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Future workplaces: how do you engage with a decentralised, casual workforce?

Workplaces are changing. Flexible work arrangements like job shares, embedded contractors, casual agreements and remote working arrangements are becoming the new normal for businesses.

Digital technology is improving connectivity and facilitating the movement towards decentralised, flexible workforces.

A recent study in the US found that 40% of the US workforce is employed in the ‘contingent workforce’, with the majority of these being part time workers and independent contractors. Not only are workers employed in less stable roles, they are also working remotely in greater numbers. An analysis reported in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that approximately one in three Australians work from home regularly.

In a world where the office may no longer be the central touchpoint for employees, how can businesses keep everyone who is working for them engaged? How can you communicate across geographies, at different times and to different types of workers?

Define objectives and vision
There isn’t much change here. Employees who understand the direction and mission of the business they are working for are easier to keep engaged, even though they may only be communicated with intermittently.

According to recent research by the Queen’s University Centre for Business Venturing (QCBV) only 42% of employees understand their organisation’s vision, mission and values*.

Therefore, businesses still need to define their reason for being and communicate this with employees regularly. A mission statement and core values can be used as a frame of reference for your engagement.

Choose your channels
While your workers’ locations and hours of work may be inconsistent, your dialogue with them doesn’t have to be. It’s important to firstly understand how your employees want to be communicated with and then create a plan for consistent, two way engagement.

A simple staff survey every six months or so is a good way to understand which channel or platform your employees prefer to use. Perhaps a social network is a good way to create a virtual office for conversation and collaboration or a simple email will suffice. Often a monthly face to face catch up is a good way to ensure everyone stays connected.

As a business, you will have to explore these options and choose a combination of channels that work for you and your employees.

A new kind of Christmas party?
Another thing to think about is how to structure those big engagement pieces for your workers, like EOFY events and Christmas parties. How can you still offer a touchpoint for remote workers and reward them for their hard work?

Again, there is no straightforward answer to this question. The circumstances of your business will dictate the format of social engagement you pursue. For geographically distributed workforces, consider holding smaller events in different locations rather than one central ‘Christmas party’. Give job-share or remote workers the opportunity to come together once every now and then to mingle, possibly in your central office, or at a different location altogether.

Whatever way you choose to engage, it’s important to invest in events like these – they are your opportunity for your workers to connect with your business on a human level.

Engaging a decentralised workforce is a challenge, but it’s important to remember that just because your workforce doesn’t turn up to an office every day and complete their work in cubicles, it doesn’t mean they don’t value the camaraderie and sense of collective purpose that a well-connected workplace can bring. Your workers will still want to know their colleagues, and to feel like they are a part of something when they work for your business.

* http://engageforsuccess.org/research-costs-and-causes-of-employee-disengagement