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Remote work is more popular than ever and will only continue to grow as more companies and employees realize the advantages of virtual work.
Remote workers tend to be more productive, engaged, and happier and employers who hire remote teams can attract the best talent regardless of geography.
But that doesn't mean remote employee engagement should be an afterthought. Remote team members face a number of challenges when working from their home office and you need more than a few perks to keep remote staff engaged.
In this article, we'll cover how remote work impacts employee engagement and provide you with 15 strategies you can use to engage your remote team and ensure they are producing their best work.
1. Attract the right people
Your remote employee engagement program should start before you even hire someone. If you build a strong remote employer brand online that attracts the right candidates to work with you, it'll be far easier to have engaged employees.
Make sure your online presence shows you're trustworthy, clearly articulates your company culture, and helps potential candidates assess whether they'd be a good fit. There's nothing worse for you or an employee than hiring someone only for them to find out that your company isn't right for them.
Some remote companies are totally asynchronous and hire employees all around the world in different time zones. Others work together in real-time from home. The type of people who thrive in an asynchronous environment probably aren't going to enjoy specified working hours.
It's also important to outline the values that drive your company culture. Work is no longer just work, people want to work at companies that align with their personal values.
Not only that, every company values different remote work skills in varying importance. Be open about who you're looking for.
Finally, be transparent about your tech stack. Remote team members aren't sitting next to each other, so it's often easier for people to work at companies that leverage a familiar tech stack.
Read our in-depth guide on how to attract remote employees for more tips.
2. Focus your hiring process on candidates who will be happy in a remote workforce
Remote working isn't for everyone. Some people love working from the office on a daily basis and struggle to stay engaged when working from home. Hiring the right people is foundational to any employee engagement program.
That's why we recommend hiring managers and HR professionals focus the hiring process on finding candidates who have the characteristics of successful remote workers. This doesn't mean they have to have worked remotely in the past. Candidates who have a background in freelancing, contracting, or startups tend to fare well and anyone can learn to work remotely if they want to. Don't believe the lie that not everyone can handle remote work.
Most candidates will have spent some time working outside the office during the pandemic. Ask them about how they managed. Look for candidates who talk about how they enjoyed the autonomy and chance to solve problems on their own. Ask about the challenges they faced and how they adjusted.
You're looking for candidates who can provide thoughtful, specific answers. Those who enjoy remote work tend to be structured thinkers who plan ahead. Given how important written communication is, we recommend having a written assignment as part of the interview process.
Read our in-depth guide on how to hire remote employees for more tips.
3. Onboard new employees well
Now that you know the best practices for attracting and hiring remote employees, it's time to think through onboarding. Onboarding new remote employees well drives employee engagement over the long term. First impressions really matter, studies show that 90% of employees make the decision to stick around long-term within the first six months.
Onboarding is an investment in the long-term success and engagement of a new hire and will set them up to do great work. We recommend assigning new team members a buddy who is ready, willing, and excited to assist in the onboarding process.
The first, and most important thing, a buddy should do is schedule a virtual meeting with the new team member. This could be via video conferencing, chat, or even a phone call. The goal is for the buddy to introduce themselves, make the person feel included and part of the team, and answer any questions they have.
You'll also want to make sure they get their laptop and access to the right tools as soon as possible. Ideally, you'll ship any equipment and set up their accounts ahead of time. Don't forget to invite them to any recurring team meetings, virtual happy hours, virtual coffee breaks, and remote collaboration tools your team has.
Finally, set clear expectations around how your team works, what their roles and responsibilities are, and how their work fits into the overall mission. Having a clear set of responsibilities and outcomes helps new employees prioritize and sequence work and drives engagement.
If you have an employee handbook or remote work policies give them access on their first day. It's also important to be clear that they should prioritize work-life balance. Overworking is a common issue for remote workers.
Read our in-depth guide on remote onboarding for more.
4. Encourage work-life balance
According to Buffer's State of Remote Work report, not being able to unplug is the biggest challenge remote employees face. While a flexible schedule and no commute saves time and money, it also means remote staff have no separation between work and life.
