Like it or not, remote work has become the norm in many industries. Even with the worst of Covid-19 relegated to the dustbins of history, more and more companies are continuing to allow their employees to work from home. While working remotely certainly has its share of advantages, like saving time and money on commuting, and hopefully, better work-life balance, it also has its downsides. Understandably, remote employees tend to feel a lot less engaged.
Ultimately, however, ensuring that your team stays engaged is key to the success of your business. Many companies have come to understand just how crucial this is, and have shifted their practices and processes accordingly. The reality is that the job market has changed irreversibly, and to stay on top, managers must demonstrate tremendous adaptability, creativity, and even a willingness to adjust their expectations.
Why employee engagement is so important
Once an employee feels disengaged, it’s not long before productivity, performance, and your bottom line begin to suffer.
According to McLean & Company, a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. Say if your business has 100 employees with an average salary of $55,000, and just 15% of them are disengaged, you’re potentially losing $280,500 annually.
Many disengaged employees actually want to feel connected and inspired, and all they need is an extra little push. But how to offer it to them? Hot tip: organizations tend to have more success boosting engagement and improving performance when they treat employees as stakeholders in the company’s future—and therefore their own future.
The prime focus should be on those factors that simultaneously engage people and drive business: clarity of expectations, catering to employee strengths, opportunities for development, positive remote culture, and meaningful feedback, to name a few.
How engaged employees benefit a company
According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report, 65% of the US workforce is actively disengaged, meaning they are indifferent and neither like nor dislike their jobs. In other words, they represent a risk, because they could go either way.
Engaged employees, on the other hand, actively benefit your company in the following ways:
- They show up and they get more done. Highly engaged business units are 14% more productive and see 81% less absenteeism. In companies with high-turnover, they see 18% less turnover, and in low-turnover companies, that number rises to 43%.
- They’re more dedicated to quality and safety. Unsurprisingly, engaged employees help their organizations improve relationships with customers and achieve difference-making growth, organically. Highly engaged business units see markedly improved customer ratings as well as higher sales—an 18% difference, to be precise.
- They’re more present and productive. The more engaged a workplace is, the more in touch its employees are with customer needs. They also adhere more to company processes, standards and systems, achieving 23% more profit.
8 ways to engage remote employees
Now that we understand the importance of an engaged workforce, consider the following 8 strategies for fostering meaningful engagement among your remote employees!
1. Communicate, always and forever
It may seem simple, but it’s easily overlooked, particularly when it comes to remote work.
Continual communication is the best way to create a culture of closeness, which will in turn help employees feel more confident about being honest and open. Authentic personalities, rather than fake ones, leads to higher quality collaborations and better creativity.
Holding regular check-ins whenever possible to set performance goals, as well as clear project expectations is always smart. Consider setting up company-wide chats and group channels alike where employees can share ideas, ask questions, collaborate, and simply talk. Encourage two-way feedback on projects, strategic decisions, and more.
2. Be real
The best way to get your team to be authentic is to set an example. Vulnerability is not a weakness, even among management. Try being transparent, humble, and sometimes even vulnerable. For instance, by taking the time to explain the logic behind important decisions.
“Keeping it real,” so to speak, will inspire your employees to share their own vulnerabilities. If genuine connections are occurring despite the screen that separates you, you’re on the right track!
3. Schedule meetings
Given that so much of human communication is nonverbal, it’s important that coworkers see each other’s faces, especially for key meetings. Love it or hate it, the most effective way to communicate remotely is via video chat, where body language and tone of voice are discernible.
From time to time, consider holding virtual all-hands meetings which encourage employees to showcase their projects across the company. Of course, while large group meetings have their time and place, the one-on-one meeting is crucial. It’s the perfect opportunity for employees to ask more involved questions, receive coaching, and provide feedback—things not typically encouraged at a team meeting. One-on-ones are also ideal for building and maintaining positive relationships, staying ahead of the latest developments, priority shifts, or discussing team issues.
4. Give and get feedback
Feedback is, by nature, multidirectional. Offer your employees feedback as a way of helping them reach their potential and raise productivity, while also soliciting feedback on how to be a stronger leader.
Don’t wait for the annual review—surveys are very useful, any time of year. Ask your employees what you could improve on, what they’re struggling with, and how the company can help them do their jobs better. Really, feedback can be related to anything, from new training ideas, team activities, to improving customer satisfaction.
Most importantly, when an employee gives feedback, act on it. If employees give feedback regularly but nothing changes, they won’t be so forthcoming in the future. When employees feel their opinions matter, they’re more likely to engage.
5. Encourage friendships
It is oh-so-easy to become alienated when working remotely. Creating an environment where employees have the opportunity to get to know each other personally is the perfect counterweight. Employees who have friends at work are more than twice as engaged as those who don’t.
Find ways to engage with one another on topics unrelated to work. You could create a messaging channel dedicated to non-work conversations, host virtual social events, or integrate apps like Donut or CoffeePals into your messaging system to facilitate 1-1 meetups.
If possible you can even host in-person events, such as holiday parties, birthday celebrations, open mic nights, karaoke, you get the idea. If they forget all about work because they enjoy one another’s company, your business will thank you later.
6. Take employee wellbeing seriously
When employees are healthy and happy, they’re at their most productive. There are countless wellness initiatives you might implement: promoting work-life balance more generally, enforcing regular breaks or walks around the block, offering courses to learn new skills, starting a running or yoga group, or offering comprehensive health benefits that include talk therapy.
If your company budget doesn’t allow for extensive wellness programs, there are still many ways to get creative with workplace wellbeing!
7. Celebrate employee accomplishments
Remote work makes it harder to celebrate the victories, so you need to put in the extra effort. An employee recognition program can increase remote employee engagement, productivity, and performance by 14%, according to Deloitte.
You might acknowledge and appreciate your remote staff by conducting employee of the month programs, thanking employees during a cross-company web conference, or sending signed cards from managers and peers to commemorate birthdays or work anniversaries.
8. Create opportunities for career development
Close to 90% of millennials say that having opportunities for learning and growing are important to them at work. It should go without saying that employees who are hungry for professional development are a huge asset.
Companies that provide career growth opportunities retain their employees for longer and set themselves apart from the competition. You might help to facilitate these opportunities by pairing newer employees with seasoned staff to encourage mentoring, as well as to encourage the exposure of older employees to new ideas. Most of all, if an employee wants to learn, work with them to find a way to make it happen.
Just because remote work is taking over the world doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice employee engagement and all the benefits that go along with it. Do yourself a favor by making human connection your prime currency, and your company is that much more likely to succeed.