Employee Engagement and Your Remote Workforce

May 10, 2021 Leah NacuaBrampton, Durham, GTA, Mississauga, Vaughan 522 Views

As many companies head into a second summer of having employees physically-distance or work remotely, leaders and management teams struggle to find ways to keep their remote workers connected and engaged.  Of course, Zoom or Teams calls have become part of the norm in lieu of in-person meetings in boardrooms and meeting spaces.  Surely though, there must be more to keeping employees engaged and motivated beyond the weekly roundtables to find out how everyone’s week has been!

Challenges of Remote Work

Let’s face it:  working remotely can be isolating!  Employees lack the face-to-face interaction with their managers and with each other.  Gone are the casual two-minute chit-chat that might happen around the proverbial water cooler or the coffee machine.  Instead, meeting face-to-face with your co-workers involves setting up a time on the calendar, and usually involves talking about “real work”!  However, we all know that employee engagement is largely attributed to the emotional connection that employees feel toward their workplace, and that includes friendships we make and casual conversations that transpire at the water cooler. 

Another common challenge for remote workers is the frequency (or severity) of interruptions.  Most likely, you’ve seen the famous (pre-COVID) BBC news clip from 2017 and can relate with your own experience of a “most distracting moment while working from home” from the past year!  Thankfully, since most remote workers are dealing with similar distractions -- whether it’s a dog barking, or a neighbour’s lawn mower whirring in the background, there’s a general feeling of empathy when they arise.  The mute button sure comes in handy on such occasions! 

Ideas for Employee Engagement

As vaccinations become more readily available, we are going to see a gradual transition towards working at the office again.  However, depending on the position, perhaps some companies and individuals may choose to have some of their staff work remotely at least a few days a week.  And of course, there are also workers who may have already been working from home prior to the pandemic, and will continue to do so as things go back to normal.  The question is:  how do you keep remote workers connected, engaged and motivated?  Let’s look at a few ideas – some of which you may already be doing!

Be Clear About Expectations

With or without the pandemic, one thing that is important for keeping employees engaged is to ensure that they are clear about expectations.While this is true for all workers, regardless of whether they work from home or not, remote employees face the additional challenge of not having the in-person interaction with their manager/supervisor.Hence, the following are some things that need to be clear for remote workers:

  • Knowing the best way to contact their direct manager (phone/email);
  • Expectations regarding work hours, or taking time off work in case of emergency; and
  • Their immediate and long-term goals, and how they relate to the overarching goals of the organization.

While these things are important for both on-site and off-site workers, providing clarity on “ground rules” for remote teams can mean the difference between harmony and chaos.

Take Virtual Coffee Breaks/Lunches

Similar to office coffee breaks, WFH coffee breaks can be casual.Short “virtual coffee breaks” can be scheduled as a recurring meeting, say between 10-10:30 AM every Thursday, when team members can log in anytime during that time block and have short video calls among small groups, with no agenda; conversations can be as random and casual as they would be at the office lounge.Another possibility is to have a virtual lunch on a preset day/time of the week, when team members can come togPhoto by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexelsether to connect and chat.Offering such opportunities can foster connections among team members and can help fight off loneliness experienced by many remote workers.

Combat Video-Call fatigue with themed meetings!

Is it possible to make virtual meetings productive AND enjoyable?Of course!While it may not be appropriate to do for corporate webinars among attendees who don’t know each other, incorporating a theme into your team’s next video meeting may help keep things positive and light!Whether it’s Crazy Hat Day, Hawaiian shirt day, Company Colour Day, or Fun Zoom Background Day, having a theme can push your team members to be creative and have some fun, while still discussing items on your meeting agenda.

A team that works out together stays together! 

There are lots of different ways you can be physically active with your team.  In-person teams may have running groups; remote teams may have group yoga sessions!  Another option is to engage in more independent physical activity, such as doing a ParticipACTION challenge, which is completely free! You form a team of 8 to 10 people; each individual goes about their daily activities, tracks their active minutes (using their phone and/or a wearable device) then, collectively, each team accumulates minutes to meet virtual challenges, making the team eligible to win prizes. Perhaps your organization can have teams among different departments? What better way to keep your teams fit and motivated, while promoting a bit of healthy competition!

Mix things up with family-friendly activities!

In May 2020, I had the pleasure of attending a virtual magic-show live event hosted by one of EMC’s esteemed members. The YouTube link was shared on LinkedIn and the timing was 7pm EST -- perfect timing as it provided live entertainment during dinner and also allowed attendees to enjoy the event with their families! While social-distancing has kept companies from hosting family BBQs and holiday get-togethers, there’s lots of different ways to gather employees and their loved ones even in the virtual world!

Keep your finger on the pulse! 

In addition to making efforts to keep remote employees engaged, building and maintaining strong employee engagement should also involve gathering input from your remote workers to hear about their specific challenges!Many companies already do employee engagement surveys; for those who have these surveys, make sure you’re also asking questions that are specific to remote employees (if you have them).Here are some ideas for questions:

  1. What is your biggest remote work challenge?
  2. What could help us improve our daily communication?
  3. Can you easily reach your colleagues when you need them?
  4. Are you happy with your productivity level?
  5. How can we improve your work from home experience?

Of course, when you do these surveys, make sure you act on them!  Listen to the feedback, check in with your remote workers and involve them in developing a plan for addressing their concerns.   

There are many other ideas for keeping remote workers engaged; these are just a few of them.  While only time will tell if there will be a net increase of remote workers pre- versus post-pandemic, some of these ideas can be implemented even for the few team members who end up working remotely, whether it’s full-time or only 2 days per week. 

Want to learn more about what other companies are doing to engage their on-site or remote teams?  Why not  anonymously ask the question in EMC’s Member Needs Help service, and/or attend one of our HR Best-Practice Sharing sessions?  Through these forums, our Members are able to “share and steal with pride”!  If you would like more information, please contact me.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels