The COVID Pandemic has had many impacts but one important theme is the way it has catapulted huge numbers of companies into the realms of remote work – many of whom would never have allowed working-from-home otherwise! For many companies, remote work is a brand new world that we are still feeling our way through.
On the positive side, concerns about productivity seem to have been largely unfounded as business leaders have quickly realized that their employees can indeed be productive from home. (In fact, many companies are vowing to stay remote and eliminate or reduce their office space permanently.)
However, management and HR teams are now focusing on one burning question:
“How can we keep remote employees engaged?”
It’s certainly a fair question.
There are no longer the informal social interactions occurring all through the day, no in-person meetings to rally behind a unified cause, and it’s extremely difficult to organize team building activities. (On the other hand, you can see why productivity is going well without all of these activities!)
Here at HR Partner, our team has been remote from day one with people scattered over the four corners of the world. We’ve also seen what works well across thousands of our clients’ organizations. We’re not experts by any means, but there are a few things we’d recommend for keeping engagement high for remote workers….
1) Regular One-on-One Meetings
In the world of remote work, these regular and predictable check-ins between employees and their managers are more important than ever. Having a set time each week (or 2 weeks or month at the most!) where you can make a connection is vital. These meetings should deliberately factor in a personal element as well. Asking “how are you?” or “what’s going on with you?” or “how are you feeling at the moment?” can go a long way. Of course, it’s up to the employee how much personal information they divulge, but ideally you’ll create enough trust over time so that you can have a meaningful connection (which isn’t all about the work content).
One-on-one meetings are also one of the best ways to keep productivity levels high as they become the touch-point when employees provide updates on their progress towards their tasks and goals.
2) Sharing Work Updates
When employees work in an office together, they tend to have a good idea what everyone else is working on. Just walking past someone’s computer screen will often give you a good idea. But of course, when working from home, this doesn’t happen. Without knowing what else is going on in the organization, employees can feel very isolated and that they’re working in a vacuum. And this tends to decrease motivation and morale.
Sharing work updates can (and should) be included in some of the other measures mentioned (especially company and team meetings), but work updates can also be in the form of daily updates on a messenger platform, a weekly email prepared by each department, or an internal newsletter that everyone contributes towards. Knowing that others are working hard towards the common purpose is a big motivator and also brings out the natural inclinations in us all ‘not to let the team down’.
3) Frequent Reminders of the Purpose
It’s worth remembering that we all crave meaning in our lives. Finding opportunities to tie in a greater purpose with employees’ work and the company in general, will go a long way. When you read this, you might think that doesn’t apply to your company and that it’s too hard to do. But don’t overthink it! Every company is contributing to society in some way so we just need to highlight those impacts and link them back to employees.
In our case, part of our vision is to “empower and support the HR people, who empower and support the rest of the team”. We believe that by building and helping companies use a HR system, they will be better able to support their team members, and ultimately their customers. So for us, customer feedback is how we remind our team about how we’re going. We love nothing more than getting a great customer review and we make a point to share it internally so that everyone can see how their efforts are contributing.
In a similar vein, sharing company or department goals is extremely important. Most employees are only working on only one small element within the company, so highlighting the bigger picture helps give their work more meaning.
4) A Forum for Social Interactions
In the past, a normal day in the office would involve many opportunities for social interactions. When you enter the office, as people walk past your desk, when you head to the bathroom, the small talk that occurs in meetings, taking coffee with someone and so on. Obviously, when people are working from home, these opportunities are missing. For employees that work from home, it’s important to have these interactions – for people to better know and form an affinity towards their colleagues.
A platform for social interactions might arise naturally, but often, people are too self-conscious to do this before leadership signals it’s ok. The job then, for managers and HR leaders, is to normalize social chit-chat on a chosen forum – eg on Slack, Teams or some other type of messaging platform. Start a new channel called “shenanigans”, “non-work”, “chit-chat” or something else and then regularly drop in conversation starters to encourage employees to engage with each other over non-work topics.
You can look up some conversation starters to include in your channel, but they could be along the following ideas;
- “Hey team…. how about a tip sharing session between us?
- “Hey peeps – here’s a snap from my weekend. I’d love to see one from yours as well!”
- “What’s for dinner at your place tonight? I’ll share mine in the thread.”
- “Anyone got a Netflix recommendation? I’ve just finished xxx and need something new!”
- “Here’s a pic of my working-from-home setup. Let’s see yours!”
- “Sharing here my favorite playlist for getting stuff done! Have you got a good set you listen to?”
5) Organized Team Building Activities
Thinking of ideas for team building activities is certainly more difficult when the team is working remotely. But that’s not to say it can’t be done – it just needs some more creativity! In fact, it doesn’t really require creativity as you only need to Google “remote team building activities” and you’ll soon have a heap of ideas. For example, these can be things like;
- An online yoga class – as a one-off or a regular event.
- An online cooking class – some companies even deliver all the required ingredients to their team members.
- Start a meeting with a riddle – give everyone some time to think it over and get them to tell you their answers.
- Play “How well do you know your team?” – get everyone to answer 3 questions prior to the activity and send their answers to you. Then ask team members to match the answers with the right person.
- Host an trivia quiz
- And there are many paid services and apps that can get very creative.
Of course, team meetings are also great to communicate updates and also build team camaraderie, and these should not be overlooked. Company or departmental meetings are a fantasit connection point for employees. Just don’t make them too long and try to structure them so that everyone has something to contribute.
6) Employee Recognition
In an office setting, people feel seen – because they literally can be seen! But when everyone is working from home, employees can more easily feel unnoticed and unappreciated. Making a habit of recognizing employees goes a long way. Of course, this can be done in one-on-one meetings, but recognition is even more powerful when it is shared publicly – perhaps in your messenger platform, a team-wide email, or as a news item in your HR system. You’re probably thinking of praising work outcomes when they happen, but don’t limit it to that. You can also recognize efforts, continued work under extenuating circumstances, the assistance someone has given you, or really anything else.
You can also make employees feel appreciated by recognizing their birthdays and work anniversaries (HR Partner helps you keep track of these).
Another way of showing recognition is to send employees a branded gift featuring the company logo. Just because we are all working at home, doesn’t mean that we can’t represent our company! Something simple like a set of speakers, headphones or a new water bottle with the company logo can be a great way of keeping your employees engaged and a part of the team.
Building and maintaining employee engagement for remote workers definitely has it’s challenges, but with some thought and effort, these are not insurmountable. Coaching managers to ensure these techniques filter throughout the organization goes a long way towards high levels of employee engagement. Which is of course, a precursor to productivity, innovation, and importantly, employee retention.
These new times call for new ways of working and if done regularly, these practices will go a long way towards delivering high employee engagement for remote workers.