12 SEP, 2017

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? 7 Tips for Keeping Remote Employees Engaged

woman on videoconference

In a survey of the fastest-growing private firms in the United States, Inc. found that 70% of the organizations surveyed offered remote work as a benefit to their employees. This seems to jive well with the results of another survey of employees; MRINetwork recently released its 2017 Recruiter Sentiment Study, which showed that over half of all job candidates find the option of working remotely “somewhat” or “extremely” important.

But is just being able to work remotely enough to keep employees happy and engaged? A deeper dive into this population would imply no. Gallup reports that those employees who work remotely 100 percent of the time are among the least engaged out of the working population in the United States. So how can you, as a manager, effectively increase those engagement levels within your remote team?

Provide the right tools for success and collaboration.
Outside of the obvious required tools—laptop, mobile phone and Internet connection—it’s important that you provide your remote employees with all of the tools that they need to be successful in their respective roles, including those for:

  • project management (e.g. Trello, Asana, JIRA)
  • file sharing (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox)
  • chat and instant messaging (e.g. Slack)
  • videoconferencing and screen sharing (e.g. HighFive, GoToMeeting)
  • productivity (e.g. iDoneThis)
  • career development and e-learning (e.g. Udemy)

The number of tools available to make remote work more seamless is practically endless. As a manager of a remote team, you need to try and test the tools that will keep your remote team getting things done.

Encourage frequent and transparent communication—both formal and informal.
Using the aforementioned tools, communication should, in theory, be a snap. Formal communication such as one-on-ones with you and each employee or for larger team meetings should be held with some semblance of regularity to ensure that everyone is on the same page at all times. That is not to say that you have to schedule meetings just for the sake of scheduling meetings; rather, the meetings themselves should have a clear and distinct purpose. Take the team at iDoneThis, for example: one of their weekly meetings is a “show and tell” type event wherein team members discuss what they’ve accomplished during the week, new product features, and so forth. With regular (and transparent) communication across all levels of your remote team, each team member feels more connected to the projects—and business purpose for those projects—and is therefore more likely to be engaged in their responsibilities.

Meet offline and in person at regular intervals.
While meeting virtually can be effective in driving productivity, there is something to be said for the live touch. One of the noted drawbacks to working remotely is the fact that remote employees miss out on the relationship building that comes with being with others in an office. As a manager, it’s important for you to ensure the relationships between your remote employees have some sort of basis in the so-called “real world.” Balsamiq is a company that prides itself on its encouragement of in-person get-togethers amongst its remote employes. Not only does the entire company meet at least once a year, but management also budgets for smaller meet-and-greets between employees—for either project work or just to get people in (relatively) close proximity to each other together to hang out. Building camaraderie amongst remote employees in the real world can be highly beneficial to morale, thereby engaging your employees further when they are working on projects together at a distance.

Focus on results as well as career growth, not just on day-to-day tasks.
While using tools to track your remote employees’ to-do lists can be very convenient for both you and them, employee engagement does not come from completing daily tasks alone. In addition to being exceptionally clear with your expectations for their role, it is extremely important to help your remote employees to know that a) what they’re doing has an impact on the business, and b) that there is potential for growth in what they’re doing. Offer training to help them advance their careers. Give your remote employees the opportunity to help out with new projects that may arise, rather than having it be a first-come, first-serve situation for those who are actually working in your company’s brick-and-mortar office. And, perhaps most importantly, allow your remote employees to perform their jobs with autonomy; otherwise, it makes them feel as though you don’t trust them to complete their work&mash;and that can be extremely detrimental to morale and engagement.

Recognize and reward good work behavior.
One-off positive emails from a manager can be good for morale, but implementing an employee recognition platform can help you engage employees even more through meaningful connections to your company, no matter where they’re working. A culture of recognition coupled with a platform that can be accessed from anywhere puts the ability to recognize and reward employees for outstanding efforts at everyone’s fingertips. If you incorporate social elements into the program, other employees can comment on and “like” the accomplishments of their remote co-workers, turning a one-to-one communication into a wider message that can echo for days and act as an example for others. After all, when you show employees they are valued, they are more engaged in their job, minimize errors, and improve customer service.

Promote a work/life balance.
For many remote employees, the line between “work” and “life” can easily become blurred. Research has shown that remote employees work, on average, about four hours more per week than those employees who work from a brick-and-mortar office. Yes, your remote employees don’t have to deal with a commute or common workplace distractions like their non-remote counterparts, but remote employees do often feel the need to go above and beyond in order to assure management and others of their productivity. As such, hours can get longer, breaks can be few and far between, and your employees could be drifting toward a state of burnout. If you see your remote employees sending emails well after standard work hours on a regular basis, or if you note than an employee hasn’t taken a day off in months, have a conversation with them. Encourage them to take vacation where appropriate. Figure out if working different hours actually makes more sense for the employee, provided his or her responsibilities aren’t required during standard work times.

Keep on a finger on the pulse of engagement.
You may be able to gauge employee engagement to some extent if productivity is high and turnover is low, but you can’t really get to the meat of it unless you ask. Companies like OfficeVibe and TINYpulse offer solutions that make it easier than ever to get insights into what your employees (remote or otherwise) are feeling and thinking about your organization. Running these surveys on a quarterly or half-yearly basis will allow you to benchmark existing engagement levels and gain insights into areas for improvement. In addition, you can utilize social monitoring on internal networks or even conduct focus groups with select employees.

The engagement levels of your remote employees are contingent upon two major factors: one, executive ability to communicate company values, mission statements, and purpose for work, and two, direct management’s ability to strategically build out, execute, and govern all of the above points for the remote teams.


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