Remote workers: How to engage your remote employees
Employees across all different industries, roles and seniority are now working from home full time until further notice.
This came as a sudden change for most and not only shook up our daily routines, but also changed how we communicate with colleagues, how we collaborate and how workplaces operate entirely.
As remote working looks set to continue, at least in some capacity, it’s crucial for workplaces to find ways to keep employees feeling connected and engaged with their teams and the business itself.
The challenges for engagement while working remotely
When you’re unable to be together in person, it can be easy for employees to feel disconnected from their team members, company and even their own personal goals and targets.
If engagement levels of remote workers aren’t monitored and managed, the business can suffer in numerous ways. The impacts of poor engagement include drops in productivity, collaboration, morale and, ultimately, a rise in staff turnover.
Any manager will know just how hard it can be to keep a team engaged, motivated and productive when you’re based in the workplace. When your teams are based remotely, it takes extra attention and steps to beat the challenges.
When it comes to remote working, the challenge that first springs to mind for many is the challenge of communication.
We all know how easy it can be to misunderstand one another when you’re in the same room, so the chances of this happening in the virtual world, over email or instant message, become even greater.
On top of this, when you’re working remotely you miss elements of communication that you might not realise are as important as they are. Casual chats around the workplace, grabbing a coffee together or small team celebrations when something goes well, all help to keep employees engaged, morale high and collaboration running smoothly.
In a remote environment, the challenge comes in finding solutions to maintain both formal and informal communications.
Feelings of isolation
When employees are working alone and no longer surrounded by their colleagues on a daily basis, it can feel isolating. These feelings can affect wellbeing, which has a knock-on effect on engagement and productivity.
For employees, the feeling of being part of a team also links closely with commitment and loyalty to a company. Without this, turnover rates can increase and the business can struggle as a result.
While you may not have the distraction of your co-workers or the open-plan office to keep you from your tasks at home, it can actually become more of a struggle to concentrate without the background noise of the office and a lack of accountability. That’s all before mentioning the potential distractions of housemates, family or children, who can all make it harder to stick to a solid working routine at home.
Finding routines and methods to remain focused is a huge struggle surrounding remote working and forms a great challenge for managers of remote teams.
Lack of direction and drive
For remote workers, drive and the ability to self-manage is important.
But being away from managers and teammates can leave some employees feeling directionless, lacking the drive to reach their targets and goals.
Managers have the challenge of finding ways to clearly communicate goals and targets alongside monitoring and aiding their remote staff’s progression without micromanaging. This balance is vital for the engagement of remote teams.
Each of these challenges must be tackled to ensure that remote workers feel supported by their employer and are motivated to succeed, but also still able to develop and progress within their roles and careers – despite being away from the workplace.
16 ideas to engage remote workers
Put together an employee experience team
No matter how great your company is, a positive employee experience doesn’t just become strong and stay that way without a little work.
Certain members of the company will naturally take the lead when it comes to planning social activities and getting everyone involved, but when you make this an official role, you make it a focal point. Make sure you have members on the employee experience team coming from different departments so that you have coverage across the whole company.
This team should get together and discuss ideas to improve the working lives of remote employees and how to help them feel supported and connected to the business and their colleagues while in the virtual environment. When the overall employee experience is boosted, employees are engaged with strong wellbeing and feel valued by their employer.
Ask managers to teach classes on their specialist subjects
When working remotely, it can sometimes feel that you’re missing out on opportunities for career progression, particularly for workers early on in their career.
When you’re not physically around others, it’s harder to soak up their knowledge or learn from their skills. Due to busy schedules and not being able to catch each other in person, it can seem like managers are unreachable and any kind of mentorship is off the table. Despite this being an important part of professional development.
Asking managers to teach virtual classes on their specialist subjects to anyone who wants to attend helps to fill this gap. By sharing their knowledge, employees are able to learn or develop new skills. This, in turn, keeps them engaged as they look for ways to apply this knowledge into their own roles. It also helps employees to feel that they’re still developing and building connections in the business, even when away from the physical workplace.
Define clear goals for remote workers
For business success, you need to ensure that your employees have clear and measurable goals, and know what it takes to reach them.
When your employees are remote, it becomes doubly important that they understand and are working towards these goals and that no targets get lost in the ‘virtual realm’. Additionally, when working from home, it can also be easy for employees to feel a bit lost about what to do next, or what their focus should be. If your employees can’t answer those questions, it’s likely that they’re already disengaged.
Create team goals on a monthly or quarterly basis and work with each individual to show how they can contribute. You can create a plan together to show what’s expected of them and what the outcome should look like to ensure that everyone understands the steps that it will take to get there.
