The COVID-19 pandemic has made a lasting impact on many aspects of our lives — from how we interact with others to our approach to mental health — but possibly the most significant change has been to the way we work. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that “of the employed population, 35.9% did some work at home in 2020, an increase of 9.4 percentage points compared with 2019”, and many companies are still considering whether staff will return to the office again or continue to work remotely.
Flexible home working certainly does have advantages for both employees and employers. Organisations with a mobile workforce save money on office space and widen their talent pool. At the same time, remote workers enjoy more freedom and autonomy, eliminating the need for commuting and finding a greater sense of work-life balance. However, building and maintaining a strong company culture can be difficult when you only interact with your team for several minutes each week. That’s why when battling challenges such as isolation, distractions and lack of face-to-face supervision, we need to take a fresh approach to employee engagement.
How to Tell If a Remote Worker Is Engaged?
When transitioning to remote working, one of the main fears employers have is losing contact with their team; deadlines will be missed, wires crossed and pinning people down for meetings will become a logistical nightmare.
The best way to counteract these issues and gauge your employees’ engagement levels is by asking questions and taking on board their responses. Simply asking them about their work assignments isn’t enough; instead, you should regularly enquire about their lives outside of the business, understand their ambitions and concerns, and be open and accessible to their queries. Whether you talk over the phone, on video chat or by a messenger app, a communicative employee is an engaged one. And the more connected your employees are to the company, the better their productivity and performance.
Setting Remote Work Expectations for Employees
Clarity is crucial for remote workers to be productive; therefore, creating a work-from-home policy to share among the team lets people know what you expect from them and helps them feel like they are a part of your organisational culture. Here are some ideas for what this document should include:
- Agreed Working Hours
Although remote employees do have more flexibility when juggling work and home, when focused on a project, we’ve all been tempted to sit in front of our laptops for long stretches and even check emails after normal business hours. Use these guidelines to ensure your team members balance productivity healthily and are available when you need them to be. Also, asking staff to track their time or provide updates at the end of the workday is an excellent way to monitor engagement and prevent missed tasks.
- Communication Channels
Keeping communication frequent, transparent and consistent is essential in a digital workplace. Make sure home workers are aware of any regular online meetings they need to attend, where important company updates are shared and what communication tools they need to install, so they are always in the loop.
- Employee Targets
Set clear standards regarding performance and output. Giving team members their own targets will help you track whether they are falling behind and motivate them to manage their time effectively. Implementing a task management platform like Trello or Asana also allows everyone to monitor projects and assignments from a distance.
Most importantly, compile a list of names and details of who to contact should there be an emergency or if staff encounter any difficulties or challenges related to remote working.
While you need to be clear in your expectations, remember that a successful flexible working arrangement ultimately comes down to trust. You can still operate with open doors digitally, instilling a sense of transparency to make it easier for employees to come to you with questions and concerns, even when working from afar.
How Do You Engage Employees Remotely?
Without chats over coffee, catching up in the breakroom or even moaning about the weather on the walk to the car, it’s easy for employees to start feeling isolated and alone. Personal interactions make work meaningful and enjoyable — lose that, and you’ll see a lack of passion for the company’s vision, less motivation and a decrease in productivity. Here are three ways to maintain your business’s culture and ensure your remote staff feel like they’re truly part of the team.
1. Host Social Events and Team Bonding Activities
Getting staff together remotely for informal events takes a little creativity, but there is no better way to foster an attachment to your organisation and strengthen working relationships. Whether you opt for weekly workouts, pet show-and-tells, virtual happy hours, trivia nights or online clubs that bond over a shared interest, video conferencing software has made cultivating camaraderie among your remote employees easier than ever.
Setting up channels for people to have casual non-work-related conversations throughout the day, similar to the interactions you have waiting for the kettle to boil when working in an office, can also help build rapport between team members. To increase engagement in these chats, introduce a question of the day, such as “what’s outside your window?” or “show me what you had for breakfast,” and then invite everyone to respond with a photo, video or gif and vote for their favourite.
2. Start an Employee Recognition Programme
When you’re not interacting with your team every day, it can be harder to remember to thank people for the great work they’re doing. While recognition programmes make brilliant motivators, even simple acts — like sending someone a virtual gift card on their birthday or scheduling a team call to recognise a worker who went above and beyond — can have a significant impact. Let your employees know you appreciate them, even from a distance.
3. Prioritise Health and Wellbeing
Your employees’ health should always be your primary concern, especially when they are working from home. Why not create incentives to get outside, cook nutritious meals or exercise, allow for longer lunch breaks so people can work out or let them off early on a nice day to go for a walk in the sunshine? After all, these are the perks of flexible working!
While there are challenges to keeping remote employees engaged, you can easily overcome any barriers imposed by physical distance by taking advantage of digital communication tools, appreciating all of their contributions, and being innovative in the way you collaborate and connect. Most importantly, by listening to your team members and asking them to share their thoughts and worries, you will gain greater productivity, stronger company loyalty and higher retention rates.