Keeping employees engaged at the workplace can be tricky, which means getting remote workers involved in workplace culture is even more difficult. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more complicated for team leaders to facilitate employee engagement in a virtual workplace culture.
According to Forbes, employee burnout is at an all-time high with 69% of part-time and full-time remote workers showing burnout symptoms. Burnout isn’t just about the physical impact, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, but it also includes mental health concerns like anxiety and depression, which are exacerbated by the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
Many organizations are beginning to realize that virtual work culture and remote employee engagement are just as important as the physical work culture has been. Some experts predict that between 25 and 30% of the workforce will be working remotely multiple times a week by the end of 2021. With remote work looking more permanent in the future, organizations such as Ford, Capital One, and Amazon are taking long-term views of remote work and managing employee engagement.
So, how do you keep remote workers engaged? We’ve compiled five practical ways to do just that:
1. Set clear goals and get everyone aligned
Research shows that 95% of employees—whether working from a physical workplace or remotely—are either unaware or misunderstand the organization’s overall strategy. Effective goal alignment is already important in the physical workplace, but it is especially crucial for remote workers to understand and align to organizational goals. This begins with having an organization’s strategic vision clearly outlined for individuals and teams which employees can then sync themselves to. A shared understanding of the company’s goals and how they align with a remote worker’s personal goals is an often ignored yet necessary first step for effective engagement in the virtual workplace.
According to the Project Management Institute, organizations with successful work performance outcomes (on time, on budget, and met goals) are 36% more likely to use standardized practices throughout the organization. Time and money are often wasted when employees are unable to organize and prioritize their work. These issues are further aggravated for remote workers who rely on email as the sole means of communication. However, when all work requests are located in a centrally accessible location, team members not only reduce wasted time in digging through buried emails but can also better prioritize their tasks.
2. Touch base often
A plethora of online collaboration tools are available today that make it easier for remote teams to stay connected whether they are in the office or working remotely. Even so, team leaders must be intentional when adopting their own system of staying connected with the virtual team. Establishing effective internal communication means developing daily, weekly, and monthly communication expectations for the team.
That being said, it can be easy to have too many meetings. That’s why it is important to note that team meetings without purpose waste time and add to employee frustration. Effective virtual meetings that improve remote employee engagement are often focused and purposeful discussions which limit time spent discussing tasks that are not aligned with the team’s goals. If standup meetings are required for yourteam, then we recommend setting a regular schedule for this purpose.
Sticking to meeting schedules is equally important in managing remote teams. It’s easy to cancel virtual meetings at the last minute, so make it a rule to cancel meetings only when it’s an emergency. If you do need to postpone a virtual meeting, make sure to update your calendar immediately. There’s no excuse for not connecting with your remote team—just as in the physical workplace, your remote workers should be able to reach you if they need to.
3. Give feedback
Feedback is crucial in effectively managing remote teams and tracking employee engagement. But be sensitive to the fact that the absence of facial expressions, body language, and tone requires the right amount of detail in your feedback in order for it to be taken well. Not providing enough information or the actionable steps necessary will often lead to the feedback devolving into a passive-aggressive exchange of comments. To prevent this, teach the team how to give structured feedback.
The COIN conversation model is one such framework that reduces harsh comments, accusations, and damaged relationships between team members. “COIN” stands for “context, observation, impact, and next steps.” Successful use of this model promotes positive and long-lasting change while empowering remote team members to provide firm and fair feedback on what needs to improve.
4. Host virtual activities
From viral challenges to trivia games and workshops, companies are getting creative in keeping their employees engaged and connected while working remotely. What’s important when incorporating online activities is allowing your team to be involved in the planning and co-creation of them, which helps employees feel more involved in building a fun virtual work culture.
Virtual team-building activities can make remote teams feel just as tight-knit as on-site teams. Well-designed activities facilitate open communication and can strengthen the team’s sense of identity and purpose. When a remote worker feels isolated or unsupported, virtual team-building activities can reinforce feelings of belonging within the team at large. Similarly, if remote employees find themselves feeling unenthusiastic about their work projects, a virtual team-building activity helps to regenerate a sense of excitement for the future.
5. Encourage side projects
Allowing employees to work on personal projects that align with organizational goals encourages innovation in the business. Now-famous products such as Post-It notes, Gmail, and Craigslist all started off as employee side projects. Many organizations now encourage personal side projects by allotting between 10 and 20% of an employee’s time for this purpose. They recognize that giving employees the freedom to work on personal side projects influences positive employee engagement. This is especially true for remote workers, helping them feel more closely connected to the organization and promoting a sense of ownership within the organization’s goals and objectives.
Be aware that personal side projects, while great for honing skills and inspiring innovation, can distract the remote worker from their primary tasks. Keep an eye on potential conflicts of interest with other teams or management when it comes to these side projects. As long as expectations and guidelines are made clear, encouraging side projects can provide a mutually beneficial way to improve engagement with remote workers.
Maintaining a consistently high level of engagement with remote workers is a tough ask to begin with, and it’s only further aggravated by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s clear that remote work is here to stay, so it’s imperative that team leaders and organizations put in the effort to establish a vibrant virtual workplace to engage all of their employees.
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