Work from home is indeed a blessing for many. Who wouldn't love the comfort of attending those long meetings in pyjamas and skip the daily arduous drive to work? Besides providing more flexibility and convenience to employees, a remote working culture also benefits your organization.
According to the Owl Labs' 2019 State of Remote Work report, job satisfaction and retention rates increase due to remote working. Workers who operate remotely are also 13% more likely to stay in their roles for up to five years than onsite workers. Another survey points out that remote workers only take two to three weeks of vacation per year, which means they spend more time at work than onsite employees.
Not surprisingly, Gartner found that 82% of company leaders plan to allow their employees to work at least some of the time remotely. This shift in mindset has led to the rise of hybrid working models.
A remote working model also gives you access to a broader talent pool spread across geographies that can increase productivity and reduce costs in some cases. However, not all companies are ready to go fully remote.
Though beneficial for both employees and employers, remote working requires two things:
- A change of infrastructure to support and manage a distributed workforce, and
- A cultural shift that embraces remote work.
If the infrastructure and cultural shift don’t happen, remote employee engagement will be in jeopardy. For instance, some managers might find it hard to trust employees who are working remotely. Similarly, employees may feel disengaged or lonely due to a lack of face-to-face interactions.
Improving Employee Engagement For Remote Teams
Recent research has indicated that employees who work from home are often less engaged than workers who go to the office regularly. Gallup states that fully remote workers, including work-from-home employees or those with mobile jobs, have the lowest levels of engagement of all remote workers.
Another study found that "remote workers experience strengthened and sustained levels of workplace engagement" in a working environment where they have a "personal connection to the organization's mission and vision and where they feel the work culture is familial."
Therefore, remote workers only have low engagement if they work for companies that don’t make them feel like they’re part of a team and contributing to a mission. With the right strategy and tools in place, we can increase remote employee engagement.
This article will provide seven best practices that will help you improve engagement within remote teams to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. A successful remote company will employ all of these best practices in their own unique way, but the fundamental outcome behind them is that they create personal connections and support their mission.
1. Setting Clear Expectations
Lack of clear direction or instructions can make a remote employee feel confused and directionless.
That's why it's essential to make sure remote employees are clear about what's expected out of them in terms of performance and other business goals. Answer these questions to clarify what’s expected of remote employees:
- Will remote employees work standard working times (9-5) or will they have flexible hours depending on their time zone?
- How often (if at all) do remote employees need to come into the office?
- Do all employees get to choose where they do their best work? When is it appropriate to have all employees come into a central office?
- How will you build company culture on remote teams if you can’t meet in person?
- Does remote work give you a better work-life balance?
- What opportunities will in-office employees have access to that remote or hybrid employees won’t? How will you address this as a company?
- How will managers adjust to leading remote teams? What new metrics will they need to measure?
These are big questions to answer but a great way for employers and leaders to develop productive and engaged remote employees.
On the topic of managing remote employees, an article by Harvard Business Review reminds leaders that this doesn't mean you have to micromanage your employees and ask them for daily completion reports. Instead, you can schedule regular one-on-one meetings to understand their progress. This also provides an opportunity to answer employee questions, troubleshoot issues, and provide feedback on their performance to make sure they meet their goals.
2. Promote Peer-to-Peer Learning Programs to Connect Dispersed Employees
Most businesses use chat channels like Slack to facilitate communication between remote employees. Some companies also maintain an internal knowledge base that acts as a single source of truth for onboarding and training employees, and also for addressing various internal queries.
Such a knowledge base may be updated by employees on a regular basis to ensure everybody stays on the same page.
In general, knowledge transfer between employees through any channel can improve collaboration and help create stronger company cultures that work together productively.
As employees learn on the job, they develop a lot of tacit knowledge, which must be captured and shared with others.
Besides promoting open communication, you may consider rolling out a peer-to-peer learning program where each employee is asked to give a short presentation or training on their area of expertise. You can also ask for feedback from participants and conduct surveys to find out about the topics they’re struggling with to plan training sessions accordingly.
3. Encourage Collaboration
We all need social interactions in our work. For organizational success, it's crucial to encourage and enable collaboration between employees by providing them with the right tools and work environment. Whether this be regular check-ins, virtual water cooler chats, or an old-school phone call we all need some face-to-face interaction.
For instance, file-sharing software allowing multiple users to work on a document in real-time can improve productivity. Similarly, a voice or video conferencing call can encourage group collaboration. Collaboration tools like Hangouts, Slack, and Trello also make it easier for remote teams to work with each other. Document all the outcomes of your collaborations. You can synchronize information between collaboration tools, or pull up data to one place, e.g., export Trello to Excel, or Slack to Google Sheets, and more. You may also organize virtual get-togethers for teams, or a virtual happy hour to build a sense of camaraderie.
At Together, we’ve worked with dozens of enterprise companies who are challenged to connect dispersed employees and teams. Many of these companies have offices across the globe making silos a real challenge to collaboration. To break down barriers to collaboration we’ve seen several companies start mentoring programs. By doing so they:
- Expand employee connections outside of their direct teams and managers; even to different time zones.
- Open up knowledge-sharing opportunities that lead to innovation or creative problem-solving.
- Encourage professional development and career pathing plans.
- Reveal potential leaders and create opportunities for succession planning.
