There’s no denying the workforce is changing.
Hiring remote employees is becoming more commonplace as technology advances and lifestyle demands require more remote availability.
In fact, 16% of global companies are fully remote, according to the most recent Global State of Remote Work report. That means no headquarters, no offices. Internationally, 40% of global companies use a hybrid model.
With the new trend comes challenges, of course.
While most remote employees would not return to an office job, many express feelings of disconnect from their team due to working outside the office. As an employer managing a virtual team, it’s important to address these issues head on to keep employees engaged.
This post will explore how to keep remote employees engaged with their teammates while also increasing satisfaction and productivity.
The Challenges Remote Employees Face
While working in pajamas alone at home sounds like a dream, it can also be a really lonely realization for employees doing it full-time. With the flexibility and convenience of remote work come unique challenges, especially for the employees themselves.
And while most remote employees don't plan on returning to the office anytime soon, it can still have personal and professional disadvantages. Loneliness is only one of the pain points.
A few of the issues remote employees deal with:
- May feel disassociated from the team
- Often left out of the information loop
- Not as invested in company culture
- No opportunity to spontaneously brainstorm
Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of working remotely is communication issues. This is especially true of unplanned technological glitches or different time zones that cause workers to miss out on group discussions. By addressing those issues immediately, it can ease an employee’s concerns and improve their work product as a result.
Why Engaging Remote Employees Matters
Employees who are out of sight should not be out of mind.
As work settings shift into a more remote-based style, it’s important for employers to realize engagement will matter more than ever.
Smaller businesses in particular are twice as likely to manage remote teams. But no matter what size your business or remote team, engagement is key to success — as a team and company.
Engaged employees are usually happy employees who stay with their companies longer. It’s expensive to lose and replace employees, especially if it happens often. Greater employee satisfaction leads to a better work product, more creativity, and the tendency to “go the extra mile” for the company.
Setting employees up to work better as a team helps them feel more engaged, which also advances the company’s overall work culture. This means giving them extra tools to be more efficient as remote workers and proving you’re willing to invest in them even if they aren't in an office.
By reminding them they’re a valued part of the team, they’ll generally return the respect by doing their best work.
Steps You Can Take to Engage Remote Employees
From apps to face-to-face meetings, there are many ways to build connections within virtual and remote teams. Regular communication in particular helps develop a sense of community and teamwork.
Here’s a look at a few ways to engage:
Gather Around Your Computer Screens
Schedule regular online meetings to foster personal connections. Video meetings in particular can help remote team members get to know each other. Pick your favorite video conferencing tool (Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) and use it weekly, if not daily.
How to do it:
- Pair team members for 15-minute get-to-know-you chats
- Set up one-on-ones with other team members for new hires
- Schedule team meetings to review projects, goals, and brainstorm together
Utilize Instant Message Apps
Keep in touch throughout the day, but be aware of the distraction opportunity here, too. Use messaging apps like Slack and HipChat to keep everyone connected, especially around deadline times. Conversation would flow naturally in a normal office setting, so let it happen on the web, too.
How to do it:
- Ask people first if they have a moment to “chat”
- For important periods of focused work, set away message up
- Encourage fun & social communications as well as work
Recognize Remote Employees’ Accomplishments
Just as you would in a regular office setting, make sure to praise and publicly acknowledge a job well done. Don’t let the workers feel their impressive work will be “out of sight, out of mind.” Otherwise, they may not keep up the great work.
How to do it:
- Send weekly group emails with specific shout-outs
- Praise individual employees on group calls or video chats
- Thank hard-working employees in private discussions, too
Schedule Real Face-to-Face Time
Bring remote employees to the office periodically, if you can. There’s nothing like sitting across from a real person and having a warm conversation. If your company is a 100% virtual environment, it’s a little more challenging, but not impossible.
How to do it:
- If the entire team is remote, consider an annual gathering
- Select conferences to attend in cities where most workers live
- Fly the team out for a leisure trip after meeting annual goals
One of the best and main benefits of working remotely is flexibility. So, unless specified, don't expect a 9-to-5 employee. Many workers have families, hobbies, health appointments, and other obligations. As long as the work gets done, don’t be strict with hours.
How to do it:
- Set expectations upfront for “required” desk hours
- Watch for productivity via outputs, not hours at a desk
- Don’t message employees every hour to check on them
Create a Respectful Work Environment
Remind employees to honor time zone differences when planning meetings or communicating. It can be challenging to do so if employees are spread from coast to coast, but a 3 a.m. conference call isn’t going to benefit anyone. Additionally, ensure remote employees are not over-working in ways that can lead to poor performance, dissatisfaction, and possibly burnout.
How to do it:
- Check-in with employees to see how they’re doing
- Ask for regular employee feedback on business operations
- Create a meeting schedule that benefits most of your team
Start Engaging Remote Teams Sooner Rather Than Later
Remote teams have certain advantages in that they may be less expensive and provide access to a larger talent pool.
To keep them around as your virtual team, you’ll have to keep up with trends and positive engagement opportunities. By having a better understanding of your remote employees’ struggles, it can help you empathize and take steps to keep them better engaged.
As the above list shows, it can be as simple as utilizing useful, technology applications.
Build-in regular, clear communication efforts with your remote team. Let them feel confident in the fact that they can address concerns without losing their “non-office” jobs.
Remote work can be quite rewarding — for employees and employers —as long as the team is set up with ongoing support to succeed.
What techniques have worked best for your company in managing your virtual team?