20 proven ways to improve remote employee engagement

Shyam Sundar Nagarajan, Founder and CEO of GoFloaters says communication, feedback, and adapting to remote ways of working will be critical for the smooth functioning of businesses and employee engagement.
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Employee engagement refers to the emotional involvement the employee has towards the company and its goals. Engaged employees care for the company; they’re not simply working for salary and promotions. Employee engagement has become the topic of importance for leaders and CHROs now as they are seeing repercussions of low employee engagement.

A Microsoft study revealed that more than 40 percent of employees were looking for a job change in 2021. In my current profile, I have worked with 100s of small to mid-sized organisations across India in helping them embrace hybrid remote working.

We have spoken to over 300 CXOs and CHROs in the last six months. One leader remarked that employee retention has become a big challenge. Engaged, happy, and healthy employees have a direct correlation to better outcomes for the company.

Having a physical office made things easier for employee engagement. Casual conversations, workplace friends, activities that you do together at work, the coffee breaks, the team lunches, and the water cooler interactions all lead to better employee engagement. With these all gone, and with remote working now in place, CHROs and leaders have to come up with newer and more innovative ways of keeping employees engaged.

Why is employee engagement so important?

“Employee engagement is the art and science of engaging people in authentic and recognized connections to strategy, roles, performance, organization, community, relationship, customers, development, energy, and happiness to leverage, sustain, and transform work into results.”

-- David Zinger, employee engagement speaker, educator, and community builder

Multiple pieces of research have proven that employee engagement affects the following aspects of a business.

  • Increased Retention and Low Turnover Rate – In 2017, Gallup found that in high-turnover organisations (those with more than 40 percent annualised turnover), one could reduce turnover by 24 percent by having highly engaged employees
  • Productivity – Gallup research also found that workers in the top quartile of employee engagement were 21 percent more productive and 22 percent more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.
  • Absenteeism – Happy employees are intrinsically motivated to work and hence do not escape by taking excessive leaves.
  • Improved Service and Results – More the number of dedicated employees, superior are the results.

20 employee engagement ideas that you can try in your remote team

Here are some employee engagement ideas that you can run with remote workers to keep everyone connected and motivated

1) Fix your onboarding

The onboarding of new hires has been recognised as a big challenge by many of the CHROs we spoke to. To make onboarding easier, these are some of the strategies they are putting in place:

  • Documenting and digitising all the processes, forms, and company-specific information (such as employee handbooks, employee directories).
  • Creating a clear onboarding plan with check-ins at appropriate milestones like 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days plan.
  • Scheduling orientation sessions for remote hires and walking them through what it is to work from remote for your company has proven to be beneficial.
  • Scheduling video calls with fellow team members and making informal introductions as part of the onboarding process has helped.
  • One team that we work with has been meeting once a month where they bring all their new hires in to meet the leadership team.

2) Host all-hands meetings and AMAs

Having a virtual all-hands meeting for announcing important decisions, sharing updates, and celebrating milestones have proven to be useful. Many companies have also set up AMA sessions with leadership teams to break the barriers of communication and to clear a transparent environment.

3) Fun activities together

Companies are experimenting with innovative ideas of inducing fun into remote work. One company that we work with recently conducted a virtual baking class for their employees. Another large IT MNC hosted a live music concert on their internal social network. Companies are also installing Slack add-ons that help employees play games like Pictionary or run trivia quizzes with their teammates.

4) Virtually co-work

Office meant that you had the companionship of your team members who were just a tap away from a question or for sharing interesting information. Remote work has taken that away from us. A new category of software is emerging that delivers the experience of working together virtually.

You can give free apps like HeyTilo, a simple virtual coworking app that lets to have common music playing, jump into audio conversations and chat with your team, or other apps like Dive or Gather a try with your team. All of them come with a generous free tier for you to play around with.

5) Offer work near home options

As per a report by Buffer, 19 percent of the remote employees find loneliness as their biggest obstacle. Loneliness and mental health have become pandemics induced by COVID.

Let your employees take a break from work from home routine, and step out to a nearby workspace to work and socialise. Women are more stressed-out than men and need the break more importantly.

6) Delight your employees in unexpected ways

Could your leaders be sending handwritten notes, flowers or a box of cookies to employees to appreciate their contribution? Absolutely yes. These small tokes can go a long way in making employees feel emotionally attached to their company.

Flipkart’s employee engagement and employee delight policies are something that are widely talked about. You can probably take a leaf out of their practices to delight your employees.

7) All in the family

Making the environment feel like family is something that startups have been able to do relatively easily. Now larger organisations are attempting to do the same. You might have read recent announcements from many companies including OYO, Volvo India, and Cognizant that they would bear the cost of COVID-19 vaccination for their employees. I see this as an employee engagement initiative and make them feel a part of a large family.

8) Clubs on common interests

You don’t want your employees to be thinking only about work. They have their interests, hobbies that you can support and encourage the same.

Organisations have created book clubs, movie clubs on their internal social networks to foster conversations beyond work, and create a sense of community within their organisations.

9) Virtual Open Mic Sessions

Everyone has some talents. Isn’t it? You might be surprised to find that people in your workforce are classically trained pianists, good at telling jokes or singers.

You could open your company all-hands meeting with opening acts ranging from musical performances to stand-up comedy from your employees like what Etsy and Zappos have done.

10) Hosting virtual competitions

In-person hackathons and innovation contests have shown to draw employees together and fight it out with a lot of zeal.

11) Communicate and listen to employees continuously

We have already talked about all-hands meetings and AMAs above. Keep constantly communicating with your employees on where the company is headed, celebrate milestones, and share updates through your internal social channels. Another important thing to do is to constantly listen to employees.

Everyone’s personal situation at home is different. Some may have elderly parents to take care of and some may have young children to manage. Listening to their challenges and offering personalised solutions will go a long way in keeping them engaged and emotionally connected.

12) Personal one-on-one meetings

As you can see, communication is an important foundation for keeping your employees engaged. Managers should have regular one-on-one meetings with their team members to understand challenges, provide feedback, set goals and expectations.

13) Employee recognition and rewards

For decades, companies have been doing this to motivate achievers and to encourage more employees to go the extra mile. It is no different with remote working.

Continue with your employee recognition programme if you have one or constitute one if you did not have one formally. You may want to tweak the criteria a little bit to make it more meaningful for your company’s current state of remote working. For one, you may want to increase the frequency of these recognitions.

14) Provide the right tools

With remote working, a lot of things that used to happen over conversations now have to be digitised. Tools like Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, Notion, Loom, and HeyTilo have all become indispensable for smooth communication, documentation, and interactions in a remote organisation. Choose the right tool that fits your need and ensure that your teams know about them and how to use them.

15) Team health challenges

Remote working not only affects our mental health but also physical health due to less activity. Including a few team health challenges can assure your team stays physically active and stress-free.

16) Ditch 9-5 mindsets

One thing is for sure that the traditional 9-5 is dead. Many managers and supervisors are yet to realise this new reality. Async is the mode of communication that works for remote working.

If managers continue to have the same responsiveness expectations from their employees, then you can expect only friction and attrition. Educating present mangers and new managers about how to recalibrate their expectations and their planning around flexible work timings is critical.

17) Group learning

Encourage your teams to take up online courses together. This will have a positive impact on their performance. This not only takes care of personal growth aspirations of the team member but also equips the team to work on innovative ideas using a newly acquired skill.

18) Knowledge sharing through virtual meetings

Being considered by your peer community as an expert in an area is a deeply gratifying and motivating feeling. So, by scheduling knowledge-sharing sessions on a regular basis, and by asking your team members to come forward and share their knowledge, is a great way to engage top performers.

In my organisation, we had weekly 20 min sessions where every team member will do a presentation on a new technology that they learned in the past month. This only motivated people to come forward and share knowledge but it also ensured that every team member was learning something new every month.

19) Encourage peer-to-peer feedback

It is not just the responsibility of the manager to be providing feedback. Every team member should be empowered to provide feedback to the management and their peers through a transparent process. Peer-to-peer feedback allows employees to take ownership and stay more focused.

20) Keep meetings short and to the point

Meeting fatigue is a real thing. All of us are spending more time in online meetings. One common complaint that surfaces is that meetings amble along with no agenda. This is a discipline that you need to bring to your organization.

Have your managers review every single meeting and ask them to be clear on the agenda, whether the time allocated can be reduced, and can the meetings be made less frequent.

Not every meeting needs to be done on a video call. Audio calls can accomplish as much. Sometimes you can accomplish the communication through audio or a video message.

In Summary

It is quite possible that many of your team members are working remotely for the first time. To add to this, it is also possible that many of your managers are managing a remote team for the first time. A lot of recalibrations and adjustments will have to be made to adapt your office-centric work methods to remote-first work methods.

Edited by Anju Narayanan

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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