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Ways to keep employees engaged in a remote workforce

There is no better indicator of employees’ happiness, motivation, and commitment than employee engagement. When employees are engaged, they’re invested in their work, go above and beyond on tasks, and are eager to support each other. The impact of employee engagement can be seen throughout a company—from low turnover to high profits—which is why having an employee engagement program in place can be so important for the success of your business.

However, the world of work and the standard processes for employee engagement have changed. As a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have realized the benefits of a remote workforce, and their temporarily dispersed employee teams are now here to stay. While that might be great in the long run, it does cause challenges when it comes to keeping newly remote workforces engaged. As we adapt to new ways of working, it’s important for HR pros, managers, and company leaders to prioritize employee engagement. Start with the fundamentals, like providing support, showing appreciation, and truly listening to your workforce.

Just because your employees are not in the same location as you doesn’t mean you should overlook opportunities to give them valuable feedback. Working from home can be an isolating experience, and employees may have a harder time feeling heard or gauging the impact of their work. They also may be dealing with challenges that didn’t exist prior to their shift to remote work.

Don’t put off checking in or sharing feedback until the annual review. (In fact, you might consider reimagining annual reviews entirely.) Providing regular feedback will help employees focus on what’s important, stay aligned with team and company goals, and feel that their time and efforts are valued. And don’t forget that feedback is a two-way street. Employees should also be invited to provide feedback on managers and share how their needs can be better met. Use employee experience surveys to hear from your team in their own words and measure and track engagement during the first year of remote work and beyond.

One of the biggest concerns among employees who are transitioning to remote work may be how to manage their time. This is partly due to new challenges and a lack of understanding of employer expectations. For instance, are you still expected to keep to the usual 9am-5pm working hours, despite having family commitments that make it extremely difficult to work in the late afternoon?

In addition, remote workforces can often be spread out across states, time zones, and even countries—and may run into scheduling problems if employees were previously mainly in one time zone. Old established working patterns can inadvertently create disharmony among team members, since some will have to get up at the crack of dawn to work, while others will be working late into the night.

Providing employees with flexible schedule options will allow them to work on a timeframe that is convenient for them, while still ensuring productivity. Employees will be grateful to be given the opportunity to develop their own schedule and establish a healthy work culture. They’ll also be better able to maintain a work-life balance that fosters real, long term engagement.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to team effectiveness is good communication. When a workforce is remote, however, that can be a challenge. Ensuring your employees have access to team communications tools will help them connect with coworkers more easily and stay connected across the entire company. Here are some common communication tools that can help strengthen team communication.

  • Slack is a powerful communication platform that’s great for remote teams. Not only are its communications faster, more efficient, and more secure than email, but it integrates well with other communication tools you might be using (like Zoom and Calendly), and you can create multiple channels or rooms to facilitate group-based work.
  • If your company uses Microsoft software, you’ll benefit from using Microsoft Teams, a platform offering chat spaces and videoconferencing facilities. Teams also works well with other Microsoft products, ensuring a seamless experience.
  • Google Hangouts is a videoconferencing platform that’s great if your company uses Google’s suite of products. For instance, an email received in Gmail can be quickly converted into a face-to-face call.

Just as important as the communication tools your team uses is the policies you have in place. Are you encouraging kickoff meetings among your workforce, so teams can sync on projects? Do you have known systems for communicating about blockers or stakeholder requests? Do you support employees who want to establish office hours or “do not disturb” hours? Make sure employees not only have the tools to communicate but also a model for how good communication happens.

You should always celebrate a job well done and acknowledge both employees’ big and small contributions when they solve problems, collaborate well, or help to achieve company goals. This can be especially meaningful among a remote workforce, when team members’ efforts are more prone to being overlooked. While a casual “thank you” is certainly a start, it may not be as effective online as in person. Providing recognition through public praise or rewards can go a long way in keeping employees engaged and letting them know their contributions matter.

You can link digital rewards with your engagement goals and show employees appreciation for everything from brainstorming to reaching a customer service milestone. You can also encourage them to recognize each other, such as nominating a teammate for their outstanding efforts at meeting a department or company goal. 

Providing your workforce with health and wellness opportunities will help to ensure their physical and mental health—which is key to happy, productive, and engaged employees. You could run virtual yoga or mindfulness sessions or provide employees with gym memberships or vouchers for local fitness classes. Most importantly, you should make it clear that you support employees’ mental health. That includes creating safe spaces for them to share how they’re feeling, encouraging the use of paid time off, and asking for feedback on your current employee benefits.

Get the employee feedback you need to support your team’s well-being, productivity, and needs. 

The traditional office setting provides lots of natural opportunities for team members to interact with one another, both professionally and socially. With the loss of water cooler talk and in-person chats, you’ll need to get more creative. Team building activities are a great way to end a quarter, foster connections with new additions to the team, or check in with everyone in an informal and relaxed setting. Examples of virtual team building activities include: 

  • Virtual painting classes
  • Virtual wine tastings
  • Virtual movie nights 
  • Virtual show and tell

Playing team building games is another creative way for employees to collaborate and work together outside of the usual work projects. Here are a few examples of virtual team building games that you could make a regular tradition among your employees:

  • Virtual trivia games
  • Virtual scavenger hunts
  • Virtual bingo

Of course, the best team building games are those that help employees bond and get to know one another. You could, for example, customize your Bingo game to include squares like “has 3 or more siblings” or “plays a musical instrument.” Or, ask for suggestions for themed trivia and see who has an unexpected wealth of knowledge about Harry Potter or Star Wars. 

You should always aim to find activities and games that are fun and engaging for a variety of personalities. If you’re not sure what will interest your team and build engagement, it pays to ask for feedback from them ahead of time. This will help you avoid activities that might spark embarrassment or boredom and ensure that people will enjoy themselves and participate. Plus, it demonstrates your commitment to finding team building activities that are truly employee-centric, rather than dictated by higher-ups. Employee feedback will also allow you to get a better idea of how often you should hold your virtual get-togethers, what time of day would be most convenient, and whether your employees have requests for future team building games.

Employee care packages can boost morale and demonstrate your appreciation for everyone in your workforce. Coordinate where to send employees’ packages with a simple contact information form and choose the items with care. Look for opportunities to supply branded items and build company pride. The point of an employee care package is to brighten someone’s day with a much-needed resource or treat. Here are some examples of employee care packages:

  • Company apparel: Company branded clothing is an excellent gift for a dispersed workforce because it gives them an extra connection to their team and cultivates a sense of belonging. 
  • Office supplies: Consider distributing the sort of office supplies that your team would normally have access to in an office, to make their day-to-day work a little easier. You can also include fun extras like laptop stickers or portable chargers.
  • Treats and snacks: Another aspect of traditional office life that your team members might be missing is the communal treats. Sending them a box of delicious doughnuts or cookies can help recreate the delight of surprise office treats. If you want to keep it healthy, you can always opt for sending more wholesome snacks.
  • Wellness kits: A wellness-focused employee care package might include things like a water bottle (branded, of course) to remind workers to hydrate while sitting at their desks, an eye mask to soothe eyes that have been staring at a screen all day, or exercise equipment to encourage them to take breaks and stay active.

We hope this has given you some inspiration on how to keep employees engaged in a remote workforce. Remember, employee engagement initiatives aren’t as simple as a one-and-done team building activity or employee care package. Employee engagement should be a long term investment and a visible priority for the leaders in your organization. It should also be measured, tracked, and analyzed like any other business metric—something that’s easy to do with employee engagement surveys. Once you have solid data on employee engagement, you can assess your initiatives, set benchmarks, and enhance the employee experience for your entire remote workforce. 

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