Employee engagement has long been a priority (and a struggle) for organizations. But with the rise of remote work, it has taken on a whole new level of complexity. Many companies find themselves struggling to effectively engage their remote employees, often resorting to superficial tactics. True employee engagement goes beyond gimmicks and “check-the-box” measures. It is rooted in work fulfillment, feeling valued, having a supportive boss and team, and much more. In this blog, we’ll explore the challenges of employee engagement and how to actually engage remote employees.
Challenges of Engaging Remote Employees
Engaging the workforce is difficult, even if you all work in an office. We believe that’s largely due to:
- Not understanding your workforce and what motivates them.
- A lack of communication equitably across employee groups (e.g. managers get more communication than non-managers, or frontline workers have fewer channels than deskbound workers).
- In some cases, apathy about the employee experience and making it more positive.
That’s why Gallup research has found that engagement rates have been low both in the US and globally. In 2020, 36% of workers were engaged at work. That dropped to 34% in 2021 and dipped to 32% in 2022. We really need to turn things around!
But engaging remote employees comes with its own set of challenges.
Without the physical presence and in-person interactions, remote workers may feel disconnected and isolated from the company culture and their colleagues. The lack of face-to-face communication can also lead to miscommunication or misunderstandings. Additionally, time zone differences and varying work schedules can hinder real-time collaboration and engagement efforts.
Recognizing these challenges is crucial in developing effective strategies to engage remote employees and foster a sense of belonging.
Why Remote Employee Engagement Should be a Priority
Making remote employee engagement a priority is not just a matter of employee satisfaction; it directly impacts the overall success of your business.
Engaged employees, whether remote or in-office, are more productive, motivated, and committed to their work. They have a higher sense of loyalty towards the company and are more likely to stay with the organization in the long run.
Engaging remote employees also promotes a positive work culture, enhances team collaboration, and improves overall employee wellbeing.
If you want to improve productivity, create a better customer experience, and unlock the full potential of your workforce, you have to start with engagement.
How to Engage Remote Employees: Dos and Don’ts
Ever hear about companies putting ball pits and beer fridges in their offices to boost employee engagement? I’m sure you’ve seen these kinds of tactics before, or at least heard of them. Did they make you wonder: how does this actually make someone want to work harder? Or stay at the company longer?
It should give you pause that so many companies think of making work more “fun” rather than more fulfilling. More safe. Or more fair.
So, let’s break down what strategies don’t engage remote employees and what you can do instead.
Engagement Strategies that Don’t Really Work
When it comes to engaging remote employees, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of ineffective strategies. Superficial gestures or one-size-fits-all approaches often fall short in creating meaningful engagement.
Tactics like virtual happy hours, swag giveaways, or casual chats, while well-intentioned, may not address the deeper needs and challenges faced by remote employees. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t give your remote teams swag and connect your distributed workforce with formal and informal virtual meetings.
But if you want to really improve engagement, you have to understand the deeper psychology behind why employees might not be very engaged and motivated at work.
This often is rooted in not feeling valued, not understanding the purpose of one’s work, and feeling irreplaceable. It’s hard to give your all everyday or feel a sense of loyalty if you think your job is pointless, if you feel underpaid, and if you have a toxic work relationship that doesn’t let you bring your full self to work.
That’s why your engagement initiatives should focus on strategies that foster genuine connection, provide opportunities for growth and recognition, and promote work-life integration.
How to Actually Engage Your Remote Employees
DON’T invest heavily in virtual happy hours or team bonding events. Instead, focus on the root causes of poor collaboration, isolation, or bad teamwork within each team. Why aren’t remote employees feeling as connected? Perhaps you need better internal communication tools. Maybe they need a leader who is more invested in bringing employees together virtually to brainstorm. Find the smoking gun, and invest in a work-related strategy to fix it.
DON’T force employees to participate in “fun” team-bonding activities. While it can be great to foster teamwork skills in a fun way (e.g. virtual escape rooms), you immediately turn it into a disengagement driver by making it mandatory. Instead, create a variety of ways that employees can focus on team-building, collaboration, and learning new skills. Microlearning content, mentorships, and casual one-on-one coffees can be better ways that appeal to more people.
DON’T create a recognition program that either can’t be sustained or just checks the box. Too often, the way companies recognize employees at scale becomes very redundant. Or the people being recognized all come from the same circles. This comes from a “check-the-box” mentality where the company is trying to recognize people for recognition’s sake. But recognition is for your employees. Instead, invest in a variety of channels and means of recognition:
- Your managers should include recognition in their talking points to start off and/or end a week.
- The CEO should recognize departments for contributions towards your business objectives at every town hall and every month through your internal comms channels.
- Peers should be able to nominate colleagues for awards.
- The HR team should invest energy in finding new people to recognize for individual contributions.
Launching Engagement Campaigns for Remote Workers
Engagement campaigns specifically designed for remote workers can provide a focused and tailored approach to fostering employee engagement.
So, how do you take engagement strategies and make them remote-inclusive? It’s simple. Make sure your remote teams have access to the right channels and that managers of remote teams have support.
If your managers don’t know the first thing about managing a remote team, you have to train them. You have to give them a framework for how to evaluate performance and lead their team.
And if your remote employees don’t have access to channels where recognition, learning and development resources, and critical information is housed, then you miss the chance to engage them.
Build your foundation before you build your campaigns. It’s that simple.
About the Author
Sydney Lauro is the Demand Generation Manager for theEMPLOYEEapp. Prior to joining the team at theEMPLOYEEapp, Sydney worked in internal communications for Chipotle Mexican Grill. She uses her internal comms expertise and passion for improving communication and the employee experience to create content and share best practices to help other communications professionals.
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