More of us than ever before are working remotely. But whether your employees have always worked remotely, your company has a remote work policy, or you’ve had to ask your staff to work from home for the foreseeable future, one issue that may crop up in human resources for small businesses is how to effectively motivate and engage with your teams when you’re not physically in the same location as them.
Regardless of whether or not it’s ‘business as usual’ or having your people work remotely work is something that you hope will have a shelf life, the challenge remains: how can you ensure your people are still being productive and not checking out, either due to distractions at home (“Oh, hey there Netflix!”) or because they simply feel too much disconnect from the office?
And although working from home is generally seen to be a perk, those who do work remotely some or all of the time can feel isolated - particularly if there are other employees who work together in an office.
So, whether this situation is temporary, long term, or if it’s always the way you’ve done things within your organisation, how do you as the owner or manager in human resources for small businesses keep your teams on track and engaged and stop your employee retention rates from suffering?
After all, we all know that employee engagement is a crucial part of creating happy, productive, trustworthy and loyal teams.
How to create employee engagement in remote workers
Your people may be down the road, on the other side of the city, in a different part of the country or even on a different continent. So what are some sure-fire ways you can reach across the distance and create better engagement? Let’s take a look.
Gotta love that company culture
Let’s start with the very foundation of ensuring that the people you hire are right for your business. Yes, it can be tricky if you’ve hired someone for an office-based role and now you’re telling them they have to go work in their kitchen for the time being. But if you’ve hired someone who was intrinsically a right fit for your company, they hopefully won’t have too many problems adapting to the unusual circumstances.
Company culture has a huge part to play when it comes to making sure that your employees are adaptable and genuinely invested in your success. However it is easy to see company culture as something that takes place in an ‘actual workplace’ as opposed to in satellite or home offices.
Obviously your teams will need the tools that help them to work efficiently and to stay connected with their colleagues, but you also need to drive that sense of culture home to them. Make sure anyone relevant is included in team or office meetings, whether they’re held on Google Meet, Zoom or Slack.
Where appropriate, ask for employees’ input on issues that affect the company, their department, and their ability to work remotely. Encourage your people to connect with each other, with or without you. That’s because when your employees build relationships and begin to bond with each other, you’re creating that inclusive, welcoming and friendly vibe that will help them feel part of the bigger picture.
It’s not all about assault courses!
The days of the traditional team building outing are numbered as more and more of us work from home. No longer does a spot of bonding with your colleagues involve clambering over walls or conducting blindfolded, and frankly terrifying, trust exercises. Team building has evolved - and thank goodness for that, some might say!
But how do you build a team when no one is in the same office and potentially hundreds, even thousands, of miles apart from each other?
How about getting your team together on a video conferencing call and having some fun? Traditional ice breakers such as a brief introduction will help everyone get to know the faces of those coworkers they may have only seen mentioned in an email, while games such as stating three facts about oneself and asking the others to pick the fake fact are usually good for a laugh.
A quiz is also a good way to get everyone involved and the beauty of this is that, depending on how many remote workers you have, they can be organized so that individuals can enter as a team. Perfect for anyone who is shy and doesn’t want to spend ten minutes talking about themselves!
Communication, conversation and chit chat
One of the unique challenges faced by remote teams, or teams with a number of remote workers in them, is communication. The ease of being able to swing by someone’s desk to fill them in with a quick update simply doesn’t exist. Little details that might be shared at the water cooler or while making a cup of coffee can be overlooked.
That’s why you need to make it easy and pain free for your people to communicate. Not only will this help with the aforementioned company culture and team building aspects of remote work, it will also help increase the chances of projects being completed successfully.
Employees will feel far more engaged when they actually know what’s going on with the project they’re working on, and when they can talk to their teammates about it. Disconnection and demotivation will only fester if there’s a blackout on communication.
And it won’t do your business, brand, reputation or employee retention any good in the long run either.
If you’re actually hiring people to purposefully work remotely, you need to make sure their communication skills are up to scratch. You could hire the best developer this side of San Francisco but if you don’t know what they’re working on and they’re incommunicado half the time, it’s not going to work.
You also need to make sure you’re providing your remote workers with the tools that enable them to stay in touch. And you should also be using those tools to check in with your new remote hires to make sure everything is on track.
We touched upon Zoom, Slack and Google earlier, but there are tons more collaborative solutions for video calling, keeping tabs on production, organising workflows, managing customer service, dealing with support tickets and more. Check out Trello, Asana, Monday and Jira to name a few.
You need agile lines of communication to keep your teams productive, informed and engaged so that they are not only aware of their to-do list and targets, but that they know exactly what they have to do to meet them. Even if they’re working alone in their spare bedroom without a manager in sight!
I see you! (Even if you’re miles away...)
Employee appreciation and recognition has a big part to play in making your people feel like part of the organisation, no matter where they are. It can be easy to forget your remote workers - out of sight, out of mind - as the old saying goes. But this is a grave mistake.
Consider the people that work in your office - it’s easy to acknowledge them as part of the team thanks to the fact that they’re there where you can see them. Danger and disengagement creep in when you forget to recognise your staff who are working remotely.
Just because they’re not there in person, doesn’t mean that they’re not working hard, contributing to your success and, often, going above and beyond their office-based coworkers. (It can be notoriously hard to switch off and ‘finish work’ when you work remotely, plus many remote workers over compensate for fear of being judged more harshly than those working in the office.)
Failing to recognise your remote workers will lead to disengagement, a decline in productivity, and a drop in work standards. Plus your employee retention rates can take a hit too. Luckily employee appreciation (remote or otherwise) is not rocket science.
One thing to keep in mind is to acknowledge achievements sooner rather than later. Yes you can bring up that great piece of design work or that smashing of a sales target in an employee’s review but by shining a spotlight on work well done in that week’s (virtual) team meeting, you’re showing public recognition.
And not only will that make the employee in question feel more engaged and motivated, it will have an inspirational knock-on effect on the rest of their teammates too.
Another way of showing your team members you see them, is to welcome new hires in your company newsletter, in team meetings, and/or on your social media sites. Or you might want to consider highlighting a member of staff who has gone above and beyond in a company blog post.
Employee engagement and remote workers: conclusion
You will probably find that all of the points we’ve highlighted above are interconnected and feed off each other when it comes to helping employees who work remotely feel more engaged with, and connected to, your company.
As a final thought, if you have an About Us page on your company website, why not include head shots of all of your employees?
A profile pic, their name and role and even a short sentence or blurb about what they do or a quirky fact about them will go a long way towards making remote employees feel just that little bit closer to your organisation.