Obviously, we’re biased that mentoring activities are an effective way to encourage collaboration within an organization, but there’s a strong case for it. Mentorship programs make it easy to start relationships that lead to more collaboration.
4. Schedule Regular 1:1’s
Depending on the scale of your business, scheduling regular video calls for all your employees will help bring them together. A weekly video conference is usually adequate for medium-sized firms and helps build trust and rapport with employees.
That being said, it's important not to go overboard with video calling. Many employees have reported spending an increasing amount of time in virtual meetings during the pandemic.
Therefore, it's essential to set an agenda for your meetings to ensure they don't last forever and eat into the productive time of your employees. There’s a balance between too few meetings - leading to remote employees feeling isolated - and too many - leading to zoom fatigue.
One way companies are helping to support remote employees is through mentoring programs. Too often, virtual calls default to talk about work which can leave employees feeling disconnected from the culture.
With remote mentoring programs, remote workers access role models who can offer guidance and advice both personally and professionally. Mentorship is tied to increased levels of engagement, making it an effective way to support your remote workforce.
If you're starting a remote mentoring program in your organization check out our Remote Mentoring Handbook where we talk about how to be great mentor in a remote environment.
5. Recognize Your Employees' Success
Any successful company culture includes employee recognition. Employees need recognition to stay motivated. This is even more important when working remotely to feel a sense of connection with the organization.
So make sure you continue showing your appreciation for employees with a quick vote of thanks during team meetings or materialize the appreciation with a gift coupon or card to keep employees motivated and engaged.
Here are three ways you can make your employees feel valued:
- Create a place to celebrate small wins. Look for opportunities to praise employees openly, even when it’s something small. A dedicated space to recognize the “small wins” keeps things casual and allows you to recognize when employees are going above and beyond for the team.
- Connect remote employees with executives. It's common knowledge that remote employees can feel isolated. Make them feel more at home by connecting them with a role model in the organization they wouldn’t normally work with. Provide them with resources to have conversations that are focused on their goals and ambitions.
- Share with them how they’re building a good reputation for themselves. Go to the managers of exemplary employees. Ask their managers to highlight recent wins they’ve had or times they’ve supported another team member. Connect with them and recognize their hard work. Doing so shows them that their manager is clearly sharing positive feedback about them to you.
6. Introduce Chatbots for Employee Self-Service and Training
Oracle and Future Workplace's annual AI at Work report revealed that 64% of employees trust an AI chatbot more than their manager. When asked what AI bots can do better than their managers, the respondents said that bots are:
- Better at providing unbiased information (26%)
- Better at maintaining work schedules (34%)
- Improved problem-solving (29%)
- Better at managing a budget (26%)
One advantage of chatbots for remote workers is that they can revolutionize employee self-service and HR. An AI chatbot is available for employees 24/7 and allows HR to answer common employee queries related to employee benefits, insurance, vacation, etc., instantly and seamlessly.
Chatbots are also instrumental in performance tracking.
With so many employees working remotely, it's often difficult for managers to know which workers are struggling to perform their duties. Chatbots can crunch millions of data points from various information streams to provide quality evaluations for your employees. They can also suggest relevant training sessions and courses to employees according to their strengths and weaknesses.
6. Ask For Feedback & Listen to It
It's good to ask employees for feedback regularly, but it's even more important to act on it. Besides, it would help if you made it a point to communicate with employees when you take action (or why you won't be taking action on any specific feedback), so they feel heard and valued.
It’s also a good idea to regularly share feedback with your team members to facilitate their professional growth. You can organize one-on-one sessions with team members and managers, at least once a month, to discuss problems and share constructive feedback.
Here are some questions you can ask your team members to guide them better:
- What are your career goals?
- Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?
- What are your greatest challenges right now?
- What part of your job most excites you the most?
- What motivates you?
- What do you want to achieve in life?
You may also find this article on preparing for your next mentorship meeting interesting to find more insightful questions.
7. Keep Employees in the Know
Employees that feel aligned to an organization feel more engaged, even when working remotely. But how do you keep remote workers updated on all the happenings in your organization?
Some companies use the main feed or an internal communication channel to share all the relevant news and updates with the entire company so that everybody's on the same page. Business leaders can also use this feed to share important information, including live videos that can be recorded and blogs, updating readers about new business policies and other updates.
Leaders can also host office hours where employees can ask questions or clarify details. This face time with senior leaders creates space for remote employees to connect with leaders they may more see on a day-to-day basis as much as on-site employees. Additionally, it can bridge connections between remote employees and senior leaders on a more personal level.
Remote working can reduce costs and increase employee satisfaction greatly when the right engagement strategies are in place. However, you'll need to give extra support to the newest hires to bring them up to date and equip them with all the information to work confidently in a remote environment.
An internal knowledge base, chat channels for communicating with other team members, and an onboarding program can make it easier for new and existing members to feel more engaged and achieve their goals efficiently.
A key element of improving remote employee engagement is connection. And to make sure every remote team member has access to these kinds of social connections and development opportunities mentoring programs are crucial. Learn more about remote mentoring by watching our webinar on supporting employees while working from home.
Srushti Shah is a Digital Marketer and Content writer at Acquire. Her key focus is to serve her clients with the latest innovation in her field leading to fast and effective results. Reach out to Srushti Shah on Twitter or LinkedIn