How critical is employee engagement? About 71% of executives understand the role it plays in the success of their companies, which is why Deloitte estimates that organizations pour $720 million annually into measuring engagement.
Staff interaction in the workplaceis a significant part of that engagement. One of the biggest challenges of remote work has been keeping employees locked in during this era of social distancing. For companies that had strong employee engagement before the pandemic, outside-the-box thinking is necessary when engaging with remote employees.
Even though staff members are spread across cities, states, and countries, communication cannot break down. Sure, your usual workplace might not serve as the home base it once was, but that doesn’t mean the cadence and manner in which team members communicate with each other should suffer—they will just look different for now.
Engaging Others in the Workplace from a Distance
The onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent embrace of remote work have caused many decision-makers to reimagine how they interact with members of their organizations. In the wake of the pandemic, a Quantum Workplace study found that 88% of employees have expressed satisfaction with how frequently they’ve been in talks with leadership.
Under normal circumstances, HR leaders hear the needs and ideas of employees at all levels. As engaging with remote employees becomes the norm, that ability to hear everything from everyone must evolve. Beyond helping employees remain engaged and complete their daily tasks, great communication gives staff members a sense of belonging, a sentiment many successful companies try to stoke.
Because of the changing face of staff interaction in the workplace, HR’s ability to provide support across departments and communicate vital information can affect production, company growth, and employee mental health. One study split Chinese call center employees into on-site and off-site groups to examine the effects of remote work; the study found that the remote group was about 14% more productive and 50% more likely to remain with the company.
As socially distanced work becomes the norm for companies, engaging with remote employees will continue to be a priority. Keeping team members interested in the work they’re doing—no matter where they’re doing it—benefits both employees and their employers.
Keeping Workers Invested (Even from Afar)
As your socially distanced workplace begins to take shape, you cannot take interaction and collaboration for granted. Here are a few suggestions for engaging others in the workplace from a distance:
1. Don’t clutter in-boxes. Continuous work in a collaborative virtual work space could result in an overabundance of e-mails. Make engaging with remote employees less overwhelming by not flooding their inboxes.
Gallup found that remote workers are 27% more likely than their in-office counterparts to say they have the resources they need to work effectively. Encourage employees to use phone messaging, videoconferences, and other mediums to communicate. If you avoid overloading something like e-mail, workers are free to jump from platform to platform without feeling like they have work and insights piled upon them.
2. Keep feedback frequent. A different Gallup study revealed that remote employees who get feedback from their managers at least a few times each month are three times more likely to stay engaged. Social distancing in the workplace is a reality, which means you might want to offer feedback more frequently than in the past.
Encourage interactive staff meetings so teams maintain or increase their correspondence, which should help prevent things from slipping through the cracks. Leaders should try to meet with each of their direct reports once a week (or every other week) to gauge feelings and solve any problems. The more remote engagement you have with off-site employees, the less they’ll feel like they’re on an island.
3. Put mini-meetings on the schedule. Doorway conversations and drive-by chats might be distractions in the office, but they represent brief respites that keep workers from burning out. Put interactive staff meetings on the calendar to give team members time to talk about work (and anything else they want to discuss).
We encourage our team to schedule short Zoom meetings of 5 minutes or so to talk through any issues or ideas they might have—or even just to have someone to chat with during lunch to replicate the in-office environment. Staff interaction in the workplace doesn’t need to be extensive. Short and sweet conversations can do wonders for engaging remote employees.
4. Continue celebrating milestones. Work happy hours, in-person celebrations, and other employee cultural staples have been unfortunate casualties of the shift to remote work, but they don’t have to go away completely. Continuing some of those events virtually can create cost-effective engagement activities that help maintain morale.
One of our team members recently celebrated her 20th anniversary with the company. To commemorate the occasion, staff members changed their virtual Zoom backgrounds to say “Happy 20-Year Anniversary, Meagan!” The background images caught her by surprise and brought some levity to our internal meetings.
Use virtual tools or do something as simple as mailing cards to employees to let them know you’re thinking of them on a special day. It goes a long way toward helping distant employees feel recognized.
Engagement, like many elements of the workplace, looks different now than it did before the pandemic. Consider these ideas to engage remote employees, which should keep your team upbeat and productivity consistent during these uncertain times.
Jaime Donnelly is the chief financial officer at Integrity Staffing Solutions, a full-service staffing agency that ranks in the top 2% of agencies across the country for quality service based on ClearlyRated’s “Best of Staffing” client survey.