Photo of a mom remote working at home with her daughter coloring nearbyPhoto of a mom remote working at home with her daughter coloring nearby

How to improve engagement with remote employees

October 29, 2020
Sarah Elbert

It’s more important than ever to provide the right tools and programs to help remote employees stay engaged and connected.

Remember when workdays included a commute, packing into conference rooms for meetings, and quick drive-by chats with coworkers? Everyday office life has become a not-so-distant memory for many employees working from home offices—or at the kitchen table, where their kids just finished eating breakfast.

As employees now balance work and personal activities from home, it’s becoming even more essential for HR leaders to provide employees with tools and resources to feel connected, engaged, and healthy in both mind and body. COVID-19 has forced us all to redefine the term work-life balance and acknowledge that the blurred line has been there all along.

“HR needs to step up for its people,” Ashley Miller, workplace innovation manager for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), said during the organization’s virtual conference last April. “Communication, support, trust, and recognition must be priorities in this new normal to maintain high engagement and morale. These are things we should be doing already, but the challenge is to keep focus on these priorities, which can be difficult when the organization is just trying to keep the workforce employed and keep the lights on.” According to SHRM, 71 percent of employers said they were struggling to adapt to remote work, and 65 percent said that a top challenge was keeping up employee morale.

Here are a few concrete ways to help your employees stay engaged and connected to their work, their colleagues, and the company.

Provide the right technology for remote work.

Before the pandemic, we may have taken for granted many of the technologies that are now an integral part of our work-from-home experience. Whether your company has supported a remote workforce for years or are facilitating remote collaboration for the first time, the right technology can make all the difference.

We’ve all seen how important it is to have access to a reliable, companywide video conference program that employees understand how to use. Whether it’s Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, or one of the many other options available, everyone should have an easy way to connect one-on-one or in groups. And unless it’s a casual coffee chat or happy hour, every virtual meeting should have a clear goal and agenda.

Like other companies around the world, “many of our staff are working remotely,” says Kimberly Yelkin, a partner at law firm Foley & Lardner LLP. “In order to maintain morale and ensure continued collaboration, we regularly communicate via conference calls or Zoom. That allows us to discuss existing or potential client needs and opportunities and see how the team is doing.”

Beyond video conferencing, messaging apps like Slack or Google Chat give employees a chance to communicate quickly and informally with their whole team or each other and cut down on unnecessary emails. Project management tools like Asana and Trello can help organize assignments and deadlines and keep everyone on task. And digital whiteboarding programs such as Miro and Mural can give teams a way to visually plan and brainstorm. As with any new technology, it’s important to provide employees with the training they need to use new tools with confidence.

Emphasize health and wellness for better employee engagement.

One simple thing HR teams can do to support employees in these trying times is to make sure staff members are aware of all of the health and wellness benefits available to them. If you offer telemedicine options or a mental health app, now’s a great time to remind employees and show them how to access it. If your organization provides an employee assistance program, that’s another benefit that can be particularly valuable in difficult times. Even providing a list of streaming fitness classes—from Daily Burn to Les Mills and CorePower Yoga—can help employees stay active and manage stress.

Some companies are using this opportunity to invest in their own health or meditation classes. Revel Health offered its employees eight weeks of wellness coaching to help them work toward goals around fitness, eating well, and maintaining a healthy weight. They also offer a virtual yoga class every Wednesday during lunchtime and added a weekly all-company meeting. “It’s been so great having moments of connection with my coworkers throughout the week that are both about the pulse and the health of the company,” says Keegan Garvey, a senior UX/product designer for the company, “as well as moments that are about breathing, moving my body, and wellness in a virtual yoga class.” Make sure your employees know what’s out there—and then remind them regularly so they can use the right services when they need them.

Commit to clear communication.

In uncertain times, it’s especially important to keep employees informed about things like:

  • What’s happening within the company.
  • What steps you’re taking to protect their health and safety.
  • Ways to give (and get) recognition.
  • Expected working hours, meeting etiquette, and dress codes (if you have them).

Employees should be encouraged to take breaks and leave their home office—whether that means closing a door or just closing their laptop—and come “home” to relax once their workday is done. Enforcing these boundaries can give employees a greater sense of stability and prevent burnout.

“By being flexible with my schedule, my company has allowed me to try and juggle the position many parents have been put in: having a career and being a teacher to our distance-learning kids,” Garvey says. “It’s been such a relief to have these considerations in place, as it has reduced some stress.”

Be creative with company traditions.

Just because you can’t host a company holiday party in person this year doesn’t mean you have to completely scrap tradition. Have employees send in photos of themselves celebrating with their families, along with something they’re thankful for, and send it out as a slideshow. Come up with fun new ways to connect while everyone is working from home, be it a weekly photo or video contest (cutest cat, messiest desk, coolest mask, funniest kid performance, etc.) or quote of the week. And if you normally give new employees a welcome package, send it to their home instead of skipping it—that positive first impression matters now more than ever. Many people form strong social bonds at work, and it’s important to nurture those relationships in a remote-working world in whatever creative ways you can.

Find out what’s working (and what’s not).

Every remote workplace initiative should be continually evaluated and refined to understand what’s working and what isn’t for your employees. The easiest way to find out if your employee engagement strategies are working is to simply ask. This can be done via email surveys or with a novel new approach such as Humaxa, an AI interface that works with Slack to gather anonymous feedback. While your HR program may be in uncharted territory, getting regular feedback can help your team invest time and effort into programs that make the biggest difference.

Remote work can sometimes feel isolating or demotivating, especially during this strange season. With a little extra creativity and attentiveness, your HR team can help employees stay connected, engaged, and healthy in ways that work for them and for your business.

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