Gartner recently estimated that by the end of 2023, fully remote and hybrid workers are expected to account for 71% of the workforce in the United States. We know that companies that embrace these trends will be able to attract and retain top talent while increasing productivity and employee satisfaction. Key trends of remote and hybrid work for 2023 and beyond are all focused on flexibility, employee empowerment, and work/life balance. However, managing remote workforces comes with its own set of challenges. How do managers keep teams engaged in a work-from-home (WFH) environment? How can leaders ensure everyone remains focused on the company’s goals without visible role models in an office setting?
Many companies have relied on HR teams to update their policies in the transition to remote work, but these same teams are surprisingly absent when it comes to defining key corporate brand values, the glue that can help keep employees engaged and focused on company goals. HR and talent management—the resident experts on company culture—must align updated WFH policies with higher-level company values to keep their growing ranks of remote workers engaged and delivering their best work from anywhere.
Setting Performance Expectations and Policies with Company Values
One of the key challenges in managing remote workforces is establishing performance expectations and policies that align with an organization’s values. Unlike an office setting, where employees adopt unspoken cultural norms by example, WFH requires finding opportunities, whether through in-person or on-screen interactions, to explicitly share values and communicate expectations for individual performance and acceptable behavior. To ensure policies that are supportive rather than restrictive for remote employees, they must be authentic (true to the company’s culture and stated mission) and actionable (adapted to WFH environments).
Company values serve as a compass to help leaders establish a common culture built on shared beliefs and manage employees’ expectations for how they contribute to that culture. However, values are useless when employees don’t know how to realize them in meaningful ways. Remote work may introduce ambiguity about responsiveness during work hours, how to engage customers in virtual interactions, or how to work as a distributed team. As policies adapt to support the realities of remote work, reframing them in the context of company values can help simplify how changes are communicated and help employees more easily embrace change.
Best Practices for Keeping Remote Employees Engaged
Maintaining a high level of employee engagement is crucial for remote teams to thrive. Best practices for helping employees excel in remote work environments include:
Fostering a virtual community: Encourage less formal online interactions between managers and team members, and create dedicated communication channels for companywide discussions. One-on-one interactions create opportunities for remote employees to connect on a personal level, building camaraderie and reducing feelings of isolation. Transparent conversations in dedicated channels accessible to all workers can also provide leaders with a way to communicate progress toward the company’s bigger vision, model values in context, and involve remote teams in the organizational culture.
Enabling continuous learning and development: Remote employees, especially people early in their career, need opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge. A recent Gallup report found 45% of millennials rated “a job that accelerates their professional or career development” as “very important.” Recent research from consulting firm PwC also suggests that less experienced team members are more likely to feel less productive in remote work environments when compared with more experienced peers. Creating ongoing training content, a company wiki, or a library of short “how-to” videos open to all employees can help employees stay productive while increasing their professional expertise.
Creating standards for screen time: Provide employees with templates such as branded background images for videoconferencing to maintain a cohesive, consistent visual appearance in on-screen meetings and increase a sense of belonging through shared identity. Create best practices for on-screen presence and interactions, such as logging into videoconferences early to greet customers like a good host would in real life, planning for breaks to give people time to stretch and move during long meetings, and giving people the option to be off camera during select video calls. Encourage being on camera when it matters most to create a more personal connection during conversations, be a more engaging presenter, and communicate more effectively with facial expressions or gestures (because 90% of communication is nonverbal).Showing empathy for coworkers and clients who may be on screen in meetings or presentations for hours at a time respects their humanity and prioritizes their mental health.
The Bottom Line
Effectively managing hybrid and remote workforces requires a thoughtful approach that addresses the unique challenges presented by distance and physical separation. By leveraging company values to set performance expectations and policies, organizations can create a cohesive remote work culture. Additionally, implementing best practices for WFH, such as virtual communities and policies adapted to a distributed workforce, can help keep remote employees engaged and productive. As remote work continues to shape the future of work, organizations with cultures rooted in values-based performance that adapt their management practices to maximize the potential of their remote teams will win in the new world of work.
McNeal Maddox is Director of Brand Strategy at Innovation Protocol.