In today's decentralized workplace, roughly 40 percent of employees do some form of telecommuting. How can managers best motivate their staff when they may not even have physical contact with them for weeks at a time? The answer is to build and maintain relationships. Here are some techniques you can use:

* Meet face-to-face--A Harvard research study found that the first interaction between team members was critical to building trust in working relationships. Use the employee orientation period not only to explain policies, resources, job expectations, and organization, but also to allow employees to meet their co-workers.

* Plug in to employees--Conduct simple surveys to find out what employees are thinking. At Total Personnel Service in San Diego, managers include faxback surveys with each employee paycheck. Consider using other communication vehicles such as newsletters, web chats, electronic message boards, and conference calls to stay connected. One company I know has crossword puzzle contests that feature information about the business. Winners receive prizes as an added incentive.

*Bridge the distance gap--The greater the distance from one's manager, the greater the effort both parties have to make to keep in touch. Update each other frequently, coordinate your schedules so that you connect when employees are at the office, and make plans to regularly visit at their locations as well. I know one executive who schedules office hours when he visits his company's plants. Too often managers use technology like voice mail or e-mail as another way to dump work on their employees. Instead, use technology to promote the exchange of electronic information and encourage questions. Have problem discussion boards or host online chats with managers or executives. Create an "applause" bulletin board for group praisings. A.G. Edwards, Inc., the St. Louis, Mo.-based financial services firm, hosts a weekly phone conference with all employees simultaneously. Home Depot, Inc., based in Atlanta, Ga., has a weekly live satellite meeting at each of its stores with the Chairman and CEO called "Breakfast with Bernie & Arthur."

*Out of sight, but in mind--Employees working off site may feel like second-class citizens, because they imagine they are the last to hear company news or participate in company events. Be sure to duplicate any form of communication, recognition, or celebration that is done at the central office for your telecommuting staff.

Today's managers have to work harder to help all employees feel like highly valued members of the company. If you want to build long-term relationships, make an effort to connect with your telecommuting employees at every possible opportunity.

Take time up front to connect with employees-- Help employees feel like part of the team, have clear expectations, and identify colleagues they can call on for help.

Communicate more often, in new ways--Use technology to help improve your communications. Make sure communication between you and your employees is two way.

Reach out--Take care to involve all employees in communication, decision making, meetings, recognition, and celebrations.