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Managing a Remote Workforce: 5 Steps to Increase Employee Engagement While Working from Home

Natasha Serafimovska

Career Coach, Professional Resume Writer, Freelance Writer


In the past year, 70% of full-time workers in the United States have transitioned to remote work due to Covid-19. Seventy seven percent say that having the option to work from home post-pandemic would make them happier and almost 50% are prepared to look for another job if work-from-home options aren’t available.

The rise in popularity of remote work speaks volumes about the benefits it brings to the world of work. Employees are reported to save, on average, 40 minutes per day in commute and about $500 per month in expenses. Likewise, the lack of disruptions that come from an office environment means that many employees find it easier to focus and be more productive.

Increasing employee engagement helps tackle challenges that remote work presents

Still, managing a remote workforce presents a whole new set of challenges for employers and managers who have to rely on limited cues from instant messaging and video calls to understand how their employees are feeling.

Here we list five employee engagement ideas that employers and business executives can implement to make sure their at home employees are engaged and thriving.

1. Alleviate Stress Through Ongoing Communication

The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty around people’s health, careers and finances, causing a massive spike in mental health issues. In the U.S. alone the number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression has increased from 11% prior to the pandemic to 42% post-pandemic

In terms of professional development, many worry that remote work can hinder their career advancement, with 80% still believing that traditional office attendance is necessary to get a promotion. Likewise, only 64% of remote workers feel they have a strong connection to their teammates as opposed to 70% of those working on-site.

All of this can have an impact on employee engagement and how committed remote workers are to their existing employer. In this context, it’s important to address these worries through ongoing and honest communication. 

A study by McKinsey has found that employees who receive detailed communications from their employer regarding the company’s future plans and post-Covid-19 policies are five times more likely to report an increase in wellbeing and productivity. 

For instance, rather than waiting until a work-from-home policy has been confirmed, organize a weekly all-hands meeting where you share the progress you’ve made to date. Give your employees a chance to ask questions and make suggestions so that they feel like they have an active role to play in how the organization evolves. Do the same for other aspects which may be causing anxiety, for instance performance tracking, salary increases and promotions.

2. Make the Most of Your Onboarding and Re-Onboarding Strategy

While most onboarding programs can be nothing more than a checkbox exercise, in the world of remote work they’re an essential tool for employee engagement. In fact, a study by Microsoft has found that employees who have a one-to-one meeting with their manager in the first week of their employment tend to report higher-quality meetings, increased company network and improved team collaboration in the long run.

When planning your remote onboarding program, go beyond the transactional tasks like the key tools, passwords and communication channels they’d be using and focus on showcasing the company culture and how they fit in it. Introduce them to the core team they’d be collaborating with and give examples of how the company values are exhibited throughout the business.

Aside from new hires, your existing workforce also needs care and support as they navigate the new world of remote work. Rather than leaving things to chance, make sure that all your employees are aware of any new changes in communication, workflows and processes. Clear guidelines on how to use video conferencing tools, when to use Slack as opposed to email and how to conduct remote meetings can remove a lot of the guesswork and help employees be happier overall. 

3. Embrace the Perks Remote Work Offers

Even though 73% of employees want remote work to stay post-pandemic, 78% of business leaders still believe it can have a negative impact on employee productivity and overall business performance. This discrepancy can cause a great divide between employers and their workforce and have a direct impact on employee engagement and their sense of belonging. 

That said, not all is black and white here. In fact, 67% of employees also want more in-person collaboration after the pandemic, so there’s a great opportunity for employers to get creative and offer hybrid working options which employees can personalize to their needs. Some of these are: 

  • Flextime – employees decide what time of day they work;
  • Hybrid work – allowing a mix between working from home and working at the office;
  • Telecommuting – allowing employees to work from anywhere full time;
  • Compressed workweeks – allowing employees to take days off by finishing all their work in fewer days;

Rather than enforcing a virtual presenteeism where everyone is expected to clock in at certain hours, show your employees that you trust them by focusing on results rather than time spent online. Depending on the type of job they do and their childcare responsibilities, some employees might prefer to work later in the evening or quite early in the morning and that’s okay. 

4. Make Socialization Work for Everyone

One of the biggest challenges associated with remote work is the feeling of loneliness and isolation. While setting up a social event at the office is as easy as sending out a Slack message to tell everyone there’s pizza arriving at 12pm, remote work has made this a bit more challenging. 

Socialization in the traditional sense isn’t without fault either. Studies have shown that socialization in the office can lead to favoritism and discrimination as employees who interact more with their managers or share common interests are likely get promoted more often.

Remote work has removed some of those elements and has introduced a unique opportunity to re-think how we socialize in the workplace regardless of where, when or how we work. Depending on the remote work options you offer, you can adjust the socialization activities so that they accommodate everyone’s interests and availability:

  • Quiz nights are an inexpensive way to get employees to socialise and cover a wide range of interests. You can assign every last Thursday of the month to be a quiz night.
  • Remote gym sessions – do you have workout enthusiasts among your workforce? Why not arrange Zoom classes with an instructor where employees get to work out together?
  • Pizza days or wine-tasting evenings – perhaps some employees are not wine lovers, but they wouldn’t miss pizza for anything in the world. Or vice versa. Either way, make sure you cater to different tastes and send some wine or pizza ahead of time to everyone who’s confirmed their attendance.

It’s important to schedule these events at different times of day so that people can join in regardless of their other day-to-day responsibilities.

5. Make Employee Recognition a Priority

Despite its many benefits, remote work has made it difficult for managers to get a good grasp of everything an employee is doing. For instance, in an office you can see an employee running around chasing the engineering team for a hotfix to an urgent ticket or you can overhear how they negotiate a better deal on a call with a client. None of this is visible in the context of remote work. 

That’s why it’s important to foster a culture of employee recognition, both from managers and among peers. While you can’t be in every single chat or virtual meeting, you can leverage tools such as Bonusly or HeyTaco to encourage teammates to give each other kudos for a job well done and gain visibility over how employees are performing. 

If someone is consistently outperforming and exceeding their targets, giving them a slight bonus or sending them a box of brownies as a token of appreciation can go a long way in making them feel appreciated. 

Conclusion

While remote work brings many benefits both for employers and employees alike, remote management of employees is a challenging task. However, understanding the changing expectations of your workforce, introducing quality onboarding and offering plenty of opportunities for socialization can make a huge difference in how your employees feel about the work they do and, ultimately, how they feel about you as an employer.

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