Four Ways to Engage Remote Employees

Wed, 21 October 2020 by Tony Johns

COVID-19 has caused a great work-from-home (WFH) boom for many organizations.  Though many are looking into and implementing limited return to office plans, remote or hybrid work as a norm is likely here to stay. In a recent Lenovo study, 52% of employees believe they will work from home more than in the past after COVID-19. In a Gartner study of company leaders, 82% of respondents plan to let employees work remotely at least some of the time with 47% saying they would permit fulltime remote work.


Remote work provides benefits to employees such as reducing commute time, diminishing travel expenses, and improving work-life balance. For organizations, it would also lead to a reduced need for office space. Despite these and other benefits, remote work presents new challenges. Motivation, productivity, and engagement may decline. People may have a harder time seeing how their work is part of a greater whole. At home, there are more distractions, ranging from laundry to a neighbor's lawn-mower to barking dogs and kids at home for school. Taking steps to engage remote employees will become crucial for organizations as the “Next Normal” of the post-COVID-19 world.  Here are four ways to increase employee engagement in remote employees.


  1. Adopt Technology

When COVID-19 first hit, organizations had to take advantage of various technologies quickly to adapt to remote work. Now that it appears remote work isn’t going away, it’s a great time to review the tools you have and look into others to increase engagement. Virtual meeting tools like GoToMeeting and Zoom with face to face component provide more holistic communication than emails and phone calls.  Many technology companies have made changes and enhancements to their offerings (e.g. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and others) in response to the rise in demand. Collaboration tools have also grown in importance, as they allow for file sharing and managing projects for remote teams (e.g. Slack and Trello). Nothing can replace the value of being in the same room as someone, but to engage employees, managers and leaders must use every tool that gets us closer to the real thing.



  1. Increase Communication

Adopting tools that give multiple ways for managers and teams to stay connected is one way to encourage communication.  Though this will help fill the gap left from lack of in-person connection, it's important for leaders to increase communication.  For example, you can send regular email updates to staff and leaders about COVID-19 and the company's response to it from the President. Key metrics and growth indicators can be communicated with remote teams to make them feel more connected and united with the rest of the organization. If your organization, location, or department doesn't have a company newsletter, consider starting one.  This may be a temporary thing, or it could become a new normal.  Newsletters help people see they are connected to a larger story and what they do matters.  Communicate your expectations for performance and deadlines for projects. Consider scheduling semi-regular check-ins to see how they are progressing with assignments and project work.  Make it clear to your team that you are available to them.  They can't see if your office door is open, but they can check your calendar and use the many communication tools to get ahold of you for help.


  1. Build Community

For many, the coffee or break room was a great place to touch base with coworkers in-between meetings and working on projects.  In the post-COVID-19 world this has drastically changed for many companies. If you have employees working remotely, one benefit is there is likely less non-work talk going on.  However, there is also less collaboration and idea-sharing among colleagues.  There are also fewer opportunities for team members to encourage each other and share ideas, successes, and lessons learned.  You can supplement this with simple things like a Friday afternoon virtual happy hour to close out the week and give people a chance to see each other.  Meetings with your team, even virtual, can be essential opportunities to highlight work anniversaries, share stories of recent wins and lessons learned.  Ask for feedback on things that can be improved.  Sammi Caramela recommends planning virtual events that aren't work-related since that can reduce stress and help people relax. Sometimes people have a hard time changing gears, so these types of get-togethers can build community and encourage people in a way that could give someone a needed boost.


  1. Care

The most important thing to do to engage your people is to care about them. If you care for them, you will get to know them. Be sure not to merely connect with your people to see how they are doing with their work.  This can be seen as negative and can sometimes give people a feeling that you are micromanaging them.  By also showing interest in your people, their desires, needs, and praising them for their contributions, you'll have a more balanced approach. When leaders seek to understand and serve versus demand, they build trust.


Dale Carnegie gives six ways to be likeable in his classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.  The first is, "Become genuinely interested in other people" (62). If you are genuinely interested in your people, you will do what you can to equip them to do their job well. You will find ways to connect with them on a regular basis using whatever tools are available to you. If you are genuinely interested, you will be a good listener.  It means a lot when you can be a good listener, asking follow up questions and encouraging them to speak.  Doing this will strengthen the Relationship and build Trust, two of The Amborn Group’s four core values.  When your people know that you are there for them, they will be much more motivated and engaged.


In summary, when you embrace technology, communicate with your people, creatively facilitate opportunities to build community, and most importantly, care about your team/s, you will have gone a long way in engaging your remote workforce.  When you practice these disciplines consistently, they will become habits.  Once they become habit, being a better manager will become habit and then you can look at being even better.  And as a result, your organization will do better, Get to Great! and beyond.


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