Remote employee engagement has been one of the strongest focuses of present day HR leaders. Heading into 2022 will mark the second anniversary since remote work was implemented en masse without choice.
Does remote working affect employee engagement?
It’s constantly up for debate whether remote work creates less engaged employees. Pre-pandemic, employers were already experimenting with telecommuting; at the same time, there were doubts about how effective the workforce could be if they were allowed to work anywhere.
From distractions at home to the onslaught of video meetings, many employees voiced their frustrations about working from home and increased social isolation compared to days at the office. Jostle’s remote work research survey also highlighted how the lack of face-to-face supervision and interaction hinders trust building. Due to the blurred line between work and home life, longer work hours leading to burnout is a well-documented trap of remote work.
Add on many hiccups in sourcing effective communication tools, unclear access to information is also a significant challenge for employee engagement.
Despite these complications, remote work offers rare opportunities as well. The increased flexibility and better focus mean that workers can now be more productive and zone in on deeper work. The majority of the remote workforce voice appreciation for their ability to manage their own schedules and balance family life.
12 remote employee engagement best practices
Here are some steps that managers can implement to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees.
1. Establish clear remote workplace policies and behaviors
Gone are the days where your teammate is just a chair-swivel away, and that’s why it’s always better to err on the side of overcommunicating with your team. Almost every company has office standards, but remote work can cause so much more confusion. How much is too late for a reply on chat?
The more effectively you communicate, the fewer misunderstandings you’ll encounter. For example, you can set the expectation that teams should be notified if individuals are going to be away from the keyboard for more than 20 minutes. If you don’t have an employee handbook to help steer people in the right direction, now’s the time to get started!
2. Encourage closer relationships
Did you know that employees who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged? Humans are hardwired to crave meaningful moments with other people, and this is instrumental to creating a sense of belonging in the workplace. First of all, as a leader, you can check in frequently to remind your employees that you’re there to help and that they’re not alone.
A key to breaking down silos is to allow employees to better understand the bigger picture of your organization’s operations. Recreate the watercooler online to enable company-wide networking, so people are exposed to individuals beyond their immediate team.
3. Leverage technology to support your culture
Your company culture doesn’t just disappear as people disperse away from the office. It still exists; it’s up to everyone to maintain and evolve it by renewing your company goals. Leaders can hold watch parties or use an employee-matching tool to spur authentic and informal conversations! Organize a Lunch and Learn via video conferencing or get tickets for a digital industry conference.
4. Enable people to find everything they need
We spend so much time locating the correct information for us to do our jobs—it's time to ensure your files, people, or protocols are just as accessible online. By providing employees with the resources they need and the environment to carry out their duties well, they’ll feel more confident in performing their best and being effective contributors.
5. Ask for feedback and act on it
In the spirit of overcommunicating, consider implementing a more regular cadence of employee surveys. With less face-to-face exposure to your employees, getting insightful feedback can help identify areas for improvement earlier on. Just make sure you’re not letting this data collect dust. When people are voicing out and are met with no progress, it’s hard to avoid feelings of frustration. Frequently it’s the lack of communication about what’s being done that makes individuals feel neglected. Remember to close the loop, thank people for contributing, and communicate concrete actions to follow.
6. Always be inclusive to your remote workers
Remote team members are easily excluded, especially if there’s a “core” group of members that are working in the office. They can feel left out if they aren’t clear about goals, expectations, and communication protocols. To make collaboration easier, extensively set up virtual touchpoints and increase visibility on project progress so they can contribute on their own schedule.
An extra word of caution to watch out for silos: make sure you’re not having private meetings and social gatherings without your remote employees; always keep them in the loop with detailed agendas and minutes for them to follow up and action on.
7. Trust remote employees from afar and get to know them
It’s not uncommon for remote workers to feel abandoned or even like castaways. Help them get rid of those feelings by sitting down with them one-on-one and learning about their personal lives, interests, and values.
As one-on-one relationships are a cornerstone of remote employee engagement, train managers to be empathetic and transparent. Replace micromanaging tendencies by granting autonomy and fully embracing the flexibility that remote work offers!
8. Be thoughtful about what tools to use
Scattered and spontaneous in-person communication might have worked in the office. In a virtual setting, enhanced tools for digital collaborations are necessary—provide a go-to platform like Jostle to facilitate discussions and be a single source of truth.
It also helps to collectively decide on what’s the most appropriate communication channel for which kind of message. For example, you can use instant messaging for morning status checks to eliminate draining screen time.
9. Take care of employee wellbeing
Employees have the potential to be more productive when they work from home, but they also take fewer sick days and vacation days. And a survey from 15Five states that up to 62% of employees report experiencing burnout at work.
Mental illness and other stressors can be just as debilitating as any physical illness, and it can be so liberating when your workplace cares about this issue. It's time for employers to be more accepting and supportive of mental health. One of the best things an employer can do is to create a human-centric environment that normalizes mental health and dismantles the stigma surrounding it.
10. Recognize employee contributions and milestones
Remote work productivity has been shown to rival those working from the office, but they aren't consistently recognized adequately for their efforts.
Who doesn’t like a little pat on the back after a lengthy (and grueling) project? Create a positive environment where people lift each other up. Leaders should set an example by celebrating and embracing employee milestones and life events.
11. Provide extra support during onboarding
The golden opportunity to fuel remote employee engagement starts from the very first day with the organization. Engage your entire team in the process by creating an interactive onboarding experience, making sure that each member plays a role in welcoming new members and getting them up to speed.
12. Catch up live every now and then
Don’t ever have meetings just for the sake of them; however, increasing face time and live chats can help your team members feel better connected to the rest of the team. Even better, organizing a celebratory offsite retreat or an in-office workshop every now and then can strengthen relationships, reminding remote employees that they’re part of the team no matter where they spend most days.
Remote employee engagement will be an ongoing challenge
Avoid letting your employees feel like they’re out of sight and out of mind with these remote employee engagement strategies. It isn’t easy, but hopefully this article gave you better insight into the barriers of remote work and how to address them. It’s a rare opportunity to innovate your remote employee experiences so you can support your employees to be happier and more productive.