More than two years after the pandemic forced an unprecedented global office shutdown, remote employees are here to stay. Some workplaces will stay fully remote, while others will shift to a hybrid model. But a 2021 survey by PwC shows that both employers (83%) and workers (71%) agree that the transition to remote has been successful, and more than half of employers plan to expand the amount of remote work they offer in the long run.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Despite the overall success of shifting to remote work, keeping remote workers engaged with the rest of the team can be challenging. Remote employee engagement requires management to think outside the box.
What an engaged team looks like
Employee engagement can be loosely defined as feeling like part of the team. It includes a sense of involvement, enthusiasm and commitment to the company. An engaged team is productive and collaborative, with overall good feelings about both the employer and the work itself.
In the office, it’s reasonably easy to keep an eye on employee engagement. You can walk through the building and stop at individual desks for a chat. You can see what people are working on and get their feedback in real time.
With remote employees, though, it can be tougher to measure engagement. You can keep an eye on productivity, but you’ll need to proactively reach out to learn how team members are feeling and to solicit feedback. Still, it’s worth the effort since engaged employees are more likely to be loyal and get more done.
How to improve engagement specifically for remote workers
You’ll need a toolbox of tactics and technologies to maximize engagement. Here are a few suggestions:
- Use collaborative tools. Integrative platforms such as Slack and asynchronous communication tools like chat and video can help teams work together no matter their physical distance.
- Provide virtual hangouts. The watercooler is a casual spot for people to gather and connect in a brick-and-mortar office. Remote workers need their own hangout to chat and build personal connections casually. You can also offer optional video conferences that are just for fun.
- Humanize remote workers. When all you see of a coworker is words on a screen or five-minute video clips, it can be tough to remember that there’s a whole person back there. Make the effort to get to know your remote team members as individuals. Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. Find their strengths and passions, and take those into account when assigning projects. Learn the challenges in their lives, and do what you can to build in flexibility.
- Err on the side of oversharing. Employees have an almost uncanny ability to tell when something important is being held back. A lack of communication can stir up the rumor mill in the office. But it’s even worse for remote workers who don’t have the context to put office changes into perspective. Be open and transparent about anything major that happens within the company or team. Better to give your remote employees too much information than too little.
- Solicit feedback. Since you can’t just swing by a remote worker’s office for a quick talk, proactively take steps to get regular feedback. Send out surveys.
- Connect by chat. Ask for ongoing project updates. And make sure every member of your remote team has at least one direct line of communication to management to report issues or ask for help.
- Implement public praise. In the office, it’s easy to take a moment during a meeting to call out someone’s big accomplishment. You might have an Employee of the Week program or other public way to praise the standouts. But public acknowledgment is just as crucial for remote workers. Send a companywide Slack. Record a short video clip of yourself thanking that person and post it to a related Slack channel. Start an employee appreciation group chat. It doesn’t matter exactly what you do, as long as you’re offering some public praise.
Engaging remote employees can be easy
The pandemic-induced shift to remote work has been largely successful. But keeping remote workers engaged takes some forethought. Fortunately, it’s as easy as making a plan, connecting on a personal level and finding creative ways to keep the lines of communication open.