know why this is happening. Spreading work around the globe makes it easier to keep operations running 24 hours a day. What’s more, thanks to a faster and more accessible Internet, off-site workers tend to have access to all the same technologies that in-house workers do, with none of the office politics or drive-by distractions that can often destroy productivity.
Yet there are drawbacks. Distributed workforces are at least as prone to becoming less engaged than their in-house peers, if only because they aren’t able to walk 100 feet to visit with peers and decision makers. Out of sight, out of mind, as we often say.
Disengagement costs too much to let this dynamic take hold. By some estimates
, it could cost an estimated $1.25 million for a 100-person team with a $3.75-million payroll, according to data supplied by The Gallup Organization. In order to avoid losing out on keeping your off-site workers engaged, here are 10 handy tips for using popular and homegrown social networks to keep off-site workers engaged:
1. Host live chats. All of the various social networks are great at hosting threads of conversation using hashtags and other tech trickery. Take advantage of these features to host a regular live chat with decision makers.
2. Create a virtual meeting room. Thanks to the internet’s reliance on programming interfaces, different networks and services make it easy to share information. Germany’s Hojoki, for example, has created a digital meeting room where Twitter and related services feed into a customizable page that acts like a virtual water cooler. Let the web give life to spontaneous conversation among dispersed peers.
3. Use video. Hundreds of millions of social media users now have access to simple video chat services that are connected to social services. At Google+, spontaneous video chats are called “hangouts.” Use these or an in-house service to allow dispersed workers to “see” each other and decision makers on a regular basis.
4. Create a social newsletter.
Social streams can be incredibly informative when taken together. Try combining social media posts from in-house workers into a digital magazine powered by an aggregation service such as Paper.li
. Include an email address to receive tips and feedback.
5. Play favorites. Most services have a function for picking favorite tweets or posts. Use these often. That way, dispersed workers get to see what, specifically, they’re talking about that also has headquarter’s attention.
6. Keep a public record. Don’t just tweet, reply, or host a chat. Create topical transcripts that dispersed workers can refer back to. Record a podcast and attach it to a blog post for later reference. How do you do it doesn’t matter — just be sure to create a record that makes it easy for off-site workers to stay informed.
7. Create a directory of feeds. Did you know that you can automatically download and aggregate the scribblings of co-workers? It’s true; most social networks use Real Simple Syndication, or RSS, to distribute posts via software such as Google Reader. Help off-site workers by compiling a directory of feeds for their in-house co-workers. Think of it as a cheap way to help them follow the pulse of the organization.
8. Use pages. Most social networks offer users the opportunity to create specialized pages for brand marketing. Take advantage of these pages for hosting discussions, publicizing ideas, and gathering feedback. Measure responses, “likes,” and more to understand what off-site workers care about most in the everyday life of the company.
9. Engage in live blogging. In-house events can be a killer for off-site workers. Not only do they miss out on participating, they have to hear about the festivities in dribs and drabs for months afterwards. Don’t allow this morale buster to take shape. Host live-blog events so that off-site workers get to be a part of the festivities — in spirit, at least — as they are happening.
10. Roundtables over surveys. Too many organizations issue surveys to solicit feedback from their off-site workers. Don’t make this mistake. Get more active by issuing a call for a live roundtable discussion that includes all workers and is conducted in full view of the organization’s entire private social network. That way, everyone who wants to have a say has a forum for speaking up.
Jennifer Lumba is the chief marketing officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions (www.rideau.com). Built on state-of-the-art technology, Rideau’s employee recognition and customer loyalty programs change the way companies recognize employee service and achievement, reward individual and team performance, strengthen customer relationships, and create brand loyalty. Lumba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.