As HR professionals, we need to educate managers about the importance of work-life balance for employee engagement. Some remote companies, such as Bolt, Basecamp, and Treehouse, have even gone as far as implementing a 32-hour workweek in an effort to give employees time to unwind.
Bolt CEO, Ryan Breslow, says the four-day workweek has increased intensity as engaged employees "feel confident going ALL IN on those four days."
5. Let people work when it works for them
When we talk to remote workers, one of the most popular reasons to work remotely is to be able to set your own schedule. You're already letting them work from home, so it's not a massive leap to allow them to set their own schedule.
This becomes particularly important if you're operating across multiple time zones. There's likely going to have to be some leeway on both sides if you work in a semi-synchronous fashion, such as for important team meetings, but if you want to maximize employee engagement let them decide when to work.
Rather than trying to bring the office to the remote environment, it's better to embrace remote working by giving people control over their time which results in happier and more engaged employees.
6. Build a strong employee community
Another common issue for remote workers is loneliness. Hell might be other people, but isolation sure isn't heaven. Even the most introverted people benefit from social interaction from time to time.
At the same time, we recommend not forcing people to engage in social activities if they don't want to. Virtual coffee breaks and social video conferencing are great if you enjoy catching up with colleagues, but their nightmarish if they're forced on people who find socializing over video painful. Forcing social interaction at work only leads to less engaged employees, some people just want to switch off from work entirely.
That's the beauty of a remote environment, employees can choose to opt into experiences that are typically forced at co-located companies. They can be as high-touch or low-touch as they wish.
Investing in the right tools can have a huge impact on productivity
7. Invest in your team
This could come in the form of a learning and development budget, co-working or home office stipend, or a company retreat. The best way to understand what is important to your employees is to ask them.
For example, some employees might find working from home distracting. Whether it's their partner distracting them, a delivery person needing a signature, or their young kids wanting to play with them–home can be distracting.
These employees could benefit from a co-working space stipend that gives them the option to go work out of a co-working space if home is too distracting.
While another employee might want to take a course to upskill on TypeScript or to improve their SEO skills. We recommend allowing employees to expense courses that aren't directly related to their job. It's a simple way to drive engagement and you never know if a new skill will help the company.
As a rule of thumb, the more flexible you can be with benefits, the better as different people value different things.
8. Be time zone conscious and don't make meetings compulsory
There's no better way to cause a remote employee to resent a company than to schedule compulsory calls at odd hours. Just because it's a good time for you doesn't mean it's a good time for everyone.
Better yet, assume that employees aren't able to attend and make meeting attendance optional. Synchronous meetings are impractical, burdensome, and inefficient.
Aim to record all meetings, particularly if key individuals are unable to join live. This allows team members to catch up and stop fearing that they're missing out by not being there.
9. Recognize remote employee accomplishments
Just because someone is working remotely doesn't mean you shouldn't recognize the great work they do. Lack of recognition is the third biggest reason people say they are or would consider leaving their jobs and 82 percent of employees wish they received more recognition for their work.
Employee recognition and rewards are an important part of employee engagement and even more important when workers are geographically distant.
One way to do this is to have a #thanks channel like GitLab where team members can celebrate special moments that exemplify the behavior they want to see in all GitLab team members. They even allow team members to nominate their colleagues for a discretionary $1,000 bonus.
10. Check in regularly
Regular check-ins with your employees are a must when working remotely. These typically come in the form of one-on-one between a manager and their direct report.
The primary purpose of one-on-ones is mutual teaching and information exchange. Managers teach direct reports their skills, know-how, and suggest ways to approach problems while the direct report provides information about what they're working on and their concerns.
Most importantly, one-on-ones are the direct report's meetings, not the managers. It's up to employees to decide what to talk about.
Some remote employees may prefer ad-hoc one-on-ones or office hours that they can choose to attend if they have any questions or want to catch up. Again, we recommend talking to each employee to see what will work for them. Employee engagement depends on letting people do what they want to do, rather than forcing processes on people.
If you want to learn more, read our guide on remote one-on-ones.
