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Remote Work Requires New Set Of Productivity Incentives

Incentivizing and rewarding staff when they are working remotely and are in decentralized work situations is a challenge for managers. After all, being able to watch “Law & Order” during the workday can only go so far. After two years of pandemic remote work, it might be time to shake things up.

Incentives and rewards have an important but non-exclusive role to play in managing and motivating the remote workforce. Managers need to expand their notion of what constitutes “incentive, rewards and recognition,” according to authors of a new report.

Only five of the 424 managers who responded to the survey said they have no concerns regarding remote work. Most managers and employees are concerned about isolation, communications challenges and reduced exchange of ideas and information. The IRF conducted a survey of 1,000 employees and managers to learn preferences about remote and hybrid work, reward and recognition methods, and employee motivation. 

Research contained in The Role of Incentives in Today’s Decentralized Workforce: Attract, Retain & Build Culture from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) in Washington, D.C., shows that without the incentive program design, managers will fail to maximize efforts at boosting the intangible benefits of work that matter even more in remote/hybrid work environments, including increased camaraderie, collaboration, trust, and appreciation.

Managers should lead efforts in using tangible and intangible rewards to promote behaviors and actions that bring and keep the workforce together, even when much of it is working off-site.

Key findings in the report include:

* Strong preference for remote work: Some 82% of employees and 84% of managers prefer either more or the same amount of time working remotely than they are currently given.

* Challenges of remote work: Most managers and employees reported concerns about isolation, communication barriers, and reduced exchange of ideas and information.

* Managers matter: One-to-one appreciation from a direct manager is the most motivating form of recognition according to our respondents.

* Peer-to-Peer Programs: Praise on a peer-to-peer recognition platform can enhance engagement and address isolation.

* Intangible reward preferences: Employees want interesting work, growth opportunities and autonomy.

* Tangible reward preferences: Employees want cash, gift cards, gifts, points, and individual travel.

* Culture shifts: Incentive program designers should partner with human resources and senior leaders to combine incentives with workplace environment changes that eliminate the disadvantages of working remotely.

“Incentives have an important role to play motivating direct and indirect employees in the era of the Great Resignation, remote work, and labor shortages,” according to IRF President Stephanie Harris. “The workforce has fundamentally changed, and incentive program design needs to be adapted to align with these new workforce realities.”

For increasing engagement and retention specifically, respondents rank in order: compensation, work environment, and “other tangible incentives and rewards” as most vital. Among intangible incentives, they value autonomy, interesting work, growth opportunities and appreciation/recognition.

Whether an employee works one day remotely or five, managers should take measures to address isolation and loneliness, according to the study’s authors. They wrote that with varying success, employers have attempted to bridge the gaps through proactive communication – weekly calls, and group Zoom gatherings, but other measures, including the use of more, and a greater variety of incentives.

While non-cash incentives and rewards have demonstrated their efficacy compared to cash-only rewards in many studies over the past few decades, according to the authors, many complexities bear on incentive/reward program design. Non-cash incentives and rewards are, if anything, more vital where a significant percentage of the workforce is remote at any given time, but the new contextual factors must be considered before revising, designing, and implementing non-cash incentive programs.

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