How to Foster a Spirit of Empowerment and Engagement with Remote Employees
One of my favorite workplace culture stories is about a janitor who worked at the Johnson Space Center in 1962. President John Kennedy was on a tour with senior NASA officials. Mr. Kennedy noticed the janitor off to the side, sweeping the floor. The president broke from the tour group and approached the man.
“Hi. Im Jack Kennedy. May I ask what your doing?” “Well Mr. President, I am helping to put a man on the moon.”
Customer experience is no longer just about putting a product or service into the hands of a consumer. In fact, it's just the opposite. Customers now are experience driven individuals; so too are employees. Clocking-in, doing a job, clocking-out and going home is no longer the mantra for individuals. As consumers are experience seekers, so too are employees. They desire to work for an organization that will support them, promote them, empower them and enable them to take care of people. They seek the same genuine interactions with their companies as their customers do.
Working remotely from home or an alternate location than the office is part of the new norm driving the experience economy. It is estimated that as of 2019, 3.9 million Americans work from home. 1 Telecommuting options were considered a “top priority” of new Millennial employees (same quote as before). At the time of this writing, it was a nice company perk. Sadly, the onset of the worldwide CORVID-19 (Corona) virus pushed front-line employees into remote offices virtually overnight. Around the world, millions of employees went from the daily routines of traveling to their offices to staying in bed and working from laptops. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of individuals were literally forced out of their places of employment and told to self-quarantine for several weeks or even months. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs. Practically overnight, the economy of the United States has traversed from a robust booming machine to a screeching dead engine. A one trillion dollar economic stimulus package is in the works to alleviate burdens placed on the most affected in America. Many other nations around the world are having to endure similar circumstances. As Thomas Payne said, “These are the times that try men’s souls” 2 With doubt and uncertainty being felt by so many, it is essential more than ever for organizations to infuse their workplace cultures with feelings of hope, appreciation and empowerment.
May I suggest the following promote empowerment and engagement among remote employees:
Develop a customer-centric mission and consistently reinforce that vision. By having a customer-centric mission, everyone within the organization is on the same page. When people believe in what they are doing and the company they are working for, they will feel inspired and motivated to work. Employees perform above and beyond for your customers because they feel an emotional connection to your company and its leaders. Communicate your values with several virtual team huddles. Your mission is to serve people and resolve their concerns; that is something everyone can feel good about.
Empower employees to execute that vision. Empowerment is what makes everything happen within an organization. Enable employees to do the right thing without executive approval or drawn out procedures. Allow people to do things right for the sake of doing things right. Jeff James, Vice-President of The Disney Institute, states, "Sometimes leaders within an organization get concerned when they hear the word ‘discretionary’ related to their employees’ abilities to satisfy a customer. They usually think of how much money ‘discretionary’ could cost their company. But, what they may not be considering are the longer-term implications of not allowing their employees the ability to do the right thing at the moment." By empowering employees, they will trust leadership more and provide better customer experiences than those who are restricted and limited by ineffective rules and policies. Every customer interaction gives employees an opportunity to be a hero. They have countless chances on a daily basis to be the answer to someone’s problem, to remedy a negative situation and redirect it into a positive outcome. But this only happens if the company enables the employee to do so. Customer driven employees can’t live off hopes and dreams if their hands are tied by the companies they work for. If your employees need something, make sure they have access to it! If they need supplies or tech equipment, use Amazon to have it delivered to their doorstep quickly. Arrange to have a computer technician install any software needed for the employee to perform with excellence. Small gestures of service and care speak the greatest volumes to your employees.
Show genuine care. To quote the Disney Institute again, "Demonstrating genuine care means showing real concern for the well being of each person in the organization. It's about deliberately paying attention to employees as human beings and as unique individuals. This kind of genuine care must be built directly into the company culture—not as an extra benefit, but as a foundation." Even remotely, employees can feel a connection to management through small and simple acts of caring. Send your employees a gift card to Amazon to purchase a book of their choice on their birthday. Make yourself available to them with emails or text messages. Ensure them that you have their back, and you are here to help them be the best people they can be.
Don’t infantilize your team. I am sick and tired of how employees are infantilized in many corporate cultures, treated as if they are not responsible adults who aren't allowed to have a personal life. I don’t care if you are late every now and then. I don't care if you leave early either, so long as it is not a consistent and chronic issue. If your kids are sick, spend a day with them. If your spouse/partner needs help, then go help them. If you need to go see your son play baseball or your daughter play the piano, then go! As long as clients are happy and the work is getting done, then I am happy. As long as customers are being treated right, then all is well. Companies have likened the employee experience to that of the dystopian world of George Orwells’ 1984. They are not allowed to have a life of their own. They are stripped away of all personal freedoms and reduced to foot soldiers who serve Big Brother. They are there for one purpose, and one purpose alone. Anything else is secondary and expendable. This belief is a dangerous recipe for a toxic company culture, and will be the key factor in the demotivation of your team.
Give them a voice. Telecommuting employees must feel they have a voice, and their concerns are important to the direction of the business. Allowing them to express concerns is vital to the success of the organization. They need to know the company has a vested interest in them. Employees should have direct access to managers, supervisors, and HR professionals.
Recognize their work. Remote employees can often feel they are “out of the loop” when not directly apart of the traditional office culture. When your employees go above and beyond, make sure they are recognized through the virtual huddle. Many companies have an online reward system where managers can send messages and even gifts to honor employee contributions and successes. Send them a personal email thanking them for their hard work. Have their favorite meal delivered to their house as a reward for a job well done. There are countless little things you can do to show them you appreciate them.
These acts are simple, cost-effective, and will produce a great ROI for your remote employees. Employee empowerment and engagement isn't rocket science; following the Golden Rule is the best formula for success. Treat your team, especially the remote ones, how you would like to be treated. They are real human beings with real feelings. Empathy, kindness and professional respect go a long way. Like the NASA janitor, your employees will know they are a part of a greater mission and will proudly produce amazing results for your business.
Bryan Horn is a customer experience trainer and corporate culture development expert. He has 16 years of experience as a financial services manager. He has been homeless, jobless, and everywhere in between. He brings real-world applications and stories that relate to every culture and industry. He is the author of the internationally successful book The Customer Service Revolution: 8 Principles That Will Change the Way Companies Think About the Customer Experience and the Employees Who Work for Them.
Bryan is the founder of CSSolutions, a customer experience training consulting firm. He resides in Salt Lake City, UT.