To get a high-level view of how the company is feeling, we'd recommend sending out employee engagement surveys. Employee engagement surveys help you collect feedback regularly, which can boost morale, improve engagement, and increase staff retention.
11. Avoid unnecessary meetings
Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows how draining meetings can be. A common mistake newly remote managers make is trying to overcompensate for the inability to physically see workers by scheduling more meetings. While meetings can bring the team together, improve knowledge sharing, and drive decision-making, they also break up the workday and make it harder to find flow.
Research shows it takes 20+ minutes to resume deep concentration after an interruption. The best remote companies encourage asynchronous communication and rely on writing things down to facilitate work. This not only helps with time zone issues but reduces the feeling that people will miss out if they are unable to attend.
If you do need to call a meeting, you must have an agenda. If a meeting doesn't have an agenda, it shouldn't be called. Force people to think through what they want to discuss ahead of time and only call meetings as a last resort.
Watch the video below to learn more about how to run effective meetings:
12. Create a space for people to socialize and break up the day
Working in an office is filled with impromptu moments that break up your day. Many of them are unwanted distractions. Others like grabbing lunch with a colleague or cracking a joke are great ways to break up the monotony of work.
Create a virtual space for employees to come together to chat, whether that be on video or via text, and encourage its use. Treat social interaction as an important part of getting the job done because it is. This could be as simple as a #watercooler channel in slack or social groups focused on specific activities like a book club, gaming group, or anything in between.
Again, don't make the mistake of forcing people to join these initiatives. Forced interaction does not build employee engagement.
13. Establish and build trust
Trust is a two-way street: managers need to trust employees to get the job done and employees need to trust that managers have their best interest at heart.
Managers need to be able to manage without micromanaging every piece of an employee's work and employees need to be able to communicate the progress they're making and any roadblocks they've hit.
Communication issues are abundant in an office environment and only compounded when working remotely. As Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say in REMOTE: Office Not Required:
When the bulk of your communication happens via email and the like, it doesn't take much for bad blood to develop unless everyone is making their best effort to the contrary. Small misunderstandings that could have been nipped in the bud with the wink of an eye or a certain tone of voice can quickly snowball into drama.
Teach employees how to over-communicate, emphasize that you trust them to do their job, and promote employees who default to action and exemplify your company values.
Most importantly, default to transparency. Giving remote team members access to as much as possible means they can find information and get unblocked without having to wait for your input.
14. Focus on output not hours worked
Instead of counting the hours worked, judge employee success by the results they produce. It's an unfortunate reality that efficiency often goes unrewarded in the workplace.
Counting hours is a remnant of the industrial age where hours in equaled more output, but hours make no sense for knowledge workers. Their contribution should be measured by the value they create by applying their ideas and skills.
After all, they can put in the required "face time" when working remotely while watching YouTube. Remote workers have no one looking over their shoulder so you can't truly know how much they're working anyway!
Remote employee engagement is built on trust and flexibility, not hours spent in front of a screen.
15. Be aware and supportive of cultural differences
If your employees are spread out across the world, they'll likely come from different cultural backgrounds and speak a number of languages natively. This diversity leads to better products, new markets, and expanding how your company sees the world. But it also has its challenges.
The obvious challenge is varying levels of language proficiency, but there are also subtle cultural differences. The way people expect to work tends to be shaped by where they grew up, so make sure to clearly communicate how your company works and the things you value.
Be aware that people could be speaking their second language. Misunderstanding will happen, so do your best to write and speak clearly with simple words. Bias communication to the written form or recorded video. This gives people a chance to re-read or re-watch things that they missed and look up any words they're not familiar with.
Hire your next remote employee with Himalayas
Whether you already support flexible work arrangements at your company, or are just starting to think about how you can begin to support remote work, if you've read this far there's a good chance that you're looking to hire remote employees and we'd love to help.
Himalayas is the best place to find and hire remote talent. We’re focused on providing job seekers with an experience that has great UX, focused on speed and efficiency so your job can be found by the right people fast. You can also specify time zone or visa requirements so only candidates you care about apply.
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