By Anjan Pathak
Tips to ensure your remote employees are happy and their performance levels remain high.
Employee engagement isn’t easy. However, it becomes even more elusive when you experience the same challenges in a completely remote environment. As a co-founder of an employee engagement platform, I had a front seat to the moment when the whole world collectively went into a sudden lockdown, engagement levels plummeted, and companies scrambled to come up with a solution to engage their newly remote workforce.
Many believe that these days of remote working are limited, but I strongly disagree. While it’s tempting to think that the recent trends will only last as long as the world is still recovering from Covid-19, a McKinsey study says more than half of workers would like to work from home at least three days a week after the pandemic, and nearly a third say they would like to work remotely full time. Meanwhile, with the outpouring of support for the Great Resignation from employers, it is clear that some form of remote work or teleworking will be a permanent part of our future.
Even as the world gradually returns to normal, with many employees (and companies) opting for extended work-from-home stints, it has become something of a necessity for modern HR leaders to learn new methods of enhancing the remote employee experience. Here are some highly effective yet simple tips to ensure your remote employees are happy and their performance levels remain high.
5 ways to engage your remote employees
Employee engagement is traditionally defined as a sense of loyalty, commitment, and an emotional connection to one’s workplace. The more engaged a person is, the more likely they are to exhibit improved efficiency, job satisfaction, and to go above and beyond in their job whenever possible.
However, with the majority of corporations going remote, HR leaders are challenged to find newer and more tangible ways to keep their employees happy without engaging in face-to-face interactions.
1. Ditch micromanagement
Remote work is quite a grey area for managers. On the one hand, they miss out on face-to-face interactions with their remote employees, while simultaneously needing to ensure that productivity levels remain consistent.
One particular trend I’ve noticed is that remote managers find it difficult to manage this new job transition, making them more likely to make their employees’ lives uncomfortable. In fact, research shows that managers who can’t “see” their direct reports have a harder time believing that their employees are actually working.
There is a widespread, albeit incorrect, misconception that remote workers are lazy and prone to slacking off. In response, many organizations resort to a measure that happens to be one of the greatest productivity (and morale) killers: micromanagement.
While it may be tempting to micromanage your employees to ensure that they are giving their all, doing so can have disastrous long-term consequences for employee engagement levels. Instead, seek to learn sustainable methods of remote management, such as:
- Change the way you measure performance. Instead of badgering remote employees to complete a task, set down a system where everyone is accountable for their own goals. The key to managing autonomous remote workers is through a well-defined structure of goal-setting. Personal experience says that SMART goal setting coupled with OKRs, KPIs, scrums, and sprint planning is the key to offering autonomy to remote employees. In my company, it’s allowed us to foster a form of remote work in which we don’t have to monitor everything our employees do.
- Set down expectations. It is preferable to have this chat sooner rather than later because it will assist you in establishing boundaries with your remote staff. Discuss work hours, break times, and goals (both yours and theirs), among other things.
- Create a structure where none existed before. To compensate for the lack of a physical presence, you’ll need to implement very clear SOPs, regular meetings, check-ins, or plain old goal-setting. Shortening hierarchy levels may also be beneficial; otherwise, your remote staff will be spending the majority of their time chasing approvals. This may appear to be more work than having an office, but it is simple to manage once the structure is in place.
2. Show transparency (and vulnerability)
Transparency is not limited to workflows. It’s a habit that high-performing leaders strive to inculcate into their daily routines, and it usually begins with communication with their employees. This is even more critical when dealing with a crisis, as people are more susceptible to hysteria, speculation, and panic.
With new complications arising as a result of the pandemic, the future of every company is uncertain. Unsurprisingly, it has been a major cause of employees feeling too anxious or stressed to perform optimally, and ultimately leading to many people feeling burned out. To help ease any lingering tensions, leaders should clearly communicate where the company is headed and how employees will be affected in those scenarios.
Also, being an empathetic manager is an underrated leadership trait that should be honed. It is important to establish open and judgment-free communication channels so that it becomes easier to identify and understand the unique challenges your remote employees are facing.
In turn, it’s important that modern leaders show their own vulnerabilities. Employees would prefer to hear bad news directly from you rather than from another source. This instills greater trust and loyalty, and they are much more likely to experience a sense of belonging to the company.
3. Digitize your rewards and recognition program
Understandably, recognizing the accomplishments of remote employees has taken a back seat as corporations deal with the challenges of a virtual or hybrid workforce. However, this might prove to be your biggest mistake.
According to one expert, employees’ desire to be recognized increases by about 30% during challenging times. Such positive forms of interaction are needed, especially when employees are dealing with a new crisis or transitioning to a new work arrangement.