It’s also a good idea to establish short, medium and long term goals for each individual employee related to their progression. This can sometimes feel like it falls into the background for employees when working remotely and becomes a demotivator – staying on top of this helps to keep employees engaged as it relates to their future.
These goals will help to give employees direction and drive, while also keeping them engaged in their day-to-day work.
Teamwork makes the (remote working) dream work
It’s easy to fall into the trap of working on projects independently when you’re working remotely. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it does remove the fun and benefits of collaboration that you experience when you’re part of a team.
When an employee is working on a project with a partner or a group of people, other people are relying on them. This keeps them engaged as they know that their team members are dependent on their well-thought-out and timely output. It also adds an element of fun into the working day as groups can share ideas and gain energy from each other.
To help create an environment which allows for strong collaboration between remote workers, you can create guidelines and schedules for each team members’ availability. This is important to remember as just because an employee is working remotely, it doesn’t mean that they’ll always be there to instantly answer any messages.
You can also create dedicated communication channels for different working groups to share updates, notes and documents, ensuring that each team member, no matter where or when they work, is able to stay up to date on the project.
Keep company communications frequent – and make sure everyone receives them!
Hearing wider company and team updates helps to keep employees informed and motivated by what’s going on in the company outside of their own work.
When you work remotely, you lose the benefit of finding out these updates in person from your colleagues or managers around the workplace. This means that if internal communications aren’t well-managed, it can be easy to feel out of the loop.
It’s important to find different ways to keep your remote workers informed. Think about the channels and content types that you are currently using to keep your employees up to date. Do these channels work for everyone? Are you reaching everyone in the company? Your remote workers may prefer or use different communication channels – so never be afraid to over-communicate and send updates across a wide range of channels.
You can share updates via email, Slack, Trello, Google Docs, company Whatsapp groups, Notion, and so on. By sharing across all channels, you ensure that you reach everyone and the message is heard loud and clear.
Company-wide virtual meetings are also a great way to communicate with remote employees. Setting these up on a regular basis allows senior leadership to update all employees on important matters or new priorities for the business. At Perkbox, we have regular ‘Let’s Talk’ sessions over Zoom while we’re working remotely. During these sessions, senior leaders discuss company updates and employees have the opportunity to ask anonymous questions to the senior leadership team on anything they want to know.
Strong and frequent communication helps to boost engagement as employees are aware of the exciting progress and feel energised by different developments. Further, when they get updates on how the company is working to improve their employee experience, loyalty and commitment grow.
Create a space to share inspiration and start a conversation
Try setting up a channel where employees can share inspiration or interesting ideas they have seen relating to your product, market or industry. It will help to keep the whole team feeling fresh, engaged and maintain a natural flow of conversation.
By seeing and sharing ideas and information, it keeps your employees excited and up to date about what your competitors are doing or what’s happening in the external market. Not only that, but it also helps employees to come together and discuss what’s going on. In a remote world where it can be difficult to strike up a conversation, this creates a place where employees can come together and talk about interesting topics.
Not to mention, the help that this can have on inspiring creative ideas to boost results.
Managers need to be proactive and check-in frequently
Although you might not be able to turn and grab your manager for a quick chat in a remote environment, employees working from home still need the same support.
Managers need to be available in the same way as they would be in the workplace. Frequent one-to-ones should be maintained with remote workers, in fact, if possible, making these a more regular occurrence would be beneficial. These meetings will be a key tool that managers can use to uncover any struggles that remote employees are facing and work together to find solutions.
Further, employees won’t always come to their manager with any issues or concerns, so it’s important that managers are proactive and find out how their employees are feeling – and if they’re facing any blockers. Looking out for any employees who seem more withdrawn than usual or who aren’t getting involved in any social conversations is an important part of a remote team leaders role.
Don’t let career progression fall to the wayside
One of the main ways to retain top talent is by offering enticing and clear career advancement opportunities.
For remote workers, it can often feel like career development is put on the backburner or there are less opportunities available for progression.
To keep your top performers motivated and engaged, it's important to regularly discuss next steps and help set up any training opportunities. This makes it clearer for employees to see the goals they’re working towards and how they fit into the long-term future of your company.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to show appreciation for great work
When you're working from home it can be easier to feel like no one sees how hard you’re working and it becomes more difficult to acknowledge and appreciate people's efforts and results. This can have a huge impact on motivation, morale and engagement levels.
The best way to motivate people is to recognise and reward them for positive behaviour. When managers and team members are able to show colleagues that they see and are thankful for their hard work – it gives an extra boost and makes it all feel worthwhile.
