Remote employee engagement is how your company meets the needs of remote workers so you can attract and retain the best candidates and get the best work from them. Engaging remote employees requires more attention, better nurturing, and increased response time as compared to in-office employees.
Remote work is the new norm, with one survey finding 65% of workers would take a pay cut to work remotely forever. Consider these essential elements to keep your remote employees engaged.
1. Be Proactive About Setting Up New Hire Systems
Every new hire needs some time to get used to the systems you use. Remote employees will need to have their equipment sent to them. Don’t make them download, set up, and log in to all of their new systems. Set their computer up for them so they can simply turn it on and be ready to go on Day One.
Logistically, make sure their computer arrives before their first day. You don’t want a new hire starting their new job without their work computer. Many small businesses have remote employees who use their own computers. While this can save your company money, we don’t recommend this approach. When you choose the computer, you ensure it meets your minimum requirements to use the software necessary for the employee to do the job. It also makes it easier for your tech team to troubleshoot issues.
2. Have a Proper Onboarding Process in Place
Effective employee management begins with the onboarding experience. To ensure your new remote employees have a smooth first day and week, they need to have a stellar onboarding experience. That all starts with making sure they have the equipment they need to do the job—and that’s why system setup comes before the new hire’s onboarding.
Onboarding should include, at a minimum:
- Discussion of company policies
- Discussion of the employee’s goals and responsibilities
- Login credentials
- How to access documentation
- How to interact with team members and other departments
- Clear training on processes and technology
During the initial onboarding, new hires should receive individualized attention and spend a good amount of time with their direct supervisor. This gives your new employee support when working remotely as their manager can provide them with additional training and communication.
3. Foster Connection Through Technology
Even though many employees want to work remotely, doing so creates feelings of isolation and detachment, especially if other colleagues are in the office. Remote work makes it more difficult to collaborate and maintain company culture, making your people management skills even more important. You can effectively combat this by utilizing software meant to help employees stay connected.
You should not simply replace in-person meetings with virtual ones but really foster connections between colleagues. You can do this in several ways:
- Use instant messaging software to communicate quickly with other team members
- Save files to the cloud instead of a desktop so all team members can access them
- Create a company newsletter that highlights an employee each week
- Celebrate personal achievements like buying a house or having a baby
- Have weekly 20-minute virtual coffee breaks with employees on different teams
- Conduct weekly check-ins between managers and employees
Building a connection between remote team members encourages a shared understanding of their mission among all employees. From individual goals to team goals to overall company goals, this shared understanding clarifies purpose and leads to team development. As happens in a traditional office setting, these discussions can connect employees across the globe, engaging them in their work.
4. Be Social
Being social doesn’t mean just having virtual happy hours. Mix it up with games, celebrations, and laughter. An online scavenger hunt can be a great team exercise that lets colleagues bond with each other. If you have people in the office, find a way to include remote workers by sending them a pre-made drink kit for afternoon events, doughnuts for morning meetings, and lunch for midday gatherings.
Keep in mind that not every interaction (social or otherwise) needs to be on video, which can place extra strain on the brain. Research shows that video calls require longer and more intense focus because you’re only seeing other faces. Chat programs can be a great way to celebrate milestones and engage in “get-to-know-you” discussions and conversations.
5. Anticipate Their Expenses—And Cover Them
Employees who work from home may need upgrades beyond their computer setup. They may need a new desk, chair, or even internet upgrades. If your company covers the costs, this could be an incentive for employees to join your organization.
Getting an employee a new desk they can use to either sit or stand helps promote their well-being. Giving them a monthly stipend to cover increased internet speeds will show them you’re investing in them and their future with your company. Although paying for these items for each new employee will be an expense for your company, when employees see that you’re investing in them and ensuring that it doesn’t cost them anything to work for you, that goes a long way toward ensuring that they are engaged and productive.
6. Hear Their Feedback
Managing employees requires not just directing them, but also listening. Whether it’s about their manager, an HR issue, or the remote work experience itself, employees who are heard and see action are more engaged. This can present extra challenges for remote employees who aren’t always able to get the ear of their manager or don’t feel comfortable expressing their concerns.
If you have the right software in place, you can simply ask what they need. Whether you do this through an anonymous survey or during performance reviews (or both), getting employee feedback is crucial to their engagement but only if you keep them in the loop. If an employee expresses a concern and then hears nothing back from you, good or bad, they feel like they’re talking into a void and will stop sharing.
7. Encourage Your Remote Employees to Set Boundaries
Working remotely may sound like utopia, but it requires strict boundaries. If you’re watching TV with your family in the same room where your work computer sits, your brain might never turn off. Some companies might see that as a way to get more out of their employees, but research shows that employees who can’t unplug are less engaged, less productive, and more prone to burnout. An Indeed study in 2021 found that remote workers are more likely than in-office workers to feel burnout has worsened in recent years.
If your organization does not promote these boundaries and encourage employees to disconnect, then you may end up with a toxic environment. This helps no one. When employees are burned out, they’re more likely to be less engaged at work and look for another job. Many burned out workers will go work for another company that prioritizes their mental health and well-being. By encouraging boundaries and encouraging employees to clock out and shut down at the end of the day, you not only get a better work product but you get more engaged and loyal workers.
8. Fix Technical Issues Fast
When employees are in the office and the internet goes out or a computer stops working correctly, your tech team can come help right away. Remote work makes these challenges more difficult to overcome.
To meet these challenges, you’ll need to have a tech team that’s well-trained to troubleshoot issues remotely, which is why you should provide company computers to your remote workers. Employees expect you to fix their computer problems so they can return to work instead of wasting time trying to figure out what’s wrong. Having a strong IT presence will keep your remote workers focused on their work, avoiding unnecessary distractions and ultimately keeping them engaged.
9. Centralize Information
When a new employee starts, they’re going to have lots of questions. They’re also going to ask more questions as time goes on. When your company has a central location or database of information, your employees can access answers to their questions without interrupting others.
For example, if an employee wants to know how many hours of paid time off (PTO) they get per year, they can reference your company handbook that’s posted on your internal website. If they want to see their most recent pay stub, they can log in to your payroll resource center and view their confidential information. Making this information easy to access is key to making sure your remote employees feel like a part of the team and empowered to answer their own questions.
10. Allow Flexibility
Just like some people work better in an office than at home, some employees are more productive at different times of the day. If your business situation allows for it, give remote employees the flexibility to get their work done when they are most productive. As long as they are meeting their goals, communicating with colleagues, and making themselves available for team meetings, it shouldn’t matter when an employee works.
The flexibility you provide your employees also shows them the level of trust you place in them. That alone goes a long way to engaging your team. It also supports your business through increased productivity. By allowing employees to choose when they work, you get a full day’s productivity from your workforce instead of paying them to work 9-5, when many may be unproductive and not as effective.
Giving this flexibility is not without its challenges. Your managers must be trained on how to effectively manage dispersed teams and how to stay on top of productivity without micromanaging. The best way to understand what your remote workers need is to ask them.
Whether your small business has had remote employees for many years or you’ve recently moved to allow remote workers, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of ignoring your remote team. Engaging every employee is key to keeping them motivated, happy, and productive, but it can be especially true of remote workers, who often feel isolated. Fortunately, you can take steps to combat that and keep your remote employees engaged. It is hard work, but well worth the effort.