Most virtual rewards and recognition programs have a problem because they are mostly in-house and rarely adhere to a proper plan, structure, or implementation strategy. As a result, the entire process of recognizing remote employees becomes incoherent. People are unsure when they will be recognized, what behaviors will be recognized, or which peers will be recognized for outstanding performance.
Engaging remote employee may appear to be a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming process, but it doesn’t have to be. That is why it is important to set down some standards when it comes to remote rewards and recognition. Here is how to make remote recognition actually meaningful:
- Make it public. It is critical that recognition occurs in public, even if virtual. This achieves two goals: To begin with, it ensures that recognition is not limited between a manager-employee and that the entire offsite team feels connected to one another. Secondly, it serves as a reminder to everyone that their efforts are being noticed and valued, despite them working remotely.
- Be timely and frequent. Getting recognized for a job well done months after the achievement will not be as effective as getting appreciated right away. Thus, remote leaders must try to ensure that their remote employees are immediately appreciated for the value they bring to the organization.
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4. Prioritize wellness (especially mental)
It’s common knowledge that employees who are in good health are satisfied and much more productive. In fact, per Gallup’s research, engagement and well-being are mutually influencing, i.e., each impacts the future state of the other.
Since 2020, companies have started prioritizing the holistic well-being of their employees, and for a good reason. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report, while 80% of companies said employee well-being would be important or very important for their success over the next 12-18 months, only 12% said they were equipped to deal with this issue.
However, it is important to note that it is not only a lack of physical wellness that can impact an employees’ work life. Mental health issues can often translate to loss of performance, productivity, and eventual disengagement.
But, most often, workplace budgets for employee well-being concentrate on only providing basic aspects like health insurance. To build a culture that truly empowers employees to lead a life of optimal health and well-being, leaders should focus on certain workplace aspects such as:
- Make mindful breaks a priority. It not only gives employees a break from the long hours at work, but it also helps them to bond.
- Provide office setup assistance. Remote work can be extremely strenuous to the body. Ensure that your employees have access to high-quality chairs and sturdy furniture support. If not, arrange to have a WFH setup delivered to their homes.
- Offer health incentives. Remote work can exacerbate the physical health problems associated with sedentary jobs. A proven way to get employees up and moving is to conduct incentives-based health challenges.
- Begin conversations about mental health. It can be as simple as holding seminars on emotional well-being or providing counselors to talk to.
- Set clear limits on your employees’ availability. Consider advising your staff to not respond to business emails on weekends, or allow them to take a day off to relax and recharge.
5. More communication (but make it meaningful)
It has been said that communication is “the oxygen of a distributed company,” and I couldn’t agree more. Unless you’ve worked remotely before, it’s easy to downplay the importance of communication in overall team productivity. The operation of a team is based on simple actions such as being able to pop into each other’s cubicles to discuss an urgent matter. A lack of these things in a remote team can be the cause of poor business outcomes.
A well-planned communication strategy is a powerful tool for keeping workflows as smooth and seamless as possible. It promotes greater transparency, which aids in the removal of any impediments and distractions from a team member’s path to doing great work.
Having an agile communication toolbox is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to elevate the productivity levels of a remote team. You’re making a tremendous mistake if you exclusively use email. You’ll need a mix of tools for groups and teams, one-on-one collaboration, and company-wide collaboration. Meanwhile, you must guarantee that these technologies improve the quality of remote work, while also not being too complex to use.
Remote check-ins typically are 1:1 meetings with a manager, which means that other team members may be unaware of what others are working on. At my company, our team holds a morning scrum meeting in which each team member answers the following three questions that helps ensure that everyone is bought up to speed: What did you work on the day before? What are you up to today? What’s getting in your way?
Another tip is to create a “shared virtual space” where team members can go to unwind and rejuvenate. This may serve as a virtual water cooler, because, believe it or not, those daily small talk sessions do a lot more to boost team morale than any team-building event.
As the duration of remote work increases, it is easy for team members to become alienated from one another. This is why, to engage remote employees, it is critical to develop team rituals tailored to your distributed team. These rituals can be as simple as a mandatory Zoom icebreaker before every meeting or as elaborate as organizing weekly virtual scavenger hunts.
Remote work is here to stay
Whether you like it or not, the shift to remote work is unavoidable. It is no longer a question of “if” but rather of “when.”
Today’s employees have a taste for remote work and according to Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker Survey, 42% say if their job does not offer remote work options long term, they will switch to an organization that does. And this is why it is critical for leaders to understand and prepare for the new workforce, which views remote work as a top-tier benefit.
When it comes to remote work, companies must consider the ramifications of employee engagement. Employees are more likely to perform successfully in a virtual work environment that recognizes and acknowledges their everyday contributions to the organization.
About the Author
Anjan Pathak is the co-founder and CTO of Vantage Circle, a cloud-based employee engagement platform, and Vantage Fit, an all-in-one corporate wellness platform.
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