Rewarding Employees from Afar

    August 18, 2003

With the changing nature of work today, managers have to adapt to new circumstances for recognizing employee performance. Employees are increasingly more empowered to make decisions and the workplace itself is being redefined to include telecommuting, flexible working hours and job sharing. Many organizations are also moving to decentralized operations in which an employee’s manager may physically be located at a different facility or even a different state.

How can managers best recognize employee performance when an employee may not even have physical contact with her manager for weeks or months at a time? Some of the answers may lie in a return to the basics of human interaction.

Make time for people.

There’s no substitute for face time when it comes to building trusting relationships. Managing is a people job–you need to take time for people. Not just when taking time is convenient, but whenever employees are available and need to meet. Many companies have an "open door" policy in which employees can speak with their managers whenever they need to, but the effectiveness of such a policy is in how often employees actually use it, not just that it is available. If your employees are in the office less, meeting with them when they are around has to be a high priority. Coordinate your schedule so that you are at work when your employees work. This could be a set time each week or during "core hours" when everyone is present. How time together is spent makes a difference as well. A key to effective communication, I’ve found, is to make the time spent together engaging. Talk about real issues of importance to employees, the work, or the company in general.

Increase communication as you increase distance.

We know from electronics that the farther the source, the weaker and more distorted the signal. Likewise, the greater the distance from one’s manager, the greater the effort both parties have to make to keep in touch. This can be done through updates, and/or more frequently scheduled meetings and visits. Also, go out of your way to provide the same types of communication meetings with each work shift or arrange meetings that overlap work shifts or duplicate awards for each facility.

Use technology. Don’t let it use you.

Too often, managers use technology like voice mail or e-mail as another means to dump work on their employees. It may seem faster and more efficient to do so, but employees are denied even a chance to ask questions about projects that are assigned when work is delegated over such one-way communication vehicles. Use technology as a communication vehicle, not just to distribute data: Promote the exchange of information and encourage questions. Have problem discussion boards or host "chat lines" with managers or executives or create an "applause" bulletin board to capture the exchange of group praising. Today’s managers have to work harder to be available to others. If you value strong working relationships and clear communication, you need to seek out others to be sure adequate communication is taking place.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit