While remote workers and virtual teams are nothing new in the landscape of modern companies, the huge shift in the number of employees working remotely and the length of time they are doing so due to the Covid-19 pandemic is most definitely unprecedented in recent times. This has led to a long-overdue rethink in how we engage with remote employees and how this can lead to improved engagement and reduce the risk of burnout.
We’re going to look at 3 ways to ensure you keep your virtual teams engaged, invested, and productive, not just during these unprecedented times, but as we emerge from the lockdowns and embrace a greater understanding and appreciation for those engaged in work outside of the office.
To begin we need to understand the struggles faced when working from home. A study published in 2019 found that the biggest struggles faced during remote work were:
- Unplugging after work
- Home distractions
- Being in a different timezone to other employees
- Staying motivated
As we look at ways to keep your remote team engaged, combating these struggles will be at the forefront of most solutions.
Regular communication and collaboration are the major keys to engagement in the virtual office world. It takes very little time for an employee to feel unnoticed and unappreciated without regular communication. Managers should attempt to reach out daily to their remote employees in a variety of ways, not just to check in on work, but to check in on general well-being, and any company updates that would be beneficial. While doing this, there are a few important points to remember:
- Zoom meetings are not the be-all and end-all of communications
Having regular staff video conference meetings with an entire group does not equate to good daily communication. While they still have obvious importance, consider starting meetings with a more light-hearted approach, asking how their weekend was, if they have any trips planned. This is what you might do while people come into a physical meeting room, so make time for it in your remote meetings.
- Make time every day for some one-on-one personal communication
There are many ways to achieve this, whether it’s a quick check-in via text or other messaging apps, voicing appreciation for work on a particular project, organizing occasional video calls to discuss something that you may usually just email about. These check-ins will make the remote employee feel that they are being recognized, and also allow them to raise any issues or concerns they may have – communication should always be two-way, after all.
- Ensure that your employee knows what’s expected of them
Make sure that your employee is aware of your expectations of their remote work, and what that workday should look like. If an employee understands what’s expected of them, then they are more likely to meet those expectations. Depending on the tasks at hand, it may make more sense for an employee not to be available online for every hour they work, or it might be essential that they are. Communicate this clearly, and your employee will be able to do their job without concern that their virtual door may not always be open.
PROMOTE PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL COLLABORATION
Frequently hearing from a manager assists with a remote worker feeling appreciated and helps combat loneliness, but they should also feel a sense of collaboration with their team and the rest of the company. Again, this goes above and beyond regular Zoom meetings, so consider a few ideas:
- Happy Hours
Happy hours have been a way of company life for years, whether planned or impromptu, and can be great tools for morale and winding down after a day/week. They can still happen in the remote world, so think about scheduling a Friday afternoon happy hour, whether drinks, a trivia event, a virtual watch party, games night, etc – ask your employees what they would like, and this will increase the odds that the event will be a success.
- Encourage Group Side Projects
Business-related side projects have always been a successful way to promote innovation and improve cross-departmental collaboration, but adding these to the remote worker’s schedule promotes alliances with other employees, and promotes remote teamwork.
INSIST ON A HEALTHY WORK/LIFE BALANCE
Of the common struggles listed above, half of them are linked to the difficulty of the work/life balance, and doing the right thing as a company can go a long way to alleviating these struggles. Understanding the key reason for this imbalance is crucial – their home is now their workplace, and they can’t escape it. No matter how much an employee loves their job, they will almost always love escaping to their home life. The remote employee, however, lives in their office building.
Communicate to your team that you expect their computer to be shut down from the end of the workday until the start of the next one – never has there been a more important time to give your employees their personal time. Help with this process by doing the same yourself – try to reduce any out-of-hours email or communication that will distract your employee from their home life.
- End the week
Close your week with a wrap-up meeting where you go through the week’s accomplishments, adding praise for good work, and wishing your team a great weekend, without talk of Monday’s tasks – that’s what Mondays are for!
- Get outside
Encourage your employees to get outside – as much as we all hate the commute, it was something that got us outside even if for just 15 minutes, or even longer if we got out on a lunch break. Remote workers have less opportunity to get outside, so encourage it whenever possible – if you’ve just had a 2-hour team meeting, give everyone 20 minutes to wind down, get outside, get some fresh air.
One thing never to forget is to simply ask your employees how engagement could be improved for them. Remote workers have a lot of alone time no matter how well you’re doing the right thing to keep them engaged, and often in those times of solitude they know best what they would change to improve the remote work life they’re now leading. Ask, listen, and act on their requests whenever possible, and you’ll find that the virtual world we continue to inherit more and more could actually be of great benefit not just to your employees, but to your company too.
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