Editor’s note: This article is written by Rob de Luca and first appeared on the BambooHR blog.
You get it: You’re fully on board with all the reasons why telecommuting is a great thing, and that’s why you’ve hired and trained a solid team with the expectation they’d be working remotely. But you also know engagement is the key to a loyal, productive workforce, and now that your workforce is decentralized, you’re secretly worried. How engaged are these people you rarely see? How can you ensure your employees are the happy, efficient, stress-free respondents in all those studies about remote workers? In short: how can you keep remote employees engaged, and how can you know whether what you’re doing is working or not?
Lucky for you, we understand the struggle, and we have your back. We’ve come up with a list of creative strategies for how to engage remote employees, all centered around three main elements: communication, participation, and appreciation.
How to Engage Remote Employees: Communication Strategies
Communication is critical for establishing and maintaining engagement with any employee, not just one who works remotely. But keeping in touch with off-site workers can sometimes feel forced or laborious. That’s why it’s important to go the extra mile, add more opportunities, and make communication with remote employees a policy initiative.
Use chat programs
Chat programs may be seen as a synonym for “distraction” (which they certainly can be). But when it comes to remote workers, chat programs are a blessing: free, faster and more casual than email, and conducive to group discussions. Whether you use Slack, Hangouts, or any of the other programs out there, chat makes it easy to keep in touch with people in and out of the office and levels the playing field, so to speak, by making distance a non-issue.
Schedule more calls and video meetings
Everyone loves meetings, so what could be better than more meetings? Like chat, calls and meetings don’t have the greatest reputation for effective, efficient use of employees’ time. However, they provide guaranteed communication with remote employees, which is critical for remaining connected. Whether on the phone or via video, regularly scheduled check-ins are a proven method for maintaining alignment and they offer a chance to catch up after business is handled. If your remote team is far enough away to be in a different time zone, you might consider creating a rotating schedule that ensures they can contact someone (or a group of someones) in HQ during their working hours.
Support virtual face-to-face connections through technology
Until relatively recently, the expense and poor reliability of video calling made it the last resort for any organization lacking the need or budget to set it up. Now, most laptops come with high-definition webcams built in, and free conferencing utilities like Zoom and Google Hangouts make video calls as easy as (if not easier than) actual phone calls. The difference seeing a friendly face makes is huge; try it once, and you’ll understand.
How to Engage Remote Employees: Increasing Participation
It might be impossible to exactly duplicate the community of an office environment for remote employees, but that’s no reason not to try. On top of effective and constant communication, it’s important to ensure remote workers interact in more ways and with more people than just the people they work with directly.
Make onboarding activities memorable
When you’re hiring a remote workforce, the first days of an employee’s tenure become even more important. Chances are, they will come to your office or another centralized location to receive training with other new hires, and that’s a chance to meet and greet their new coworkers in real life. Making that onboarding experience highly interactive will help make it impactful and memorable. Connections will happen that go beyond established team and department boundaries, and they’ll last a long time.
Take advantage of communal workspaces
Not every organization can afford to—or needs to—open a satellite office. But renting a few desks in a communal workspace is much more affordable, and it offers a way for remote workers to connect with each other, collaborate, and feel a sense of belonging, not to mention get away from the distractions of home. Many workspaces will even let you customize your designated area with branding, refreshments, and equipment at no additional cost (assuming you pay for the stuff itself). Side benefit: recruiters will have an easier time seeking and hiring new candidates when they can draw a radius around your second location.
Give remote employees real responsibilities
The combination of a service role with a remote location can make an employee feel like a cog in the machine, only called upon to do their specific task and otherwise forgotten. Assigning more responsibility to remote staff does a number of beneficial things: it makes them feel valued, it gives them purpose, it adds to their career experience, and it guarantees more communication and opportunities for contribution outside of their main role.
Set up extracurricular activities
The internet has helped us to conduct business more effectively across long distances, but it’s also helped billions connect socially around the world. As an employer, you oversee a business community, but you also have the opportunity to make it something more. Whether it’s a book club, a fantasy football league, a multiplayer online gaming tournament, or just an internal social network for people to share experiences or connect outside the nine-to-five, you can facilitate social connections among your employees that will increase engagement during the workweek.
How to Engage Remote Employees: Showing Appreciation
The last component we want to mention in the telecommuting engagement trio is essentially the icing on the cake of the other two. Recognition and appreciation for the work your remote employees do is the most direct way to show you care about them, but so many companies fall short in this area. Broadly thanking or rewarding people who work remotely can almost feel like a reinforcement of an already impersonal relationship; on the other hand, an individualized gift or show of appreciation takes little effort and can have a dramatic impact.
Employ get-to-know-you surveys to personalize appreciation
We use a questionnaire for every new employee that helps us learn personal data and preferences like tee shirt size, hometown, and favorite candy. That may seem trivial, but when it comes to rewarding employees on an anniversary or special occasion, we have all the information we need to give it a personal touch.
Create a budget for spiffing up home offices
Whether it’s as simple as sending some high-quality office supplies or as generous as giving every remote employee a standing desk for their home office, any money you spend on improving remote workers’ experience pays you back twofold: it has the feeling of a gift with the additional benefit of making your remote team more effective at their jobs.
Treat remote employees like VIPs in the office
Coming into the office can already feel a big deal for remote staff, so any effort to show you feel the same way is a guaranteed win. It can be as easy as going out to lunch with the department when a remote employee makes the trek to HQ or even just having someone bring donuts in the morning—and remembering their favorite flavor.
Tailor specific benefits to remote employees
In addition to our regular company updates, our executive team schedules a special Q&A just for remote employees, giving them a chance to talk more closely and directly with the C-suite. That’s just one way that an organization can show remote teams they understand the different challenges remote workers face. Other ideas might include location-agnostic healthcare plans, home office equipment stipends, subsidized broadband connections, and the communal workspace idea we talked about previously.
Measuring Remote Employee Engagement
All of the suggestions above are designed to strengthen the bond between employers and remote employees, but without a way to measure their effectiveness, getting approval to do some of them—especially the ones that cost money—can be a challenge.
Essentially, it all comes back to communication: if you can learn what needs and concerns remote employees have, you have a basic framework for addressing those issues. And if you can gain a sense of how employees are feeling throughout the year, you can track that sentiment against your efforts to see if what you’re doing is working. Two tools are very effective at doing just that: eNPS and pulse surveys.
eNPS is a two-question survey tool designed to measure employee satisfaction. It uses a simple scoring system and keyword analysis to give organizations a quick performance rating along with deeper insights about why employees are feeling good or bad about the company. It allows you to track satisfaction over time and understand what you’re doing right as well as what you might focus on to improve the employee experience.
Pulse surveys are even simpler: short multiple-choice or binary questionnaires that take only a couple minutes (if that) for employees to complete, but that can be administered quickly to gauge reactions and help executive teams make the right call when a decision might impact the employee experience.
It’s unfortunately too easy for remote workers to get left behind or left out by their own employers, simply because the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often true. This is doubly tragic because the benefit of not having to maintain a larger—or increasingly, any—office facilities means organizations often owe more to their remote workforce than they realize.
We hope this short list of suggestions sparks a greater appreciation for remote employees everywhere, and to them, we say: You are critical assets to your business, and you deserve to be treated that way. We know because we’ve been in your shoes.
Want to learn more about how to keep remote employees engaged? Check out this article from our blog: 5 Ways to Compensate Remote Workers and Keep Them Engaged.
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