Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working practices were on the rise. However, the necessity to maintain safe distances saw many more businesses recognizing the benefits that can be found from allowing employees to work from home. There are some significant challenges, too. Often chief among these is the ability to maintain remote employee engagement.
It may be the case that you’ve had previous experience in implementing successful engagement protocols for in-person workers. The difficulty here is that the remote working environment tends to be an entirely different animal. Your well-honed methods may not be directly transferable to virtual or even hybrid work environments.
So, let’s take a look at some of the aspects you should consider when establishing how to engage remote employees. What elements tend to be effective and how should you go about implementing them?
Learn About Their Priorities
It’s important to recognize that not all methods of engagement are going to be effective to all remote workers. You may find this is particularly the case if your company is primarily remote and you’re employing workers from across the country or even the globe. There will be a range of additional contributing factors to their engagement from their individual cultural, geographical, and ethical standpoints. As such, you need to take the time to learn about what drives your remote team.
Often the most effective way to approach this is through adopting some agile robust engagement intelligence protocols. Create employee surveys geared around understanding not just what the general priorities for your workers are but what they feel is missing in their engagement experience. Provide them with feedback channels through which they can safely and anonymously provide information about their interactions with the business, colleagues, and management. Importantly, show that you are committed to treating their responses seriously and by taking action as a direct result.
Anonymous surveys are an excellent way to gain honest intelligence in a way that minimizes the potential for bias in interpretation. Nevertheless, there is still value to be found in having direct conversations with your remote workers. One of the engagement issues with working from home is there is a tendency to feel distant from immediate supervisors and team members.
You should, therefore, make engagement related questions part of managers’ regular one-to-one catch-ups with staff. Talk to them about what is important in their work and their life outside the business. This not only gives you actionable information as your workers’ needs change and develop over time, it also demonstrates that your company cares about them.
Make certain you use this intelligence in intentional and structured forms. Create clear recognition and engagement programs that are both based on the overall analysis of your surveys but also include the individual insights of workers. This can be a challenging process and one you need to apply regularly. But your commitment here can be your most powerful tool in keeping your remote workers engaged and retaining them in the long run.
Consistent and effective communication is one of the most important ways to keep remote employees engaged. Unfortunately, this element is often overlooked, particularly when businesses switch from in-person to virtual methods. This is because traditional work environments keep workers in the same space where communications practices can naturally develop. Remote working, on the other hand, requires focused cultivation of communications protocols to keep everyone connected, collaborative, and engaged.
This begins with providing the right tools for effective communications. Wherever possible, you should avoid using multiple platforms. If your workers keep having to switch between Zoom for video chats, Slack for the direct messaging, and Asana for their project-based comms, this can get unwieldy very quickly. As such, the inconvenience can see your staff members failing to engage with these platforms in a productive and meaningful way. Seek to consolidate your platforms or utilize those that support plugins for other applications. The easier you can make it for remote staff to communicate, the better.
Having established the right tools, you then need to provide clear protocols on their use. There should be no ambiguity about which channels should be utilized for specific types of tasks. Similarly, set expectations for the frequency with which these need to be applied. This should include formalizing the approach for weekly team meetings by video call, daily check-ins via instant message, and channels for urgent assistance. You don’t need to be overbearing here, but producing solid documentation and training helps to underline how important communication is.
These communications protocols can easily fall by the wayside when they are not consistently implemented by everyone. As soon as this happens, worker engagement tends to suffer. There should be commitment to maintaining these practices and improving on them. Managers should lead the way by demonstrating their adherence to the protocols and seeking to encourage workers to communicate with one another.
Importantly, staff should be actively involved with assessing and developing communications protocols. Employees will have practical insights into what communications methods are most effective and where the problems lie. Seeking their input here can also be key to keeping them engaged with the process.
One of the areas of contention regarding remote operations at the moment is the level of monitoring that company leaders focus on workers. This behavior is especially prevalent in businesses that have little prior experience with virtual workplaces. Managers often feel that if their workers aren’t supervised in the physical environment, there is the opportunity for productivity loss or time theft. In many cases, the result of this is unnecessary micromanagement that alienates workers rather than engages them.
This is a fundamental trust issue. Remember, trust is a key characteristic in any high-performing team. If your workers feel that your monitoring methods are overbearing, this sends a clear signal that you feel they cannot be trusted to perform as a professional. You are not only failing to recognize their previously demonstrated skills and talents, you’re making them feel as though you question their ethics. This is not the way to encourage workers to be productive and innovative on your behalf.
As such, keeping remote employees engaged should begin with keeping monitoring to an absolute minimum. Certainly, you need to be able to track progress on projects, but avoid actions like screen recording or time logging. This gives your workers a sense of your trust and also gives them the independence to explore innovative avenues. You should review these regularly, though. If there is a drop off in productivity, this may warrant a step up in monitoring. But to keep your workers engaged, give them the benefit of your trust first.
At the same time, you don’t want your workers to feel entirely abandoned. Experiencing a lack of managerial support can in itself be a route to reduced engagement. There has to be a sense of balance. Your best tool here is open communication with your employees on the subject. Talk to them about whether they feel you’re providing enough support or are micromanaging. Issue occasional anonymous pulse surveys to get a real-time and frank understanding of how workers feel about your management approach.
Mitigate the Impact of Isolation
The independence of remote work can help workers not just to engage but to thrive. However, this solitary form of working can also have a detrimental impact. A recent Gallup poll found 21% of workers consider loneliness to be their biggest struggle with remote working. Feeling geographically distanced from colleagues can cause workers to feel they aren’t a valued part of a team. The sense of isolation can also affect your remote workers’ mental health, leading to challenges surrounding anxiety and depression. This all equates to a disrupted employee experience and a potential drop in engagement.
You, therefore, need to take action to mitigate the negative consequences of isolation. This can start with providing opportunities for close collaboration between colleagues. Design projects so that employees need to spend time each week brainstorming together using virtual whiteboard software. Establish routines in which team members can spend some time discussing their activities and seek one another’s input.
The aforementioned commitment to communications is key here. Make efforts to keep everyone professionally and socially connected. This doesn’t just mean regular check-ins on projects. Provide a dedicated messaging channel for casual chatting. Implement occasional virtual team building exercises or social hangouts on company time.
It’s also important to give your workers access to support tools that help them handle the effects of isolation. This could involve subsidized availability of telemedical mental health counseling services. Arrange for your workers to spend a day or two each week in a local coworking space so they can benefit from working around others in a dynamic environment. These aren’t complex solutions. But helping workers to break out of uncomfortable solitude can be instrumental in improving engagement.
Remote operations can have significant benefits for workers and businesses alike. But maintaining employee engagement in this environment can often be challenging. You need to take the time to learn about your team members’ priorities so you can implement the most appropriate solutions. Remember that establishing robust communications protocols and minimizing the impact of isolation can keep teams connected and productive. It’s also important to demonstrate trust by avoiding unnecessary micromanagement. Remote work may be a new challenge for your business, but consistent efforts to keep workers engaged can ensure everyone benefits from your success.
It’s only natural that you want your teams to perform at peak levels. As such, you need to cultivate the characteristics that tend to lead to greater productivity, innovation, and positivity within teams. Make sure your working groups are all committed toward the same clear goals and encourage forms of peer recognition. Solid communication is key to overcoming challenges, while a diverse employee base helps make teams more versatile. By combining an understanding of prime team characteristics and engaging your workers to help make improvements, your company can benefit from strong collaborations.