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Long-Distance Recognition

August 1, 2000
Related Topics: Recognition, Featured Article
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KarlaHerzog had a problem. As the president of Total Personnel Service in San Diego, she knewit was important to stay in touch with the employees she hired and placed with clients,but since she hardly ever saw them once they were hired, the task was daunting. How couldshe connect with employees who were always with clients at locations other than her own?How could she make them feel special when she never saw them and knew nothing of theirneeds, frustrations, and successes in their jobs?

Withthe changing nature of work today, more managers are in Herzog’s spot. They have toadapt to new circumstances for recognizing employee performance. Increasingly, empoweredemployees are working more independently in their jobs with the authority and autonomy toact in the best interests of the company. Many organizations are also moving todecentralized operations, so an employee’s manager may physically be located at adifferent facility or even a different state. And global companies increasingly expectexecutives to oversee staff in remote, and often overseas, locations.

Theworkplace itself is being redefined to include such arrangements as telecommuting,flexible working hours, and job sharing. “Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Workin the 21st Century,” a report by the Department of Labor, found that roughly one in10 workers fits into an alternative work arrangement, with nearly 80 percent of employersoffering some form of nontraditional staffing arrangements. And some 47 percent ofemployees today now do some amount of telecommuting.

Sohow can managers best recognize performance when employees may not even have physicalcontact with their managers for weeks or months at a time? In a virtual environment,recognition needs to be more of a conscious and planned act because there are not as manyspontaneous opportunities to acknowledge an employee’s hard work and accomplishments.Making sure a virtual employee stays motivated, happy, and productive is the key toensuring the success of a virtual workplace.

Herzogunderstood that, and found new ways to manage, communicate with, and recognize heremployees. That means delivering recognition awards to the employees at the client site,or sending them to the client to present to her employees. She uses every type ofcommunication with her employees as an opportunity to recognize and better communicate.Herzog has the payroll department include fax-back forms with all employee paychecks tosee how things were going, and asks her employees to tell her of any questions orconcerns. She then takes those issues seriously -- and gets back to the employees quicklyto resolve them.

Maketime for people

There’sno substitute for face time when it comes to building trusting relationships. At The KenBlanchard Companies in Escondido, Calif., the company expects all managers to holdone-on-one meetings with each direct report at least once every two weeks for at least 20minutes. Sometimes, those meetings are on the phone, but the employee always sets theagenda. If your employees are in the office less, coordinate your schedules so that youare at work when your employees are there. This could be a set time each week or during“core hours” when everyone is present (if your company operates that way). Talkabout real issues of importance to employees, the work, or the company in general.

Keepingthe sense of teamwork

Oneof the cornerstones of the virtual office is making sure that virtual employees feel theyare an important part of the team. Employees are motivated by managers who take the timeto get to know them. A recent survey of 500 professional employees by MasteryWorks inAnnandale, Virginia, found that the primary factor affecting a respondent’s decisionto leave an organization was whether or not the manager developed a trusting relationshipwith them. Says Caela Farren, CEO of MasteryWorks, “Managers who get to know theirpeople, respect and trust the competency of their employees, and listen continually forhow employees are doing relative to their aspirations, quality of work life, and sense ofcareer advancement, will have a far greater chance of developing and retaining theiremployees.”

Workingas virtual team may mean that employees are working on the same project, but limitedface-to-face contact can make virtual employees feel isolated from other team members andthey may be unable to see how their efforts contribute to the end results.

Managersmust take a proactive role in fostering a sense of teamwork by involving virtual workersin all team meetings through any available means -- telephone conferencing, e-mail, chatrooms, etc. Be sure to include some form of recognition in all team meetings. Verbal waysto recognize employees from a distance include:

Increasecommunication as you increase distance

Weknow from electronics that the farther the source, the weaker and more distorted thesignal. Likewise, the greater the distance from one’s manager, the greater the effortboth parties have to make to keep in touch. This can be done through updates, and/or morefrequently scheduled meetings and visits. When Intel Corp. founder and chairman Andy Grovevisits his company’s workplaces, he has an open-comment session in the cafeteria andinvites employees to bend his ear. Another executive I know keeps office hours when hevisits his company’s plants so that any employee can sign up for an individualmeeting. Consider using other means to stay connected: newsletters, Web chats, electronicmessage boards and conference calls. Provide the same types of communication, recognitionand rewards that you provide for those employees who are located closer to you.

