Employee engagement tips for remote teams

Are you team WFH or do you prefer the structure of the traditional office?

Regardless of personal preference, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that there are benefits to both alternatives. On one hand, you have increased flexibility, lower costs, and shorter commutes. On the other, you have increased interaction and a clearer cutoff between work and personal time, and some would argue that time spent in the office is more productive.

As industries continue to shift to remote teams, it’s increasingly common for coworkers to have only ever met each other virtually. And while some people (and jobs) thrive in this environment, it’s undeniably a challenge for others. Some may find it hard to bond with their peers or communicate virtually, which can impact their sense of purpose and pose challenges as they participate in projects.

Studies show that workers who feel engaged report higher levels of satisfaction, perform their work better, and are more likely to stick around for longer, which saves you money in hiring and onboarding.

Higher engagement also fosters a sense of safety because employees feel attuned to their team and higher-ups, and they have a solid grasp of how things are going and what they can expect to come. Plus, Gallup has reported increased performance for companies whose employees are highly engaged.

So what can you do as a manager to increase engagement and satisfaction for your remote employees?

Open spaces for casual exchange

Offices are notorious for promoting “distractions.” A coworker stopping you in the hallway to ask about the weekend, a manager or supervisor dropping by to share a new project or feedback on your work, and other casual exchanges are long gone for teams who adopted remote work.

However, these unplanned encounters are vital for employee engagement — they can bring people together to know each other on a different level and build trust. And many times, a casual chat or drop-in sparks innovative ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

Recreate these casual exchanges by creating “watercooler chat” channels where people can share about their lives outside of work, their hobbies, recipes, or even initiatives that don’t directly relate to a specific project.

Consider a retreat

Piggy-backing off of the previous point, bonding experiences can transform your organization. As fully remote companies are becoming the norm, have you noticed that in fully remote organizations, employees rarely get to know each other in person? If your organization has always been remote, most people will only ever know each other virtually unless someone happens to travel or there’s a company retreat. Creating that sense of interconnection virtually breaks the digital barrier and helps coworkers know each other a bit better.

Many fully-remote companies, like Mailerlite, use retreats as a way to boost employee engagement. If it’s within your possibilities, a yearly retreat is an excellent opportunity for everyone to share a table for once. Talk to one another and collaborate differently.

Offer praise and rewards

If you’re like most people, you’ve had at least one manager from whom you only hear when things go wrong. In most cases, this translates to employees getting used to the fact that no news is good news, which can breed resentment or a feeling of being underappreciated. No bueno.

In reality, people thrive on feedback and positive reinforcement. We want to be told that we’re doing well. As a manager, you can use (honest, genuine) praise to keep employees engaged.

A simple, “Well done, Harry. Keep it up” can go a long way to boost morale — or take it up a notch by being specific about what they achieved. Try these:

  • The way you (do this task) is effective for (positive outcome).
  • I really appreciate the way you handled (a challenge) despite (obstacle).

Create an onboarding manual

Think back to the last time you twiddled your thumbs at your desk on the first day of your new job because you had no idea whom to talk to or what you’ll do. The stuff of nightmares.

The same happens for remote employees, except worse.

Your onboarding process makes welcoming new team members smooth — and it sets the tone for your company experience as a whole. So set them up for success by creating a detailed onboarding plan to help them get situated as soon as they log in.

Use icebreakers

Have you ever been early to a Zoom call and didn’t know the host, so you both just sit there awkwardly until others trickled in?

Icebreaker exercises may seem corny or unnecessary. But they give people something to talk to so they can focus on what they have to say and what others are saying rather than trying to come up with ideas. A simple prompt can spark conversation way more effectively than a generic greeting. Use your watercooler chat channel to send these at the beginning or end of the week to give everyone the chance to share, or devote a few minutes of your team meeting to answering a simple question like:

  • What are you looking forward to this week?
  • What are you having for dinner? Have you tried any new places recently?
  • Have you watched any cool movies?
  • Share a favorite recipe.
  • What’s something you’re proud of accomplishing this month?
  • What’s something big on your list for the next month? And how can we help?

The point is not to be elaborate or intrusive. But simply to talk about their interests and life outside of work in a way that feels natural and can lead to meaningful conversations.

Encourage time off (something like Summer Friday policies)

Chances are you’ve heard about the increasing rates of burnout and fatigue since the pandemic. People are taking less time off than ever before — and many people continue to work during their time off.

In fact, different studies show that more than half of employees feel an obligation to be available outside of work hours now that they work remotely. They tend to respond to emails right away, work weekends, or catch up on tasks overnight. Many times, employees feel like they need to justify their remote arrangement — and others, it’s just a matter of poor management (time or otherwise).

But everyone needs to rest and disconnect. It is essential for employee engagement and performance. And company-wide policies are one of the most effective ways to take the pressure off those who feel like they always need to be online.

Institute policies like a mandatory day off or no-meeting days to allow people to do deep, focused work and also remove pressure from them about being “camera ready.”

Final words

There are many benefits of working remotely or even hybrid. But it’s also easy to fall into habits like procrastinating. And it may be hard to connect with coworkers and the organization, especially if your work is more independent — like contractors or people whose work doesn’t rely on others’ input or collaboration.

Thankfully, there’s a lot that managers and team leads can do to boost employee engagement and satisfaction in a remote environment. If your projects are feeling the negative impacts of a disengaged team, book a consultation now and we’ll come up with a strategy together.

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