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According to a recent Gallup poll, 54% of workers are disengaged at work while another 14% are actively disengaged.
Combined, these numbers mean that 68% of employees lack some level of commitment to their work. For employers, this could also mean that well over half of their employees are doing less than their best work.
This is because employee engagement is one of the most important factors affecting workplace productivity and employee retention. Building employee engagement among on-site workers is challenging enough, but fostering engagement among remote workers can be even more difficult.
With the right approach and resources, however, it is possible.
What is employee engagement?
Understanding what employee engagement requires understanding what it is not. Employee engagement is not the same thing as employee satisfaction or happiness.
Employee engagement refers to a worker’s commitment to the company. Employees who are engaged work not only for themselves and the benefits they can gain, they also work for the company and the company’s goals.
Engaged employees take ownership of these goals. Furthermore, they do more than the minimum to achieve them. In other words, they contribute more in practically every aspect of their work.
Engaged employees, in turn, contribute more to a company’s bottom line. Towers Perrin research finds that companies experience a 6% increase in profit margins when employees are engaged.
What factors contribute to employee engagement?
Employees are more likely to be engaged when they feel a sense of belonging. Belonging is a basic human need. We all want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to feel that we matter and that our efforts matter. We want to feel that our voices are heard. Plus, we want to feel that we’re part of a community that allows us to become our best selves.
In addition to a sense of belonging, the following factors are often associated with employee engagement:
A strong and positive company culture
Open lines of communication
Opportunities for learning and advancement
Concern for employees’ overall well-being
Efforts to promote employee engagement must take each of these factors into consideration.
Fostering employee engagement among remote workers
Building remote employee engagement can be a challenge, but it is essential in today’s economy. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, remote work was on the rise. In fact, the number of remote workers increased by 159% from 2005 to 2017.
In 2017, 3.4% of the population worked remotely. With the shutdowns and social distancing imposed by the pandemic in 2020, that percentage soared. By June of 2020, 42% of employees were working from home.
As countries reopened and restrictions eased, some of those employees returned or will return to work. Still, experts predict that remote work is here to stay. According to recent studies, 40% of companies expect their employees to continue working remotely in the future.
This means that employers must build a sense of community among workers on-site and at home.
Tips for building engagement among remote employees
Even in a virtual workplace, you can take concrete steps to instill a sense of community among your employees.
1. Hold virtual company meetings
Company meetings are essential for communicating and refining your goals. The rise of remote work cannot mean an end to these meetings.
To foster engagement, schedule regular company meetings via Google Meet, Zoom, or another platform.
Depending on the size of your company, the structure of these meetings might vary. Smaller companies might gather all of their employees monthly or even weekly.
If your company is large, though, perhaps you’ll only hold a company-wide gathering once or twice a year. Between those large gatherings, you’ll ensure that departments and employee teams are still meeting regularly.
2. Give remote employees a voice
Another factor to consider in larger meetings, especially larger remote meetings, is employee voice. For employees of the largest companies, it’s easy to feel lost in a crowd of colleagues. Again, this is true even at large in-person meetings. When the “crowd” of colleagues consists of squares on a Zoom screen, it can be even more difficult to ensure employees feel heard.
Encourage all employees to participate in company meetings by organizing smaller breakout sessions. Most video conferencing platforms allow this option.
Breakout sessions might focus on brainstorming, goal-setting, or progress assessments. By bringing smaller groups together and promoting conversation, these sessions can increase employee participation. Participation, in turn, increases employee belonging and engagement.
3. Host virtual office hours
Virtual office hours offer another opportunity for employees’ voices to be heard. Depending on your company’s culture, on-site employees likely have the opportunity to drop-in on colleagues and even managers as questions arise. Unless your company takes steps to provide them, remote employees lack these opportunities.
When remote employees have questions, they have two standard options: phone and email. Each of these requires more time and is more impersonal than on-site collaboration.
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Hosting virtual office hours can promote internal collaboration among remote employees and their bosses. As a manager, designate a half-hour slot once or twice a week when you’ll be available via video conferencing. Publicize these meetings and encourage remote employees to drop in with questions.
4. Capitalize on community
Making yourself available for virtual office hours shows your remote employees that your “door” is always open. Sometimes, though, questions and issues arise that can’t wait until your scheduled office hours. And sometimes, you simply aren’t available.
Apps like Slack offer a forum where employees and management can interact in real-time. Slack allows you to set up message boards, or channels, organized by topics or teams. When employees need answers and you’re not available, they can post questions for colleagues and other managers to answer.
In addition to message boards, communication apps like Slack allow direct messaging and voice and video calling. As a manager, you can also send updates and announcements to your team in real-time.
5. Host casual virtual meets or hangouts
Employees develop a stronger connection and commitment to their workplace when they interact regularly with their bosses and colleagues. However, these interactions need not—and should not—be all business.
In addition to more formal business meetings, consider using video conferencing software for more informal hangouts.
If you utilize Slack, also consider adding more personal and informal channels. These might include a “random” or “watercooler” channel to encourage appropriate office banter. Channels devoted to employees’ interests, like sports and cooking, can also promote conversation.
6. Check in regularly
Schedule or encourage employees to sign up for periodic reviews. These one-on-one meetings allow you to recognize an employee’s achievements and highlight areas for growth. They also allow your employees to ask questions and raise concerns in a private and personal setting.
7. Publicly Recognise Success
One-on-one reviews let you express your own gratitude for an employee’s efforts. However, public praise can be even more effective.
Consider sponsoring an employee of the week program. Clearly define the criteria for recognition. Offer employees who are selected a small incentive. Also, consider featuring them in a weekly email.
When you highlight exceptional employees, you’re using their successes to motivate others. You’re also helping your employees get to know each other and giving them the chance to share their expertise.
8. Promote overall well-being
A big part of feeling like we belong is feeling like we matter not just as employees but as people. Show your employees you care about them as people by encouraging them to take care of themselves. Make self-care a priority and a topic of conversation.
If you use Slack for internal communication, consider setting up a self-care channel. Also consider sponsoring wellness challenges and incentives.
9. Welcome new employees
You’ve taken steps to build engagement among your existing employees. What happens, though, when you add new hires? How do you introduce them to the company culture? And how do you integrate them into the company community?
The onboarding process is even more important for newly hired remote employees. It starts with finding the best talent and making your company accessible to them.
In fact, companies that are open to remote interviewing and hiring can attract a broader range of talent. My company, Bubblegum Casting, experienced these benefits first-hand when we decided to offer the ability to work remotely on several of our open roles.
Our decision to interview remotely proved to be a wise one and we were inundated with applications from some incredibly talented people. It was such a success that we even introduced the concept to our clients who now audition talents remotely.
You see, when your company appeals to remote workers, your base of potential employees is unlimited by geographic considerations.
If you’re hiring and hoping to tap into this base, make sure that your job listings include the steps you’ve taken to make remote workers feel at home. (Hint: If you’ve implemented the steps above with your existing workers, highlight those in your job listings!)
After hiring new employees who will be working remotely, be sure that the orientation process introduces them to the available resources. Apps like Slack and casual Google Hangouts do little to promote community if your new employees aren’t aware of them.
And that is all there is to it. Once you stay on top of things and continue to engage with your remote workers on a personal level, you may even find that they become some of your most valuable assets.