Usetechnology. Don’t let it use you.

Toooften, managers use technology like voice-mail or e-mail as another means to dump work ontheir employees. It may seem faster and more efficient to do so, but employees are deniedeven a chance to ask questions about projects that are assigned when work is delegated viasuch one-way communication vehicles.

Souse technology as a communication tool, not just as a way to offload a new project. Asmore employees work off-site on either a full or part-time basis, managers will need toincorporate the Internet and company intranets into their reward and recognition programs.These vehicles also can be used to promote the exchange of information and encouragequestions. Managers can create problem discussion boards, host “chats,” orcreate an “applause” bulletin board to capture the exchange of group praising.

That’sthe approach at Hughes Network Systems, a high-tech company I’ve worked with in SanDiego. Whenever anyone in the company logs on the company’s intranet, a bulletinboard pops up labeled “APPLAUSE” and anyone can add a comment of praise forsomeone else in the organization to this message board, which after a few days scroll offthe screen. AG Edwards, the financial services firm, hosts weekly audio conference callsof all employees -- nationwide. Employees at Home Depot love the weekly satellite feeds toevery store, which are dubbed “Breakfast with Bernie & Arthur,” theirchairman and CEO. These examples show the ability companies have today to use technologyto personally connect in real time with dispersed employees.

Creatingthe reward and recognition program

Realizethat employees at other locations or who telecommute from their homes already feel theyare second-class citizens. They imagine they are the last to hear about changes and newsin the organization. Be empathetic with employees who do not work full time at the mainoffice and duplicate any form of communication, recognition, or celebration that is doneat the central office. I know of one employee in a field office who reported receiving acheck from corporate for $1.18 on his birthday -- the cost equivalent to two movie ticketsbought in bulk and distributed to employees at the home office.

Withany reward and recognition program, managers must be sure to reward the behavior theydesire with recognition that is valued and meaningful to their employees -- notthemselves. This is especially true when designing the virtual reward and recognitionprogram because the state of being virtual brings a whole new set of issues to bear thatneed to be identified and addressed in the plan.

Soin creating a recognition program, managers should start with the motivational needs oftheir employees and build from there. Ask virtual employees what they want! This can bedone in one-on-one discussions or by other techniques, such as sending an employee anindex card to list items they find motivating, as they do at BankBoston in Boston, Mass.One financial analyst there told me that he listed “time off,” “lunch withhis manager,” and “Starbucks coffee” on his index card, returned it to hismanager, and forgot about it. He was elated, however, a month or so later when he finisheda project and was given a coupon for a Starbucks coffee with a personal note of thanksfrom his manager. The fact that a manager took the time to find our what would bemeaningful and then used that information in a timely way left quite an impression.

Youcan use simple survey techniques to find out what is important to your employees. Or youcan ask everyone to share two items they find motivating at an upcoming meeting -- inperson or on-line. As you involve those you are trying to motivate, not only are youlikely to be more on the mark, but others will more likely take ownership of therecognition program or activities. Discuss whether people would like more recognition and,if so, what form it should take. Ask who in the group would like to help get some newforms of recognition going. Involvement equals commitment. Today, the best management iswhat you do with others, not to them.

Managershave to work hard to help all employees feel integral to their jobs. Keeping virtualemployees motivated to do their best is a very achievable task if done with the rightfocus at the right time. Take the time and the effort to recognize all your employees andyou will reap the rewards of a more excited, energized, and productive staff.

Workforce,August 2000, Vol. 79, No. 8, pp. 50-52 -- Subscribe now!

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