While it’s not as easy to say thank you and show off someone's hard work in a remote environment, using Perkbox Recognition helps you to celebrate and inspire teams with a company-wide recognition feed that puts great work in the spotlight.
Employees who are frequently recognised for their efforts are more satisfied and more likely to stick around. For your remote workers, it helps them to feel more valued and appreciated.
Don’t let quiet remote workers sink into the background
It’s not in everyone's nature to speak up on video calls or instant message groups, but as remote workers aren’t there in person, it’s important that this is encouraged. Without participation, employees can easily start to feel outside of the team.
Those who don’t naturally speak up may need to be encouraged slightly. Teams are always made up of different personalities. Some are naturally louder than others, and while this can boost the energy in meetings or on calls, it can lead to quieter team members drifting into the background. Within meetings try to ‘go around the room’ on certain topics or questions, giving each different participant of the meeting an opportunity to speak and share their thoughts.
This way any naturally quieter speakers don’t have to feel that they must ‘fight’ to be heard and discussions become much more equally weighted.
Create boundaries for time to switch off and respect them
Just because employees are working remotely, doesn’t mean they’re always there to reply immediately – or should be for that matter.
You can keep employees engaged by giving them time to rest and work at their own pace.
By making digital boundaries commonplace – such as no emails after 6pm or having an undisturbed break for an hour at lunch – you can stop employees from overworking and risking burnout.
Train your managers for the remote environment
Remote working doesn’t just affect employees, it also has a huge impact on their managers. Although the basics may remain the same, managers will need some help to update their skills for the remote world.
Managers may benefit from extra training, such as how to spot any signs of concern in their remote employees’ wellbeing or lessons in improving communication skills over calls or video.
Find out how your managers are feeling and what support they feel they need.
Try to keep up face to face contact
We’re all human. This means that we all benefit from seeing a friendly face and having some feeling of being surrounded by people.
Video is a vital part of keeping remote workers engaged, as when you can see body language and facial expressions, you’re able to understand each other faster and become more efficient in your collaboration.
Small talk is important
When you’re away from the office, you miss out on the quick chats by the coffee machine or catching up with a colleague in between tasks. Remote employees still need to feel the same connection to their colleagues, so ensure that communication isn’t all work and no play.
For at least 5 minutes of every video call, focus on conversation that isn’t work-related. Share funny stories, how your days are going, what you did on the weekend – just as you would in the office!
This creates more of a sense of community within your digital environment. Remote workers then feel more comfortable before diving into the work but also helps to maintain strong relationships.
TGI Friday! Celebrate the end of the week together
When you’re in the physical workspace, you get to leave the office on a Friday or you might all have a drink together and the end of the workweek is clearly defined.
But when your office is your home, it isn't as easy to get this same sense of closure. If employees feel unable to ‘switch off’ over time, it can have drastic effects on engagement and motivation levels as employees can experience burnout as a result.
Introducing an end of day meeting on a Friday is a great way to combat this. It helps both remote and non-remote employees to close off the week, in order to let them switch off over the weekend and recharge their batteries.
A short, half an hour meeting should be enough, and you can use the time to talk about any successes that have happened over the week, any weekend plans and share recognition for great work. The end of this meeting marks the moment to switch off the computer and switch to personal time – which can be more difficult than it might seem!
Give your employees a voice no matter where they’re based
If your employees aren’t used to remote working, or even if they are, they could be facing difficult challenges – either related to being away from the workplace or to the operation of the company. And when they’re away from the physical workplace, they can feel that they don’t have the opportunity to speak up. Often employees will keep issues to themselves and remote employees can hold back on how they’re really feeling.
As the old saying goes: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. In this case that means you have to ask your employees how they’re feeling in order to find out.
With a remote team, the best way to gain this feedback is through an employee engagement survey. This software allows you to frequently check-in with remote workers to find out how supported they feel by the company, or discover what they feel the company could be doing differently. By sending these short surveys on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, you give employees a voice which helps them to know that the company values their opinions and wants to work to make their experience better.
Employees feel empowered by their voice being heard and the company can help to tackle any problems that they are facing. This boosts engagement levels as employees feel like a more integral part of the company.
Engagement boosting questions to ask include:
- What do you think could help us improve daily communication?
- Can you easily find help when you need it?
- What could we do to improve your work from home experience?
- Do you feel motivated and engaged in your work currently?
- What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the past month while working remotely?
We hope these ideas give some inspiration for ways to keep your employees feeling connected to the business, while not being in the physical workplace. Working remotely can be more of a challenge to some employees than others, so it's essential to check in with your people regularly.
Give some of these ideas a try and see how your employees react – it's important to find out what's best for your people and your business.