In our rapidly evolving landscape, it’s clear that the shift towards remote workspaces is not just a temporary trend but a permanent change in how we work.
Despite the sometimes heated debates about the return to physical offices, the positive impact of remote work on employee productivity and well-being – see our 2023 remote works statistics if your boss still doesn’t believe it – cannot be ignored.
For you as forward-thinking leaders and managers, this means you can embrace remote work and create more meaningful and valuable team experiences.
For managers new to hybrid or remote work, you may experience challenges adjusting from an office-centric model to a remote one, such as reduced opportunities for organic conversations and isolation. But, by implementing research-backed strategies, you can keep your hybrid remote teams engaged and connected, leading to increased productivity, better performance, and longer retention of your best people.
This article will discuss:
- What is engagement, and how do you broadly drive it?
- How to engage remote employees in 5 simple steps?
- Which activities can help you engage remote employees?
- How do you make remote workers feel included?
- How to measure and improve your remote engagement?
What is employee engagement, and how do you broadly drive it?
Employee engagement is the extent to which people are willing to devote their intellectual and behavioral abilities toward successfully achieving the organization's goals and objectives.
According to Gallup, companies that are successful at engaging their teams improve on 11 dimensions, including:
- Customer loyalty and engagement
- Turnover (for high-turnover and low-turnover organizations)
- Wellbeing (net thriving employees)
- Organizational citizenship (participation)
The positive effect of high engagement is even more important in turbulent times. Not in the least, because it so clearly drives retention: low-engagement teams experience turnover rates up to 43% higher! Keeping your best people in their roles helps you tremendously in good and bad times.
So, by tapping into the proper techniques and methods, your team will feel connected, experience happiness at work, and able to work to the best of their potential. And hopefully, have a lot more fun along the way.
How to engage remote employees in 5 simple steps?
So how do you create engagement with remote employees? Below are five simple steps to start engaging your team even more, contributing to a strong team that does great work with high enjoyment.
1. Ensure employees feel heard, valued, and connected:
In remote employee engagement, ensuring your team feels heard and valued becomes even more critical. Remote workers might face challenges expressing their concerns or seeking guidance, leading to feelings of isolation or disconnection.
A lack of engagement can lead to isolation, loneliness, and a sense of being unappreciated. To combat this, take it upon yourself to actively create open communication, feedback opportunities, and avoid work from home loneliness.
Regular one-on-one check-ins should be encouraged, providing team members a safe space to share their thoughts, challenges, and suggestions. If you're stumped for one-on-one questions, you can use our one-on-one question generator:
You can also recognize and celebrate individual and team accomplishments through virtual team calls or shout-outs can boost morale and foster a positive work culture.
In short, you can build trust and strengthen the team's commitment by demonstrating genuine interest in their well-being and appreciation of their efforts.
2. Host virtual meetings and casual hangouts:
Effective communication is the backbone of remote team collaboration.
Online communities and chat clients help bring remote employees inside the cultural conversation, fostering camaraderie and trust. Regular virtual meetings using virtual meeting platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts allow for face-to-face interactions, which are crucial for building connections and ensuring team alignment.
In addition to formal meetings, arranging casual virtual hangouts or team-building activities can help bridge the gap between work and social life. These non-work-related interactions allow team members to bond personally, creating a positive and inclusive team environment.
By utilizing communication platforms effectively, you can foster a sense of belonging and create a virtual space where remote employees feel connected to their colleagues and the organization.
An additional way to keep people connected is to assign them as accountability partners. According to Indeed, an accountability partner is “a person you trust to help you follow through with a commitment or goal you made.” Beyond keeping up people’s motivation, this is a great way to stay connected with team members, especially those not directly working together.
3. Encourage health and wellness:
Remote work brings flexibility but can also lead to blurred boundaries between work and personal life. In recent remote work research we released remote managers' named difficulty maintaining work-life balance as their number 5 challenge. Working from home can also lead to a more stationary lifestyle.
Supporting people’s health is vital for maintaining a productive and engaged remote team. Without overstepping or infringing on people’s agency and autonomy, consider offering wellness programs, organizing challenges, and being mindful of hours worked to promote a healthy work-life balance and show genuine concern for your team’s well-being.
Offering flexible work hours that allow time for physical exercise or outdoor activities can also boost employees' energy and motivation. If you’re not already, find opportunities for most of your team’s work to be asynchronous so they can decide when and where they’re most productive.
Additionally, recognizing the importance of mental health and providing resources for stress management or mental well-being demonstrates that you value your team’s health beyond work performance.
4. Foster personal connections:
You can’t overlook the importance of creating personal connections with your team members despite the geographical distance.
Reaching out to individual team members regularly helps to build strong relationships. Understanding each team member's strengths, weaknesses, and interests allows managers to tailor assignments and projects that align with their passions.
By integrating their personal interests into their work, you can enhance their team's engagement and job satisfaction. Acknowledging the human aspect of remote workers and recognizing them as individuals fosters a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization, strengthening the overall team dynamic.
5. Keep the lines of communication open:
For remote teams, communication is the lifeblood that sustains collaboration and teamwork.
Considering remote employees' diverse time zones and work schedules, be mindful of setting meeting times or sending messages that respect their work-life balance.
By encouraging open and transparent communication, you create a culture of inclusivity and accessibility where every team member feels valued and heard.
Keeping lines of communication open also allows people to voice their concerns, seek guidance, or provide feedback, resulting in a more engaged and empowered remote team.
