Have you heard the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” While this might apply to personal relationships, it’s not necessarily true of employees who are learning to navigate a remote work environment. One Gallup poll from mid-June found lower employee engagement among employees surveyed compared to just one month prior. And as the pandemic rages on, many employers around the world are left weighing their options to determine what works best for both their business and their employees.
According to a 2021 survey by global remote employment company, Omnipresent, "On average, 29% of employers stated their businesses would be working fully remotely after the pandemic. The more popular choice was a hybrid model. 54% of the employers we interviewed stated that they will be mixing remote and in-house working post-pandemic."
As a long-time freelance journalist, I have interviewed and worked with a range of entrepreneurs, company executives, and other freelancers who have shared their thoughts about working remotely.
Through my own experiences as well as these discussions, I’ve learned that certain strategies are more effective at enhancing employee engagement — including the 5 tactics listed below that can be implemented in a hybrid environment as well.
Five Ways to Improve Employee Engagement in a Remote Workplace:
- Seek feedback from employees
- Schedule regular check-in meetings
- Don’t forget about recognition
- Set creative new goals
- Don’t skimp on social time
1. Seek Feedback from Employees
One of the comments I hear most often from remote workers is that they wish their employers or managers would ask for their opinions and ideas. Involving remote workers in company activities and project planning makes them feel like they are part of something bigger and are helping the team achieve company goals.
One way to start including employees more is to ask for their feedback through a formal process, like an online survey. Not only is this an efficient way to gather opinions across the company, but it also provides a necessary outlet for employees to share their thoughts.
Using a survey maker tool, you can create short, simple surveys that include different question types, such as multiple-choice, open-ended, or a combination. This customization allows you to target the survey to specific projects and learn what else you can do to improve your work environment.
2. Schedule Consistent Check-in Meetings
Hold regular check-in meetings to provide an outlet for employees. These sessions also provide a channel to distribute the latest information that employees need to complete their project work.
Daily huddles only need to last a few minutes. These meet-ups provide direction, structure, and guidance for remote workers.
However, these meet-ups are also a good opportunity to let employees express themselves. Depending on the size of your team and the current situation, you can use these check-ins to encourage employees to open up and share their feelings, on subjects ranging from the challenges of working remotely (including balancing home and work lives) to managing the intense uncertainty and anxiety of the last few months. The check-ins provide a forum to discuss these concerns and address mental health.
Schedule different types of check-in meetings. Sometimes all an employee needs in order to feel more engaged is some attention and a listening ear. For example, you can do one-on-ones, small team meetings, and even large “all-hands” meetings with the entire company.
Each employee may have a different level of comfort when it comes to sharing and opening up; meetings of various sizes can accommodate those preferences.
These conversations will help demonstrate to your employees that you care for them and their contributions to the company. Workers who feel cared for by their employers report higher levels of satisfaction, with 60% planning to stay with their organizations for 3 or more years, and 95% feeling included in their organization.
Over 9 out of 10 employees who feel cared for by their employers would recommend their company to a friend. When it comes to supporting your employees, some increased effort on your part can make a big impact.
Keep those conversations going for as long as you have remote workers on board. Even when the current pandemic passes, many employees may continue to work remotely and will need this type of outlet.
3. Don’t Forget About Recognition
In a virtual workplace, it can be easy for companies to lose touch with the human side of the business. An “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude can damage employee engagement.
Employees are still working hard even if you can’t see them, so recognition continues to be critical. A 2018 SHRM/Globoforce study found that human-centered tactics like recognition programs improve engagement, retention, and even recruitment, especially when those programs are values-based.
Emphasize recognition on a larger scale by commending employees for their work and efforts and sharing that praise with the team at large. Consider introducing a new award program that directly acknowledges the unique efforts involved in working remotely.
Peer recognition programs can assist larger companies by pushing the recognition process farther down in the company. Team leaders and department heads can champion a relevant recognition program just for their members.
4. Set Creative New Goals
The detachment employees often experience when working in a remote work environment, combined with the uncertainty caused by recent events, can make it difficult to feel motivated to do anything. One way everyone can feel a sense of greater control and certainty is by spending time setting and achieving specific goals.
Setting short-term goals may be the best place to start while the uncertainty continues. This helps employees see a purpose to their work. These short-term, attainable goals will also have an outcome and a potential reward for that outcome. As you meet these goals, you may want to move toward adding longer-term goals.
Goals can impact the employee directly, involving their personal and professional development, for instance.
No matter what type of goal, you can increase the chances of achieving the objective. For work and project goals, you may need to provide more tools and training. Additionally, offer access to online courses for skills development or consider authorizing some sabbatical time to work on those goals.
5. Don’t Skimp on Social Time
Offer online social activities to encourage connection and collaboration among team members. These social periods acknowledge that the need to bond with staff over something besides work is necessary for employee well-being. Social get-togethers help quell feelings of loneliness and isolation that can build up over an extended period of remote work.
In a recent survey of its employees, Microsoft reported that virtual social meetings were on the rise by as much as 10 percent from one month to the next. These social meetings included events such as group lunches, happy hour socials, and themed workdays (including “meet my pet” and “pajama” days).
You may not want to do the same things as Microsoft has. Ask your team for their preferences and solicit volunteers to spearhead the virtual social effort. Suggest online games, video games, virtual escape rooms, and other fun team-bonding activities. Whatever you do, clearly designate a time each week for this escape from work.
Follow These Steps and Deepen Your Engagement
Employees have struggled to remain engaged in an environment with no regular in-person contact. To ensure they stay connected and motivated, implement these 5 tactics in the weeks ahead.
Employee engagement isn’t about the money. These tactics won’t drive up operating costs significantly. Instead, employee engagement comes from interaction, involvement, recognition, and ongoing development.
Your “costs” will be a greater investment of time, working with, and listening to, your remote employees. Your return will include a deeper understanding of employee morale and a greater level of employee engagement despite the physical separation between you and your talent.