Bonus Tip: Tailor Engaging Jobs to Individual Purpose
While there are many ways to drive engagement, the better starting point is to design jobs so they are inherently engaging.
Design jobs that align with each remote employee's passions to foster engagement. Understand their intrinsic motivators by engaging in open conversations about their career aspirations and personal goals.
Use this insight to shape roles that provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, making the work a compelling reason for engagement. Collaborate with your team to co-design tasks and encourage autonomy, allowing them to use their strengths and approach goals authentically.
Embrace a culture of continuous optimization by seeking feedback and offering growth opportunities – a process called job crafting. Doing so creates a highly engaged and motivated remote team by engaging in jobs that resonate with people’s purpose.
Balancing what they want with what you expect is a better way of keeping the score. It also avoids the need for micromanagement as people become more self-motivated.
Which activities can help you engage remote employees?
Whether it’s a team that’s worked together, a complete group of strangers, or anything in between, virtual icebreakers are a great way to… break the ice. You can start with simple questions or let AI generate icebreaker questions for you.
Depending on the group and context, you can decide how easy or difficult the questions should be, according to this traffic light framework for icebreakers.
You can run an icebreaker activity right before a more serious meeting, or make it part of weekly coworking sessions.
Occasionally, switching into work mode and concentrating on business matters can be a challenge. In those cases, engaging in a fun online game to connect with colleagues and encourage team-building can be beneficial.
Our recent game of Gartic Phone was a prime example of this, and we all had a great time while improving our teamwork. 😂
Offsites and retreats
Remote teams that meet more frequently in person have higher average earnings. Considering this, planning 2-4 off-site retreats annually for fully remote companies can significantly benefit your team's productivity and engagement.
And yes, organizing retreats can be challenging, but the rewards are immense, as they provide valuable opportunities for your team to connect, collaborate, and grow together.
To make sure your retreats are successful, focus on strategy and intentionality, aligning the program with your needs. Investing in well-designed team retreats strengthens your remote team's bonds, enhances productivity, and creates a thriving team culture.
Read our deep dive on remote retreat strategies and activities for more tips.
How do you make remote workers feel included?
Many remote managers face the challenge of not having enough face-to-face interactions with their team, with 36% stating this as a major issue.
According to McKinsey, the top reason why hybrid employees choose to come to the office is to work with their colleagues, regardless of location.
As social creatures, human interaction is crucial to our well-being. Loneliness can be just as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Even introverted team members crave social connections: 75% of introverts prefer not to have a remote job.
Additionally, as mentioned below, people may feel left out in hybrid settings compared to their in-office counterparts. So, making remote workers included is key. Some ways to do this are:
- Hold regular video check-ins to keep remote employees connected and address their concerns. Schedule this and ensure everyone IS and FEELS invited.
- Utilize collaboration tools like Slack to facilitate inclusive connections beyond communication and teamwork. Use it to ask frequent icebreakers (for example, with the app Donut) and get everyone who feels comfortable contributing.
- Organize monthly virtual team-building activities to encourage bonding and camaraderie. Assign parts of the meeting to each team member or group of team members, and ensure everyone has something to share.
- Implement a recognition program to celebrate remote employees' achievements and show appreciation, emphasizing an equal amount of time in the spotlight.
- Carefully monitor who is starting to engage less and pull them aside to hear why. For example, they feel they don’t ‘click’ with the team. Improve from the feedback you receive.
How to measure and improve your remote engagement?
To improve your remote workforce engagement, gathering feedback from your team through engagement surveys is crucial (and why you may want to work with employee engagement survey providers. These surveys provide quantitative and qualitative data, which can help you create a more effective action plan.
If you need inspiration for your survey questions, consider the ideas below. According to management expert Joseph Juran, having a standard is essential for making informed decisions and taking appropriate action.
Unfortunately, many companies still use unreliable or inadequate metrics to measure performance. Using a framework like Gallup Q12 is highly recommended by workplace experts like Christie Hoffman of Pingboard. Q12 covers all the most important questions based on decades of research.
In a recent interview about employee engagement best practices, Christie said about using a framework like Gallup Q12:
“If you're new to this, it's really important not to make up your own questions because if you've never baked a cake before if I tell you to bake a cake from scratch, it will probably not be very good. It will be missing ingredients, and it might have mysterious ingredients.”
Is remote engagement different from employee experience?
You may have heard the term employee experience and wondered about the difference between this and employee engagement strategies.
The easiest way to think about it is that Employee Experience is all the touch points an employee experiences working in your team and company. Done well; this drives high engagement.
Employee Experience is the foundation, while Employee Engagement is the result.
Creating a better Employee Experience is not just about superficial fixes; focus on optimizing the entire journey from recruitment to departure. Engagement is a dynamic spectrum, so ongoing efforts to enhance the experience are vital for a motivated and connected team.
In Summary: How to Engage Remote Employees
In conclusion, as remote work becomes ‘just the way we work,’ it’s important to keep remote team members engaged and connected.
Implementing the five practical steps outlined in this article will go a long way in creating a positive and inclusive remote work environment.
Ensuring employees feel heard, valued, and connected, hosting virtual meetings and casual hangouts, encouraging health and wellness, fostering personal connections, and keeping lines of communication open are all key components of remote team engagement.
It’ll take time to excel, but remember that engagement is a dynamic spectrum, and all efforts to enhance the employee experience help create a work culture where people feel included, supported, and empowered to work to their full potential.
You can also visit our employee engagement article to explore the full comprehensive guide from our experts.