Remote work is here to stay, with some 40 million Americans estimated to work from home by 2026. Engaging and retaining those employees is crucial to your business’s continued growth and success. Especially if your team is hybrid, remote workers can feel disconnected from their in-office colleagues. Engaging remote employees requires more attention, better nurturing, and increased response time compared to in-office employees.
Consider these 14 ways to engage remote employees, including using technology to create connection, encouraging remote workers to set boundaries, and being flexible.
1. Be Proactive About Setting Up New Hire Systems
Engaging your remote workforce starts on Day One. 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 their new systems. Set their computer up for them so they can simply turn it on and be ready to go immediately.
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.
HR software can help with this. Rippling, for example, has a device management feature that allows you to buy, set up, and ship computers and other devices to your new employee’s home.
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 (and tenure), they need a stellar onboarding experience. That all starts with ensuring 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 additional training and communication.
3. Centralize & Digitize Your Company Information
As mentioned above, you will discuss company policies and identify key documentation during onboarding. Employees must be able to access that information continuously, especially for remote employees who can’t always pop in and ask their manager or colleagues where to find something. By creating a centralized knowledge base, you create a repository of information that every employee can refer to for answers and guidance. You’re not trying to reduce communication but simply be more efficient with everyone’s time.
For example, if an employee wants to know how many hours of paid time off (PTO) they get per year, they can reference the 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 ensuring your remote employees feel like a part of the team and are empowered to answer their own questions.
Human resource information systems (HRIS) and other HR software often include employee dashboards, resource pages, and directories with this type of information.
4. 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 incentivize employees to join your organization and help you retain your existing remote workforce.
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, it goes a long way toward ensuring employees are engaged and productive when they see that you’re investing in them.
5. 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 help immediately. Remote work makes these challenges more difficult to overcome.
To meet these challenges, you’ll need to have a well-trained tech team 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. A strong IT presence will keep your remote workers focused on their work, avoiding unnecessary distractions and ultimately keeping them engaged.
6. 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.
7. Be Social
Part of fostering that connection we discussed above is to enable your remote workers to get to know each other and in-office workers on a more personal level. Go beyond virtual coffee breaks or happy hours with games, celebrations, and laughter. An online scavenger hunt can be a great team exercise that lets colleagues bond. If you have people in the office, find a way to include remote workers by sending them a premade drink kit for afternoon events, doughnuts for morning meetings, and lunch for midday gatherings.
Remember 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 only see other faces. Chat programs can be a great way to celebrate milestones and engage in “get-to-know-you” discussions and conversations.
8. Communicate Better But With Fewer Meetings
Setting clear expectations is the foundation of a productive workforce. While meetings are important, a few emails or messages can often resolve a matter. Not everything has to be a meeting.
Although reducing the number of meetings is important, there will be times when a meeting is necessary. Companies should focus on scheduling well-planned strategic meetings with a clear purpose and focus.
Asynchronous communication, or communication that doesn’t happen in real time, can also serve this purpose. Using tools like Slack or project management or collaboration software allows team members to communicate at their own pace without all needing to be available at the same time.
9. Recognize Achievements
Without the face time that comes with an in-office position, remote workers may fear they will be overlooked when it comes to raises, promotions, and recognition in general. Reassure them this isn’t the case with a recognition program that includes a robust virtual component.
Ensure that your remote employees have the same opportunities as in-office workers to be recognized publicly in company or team meetings. Set up a peer recognition program that integrates with your company’s communication channels such as Slack. Use recognition software such as Assembly or Bonusly to send gift cards or gift baskets to celebrate successes or work milestones such as anniversaries.
Check out our 10 top employee recognition ideas for 2023.
10. Avoid Micromanaging
Micromanagement can be especially damaging in a remote work environment. When managers constantly check in on remote workers, it creates feelings of distrust and hinders productivity. Micromanagement also impacts engagement by creating a negative work culture, eventually leading to a toxic environment where employees feel undervalued and unappreciated.
Many companies already have a culture of micromanagement and changing that isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. By setting clear expectations, using software to track productivity (not activity), and balancing communication, managers can move away from the micromanagement that is often typical in remote work settings.
11. Allow Flexibility
Just like some people work better in an office than at home, some employees are more productive at different times. If your business situation allows for it, give remote employees the flexibility to finish their work when they are most productive. As long as they meet their goals, communicate with colleagues, and make 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 toward 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 effectively managing dispersed teams and staying on top of productivity without micromanaging. The best way to understand what your remote workers need is to ask them.
12. 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 are more engaged. This can present extra challenges for remote employees who aren’t always able to get their manager’s ear or feel uncomfortable expressing their concerns.
If you have the right software, 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.
13. Promote Wellness
This doesn’t mean having a wellness challenge each month or having employees post pictures of their healthy home meals, though it certainly can. Think bigger and broader, encouraging your employees to view wellness holistically.
To give your remote employees the physical and mental wellness support they need, consider the following:
- Provide mental health resources: Many employees, both remote and in person, may be struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Employers can offer access to mental health resources like employee assistance programs, counseling services, and online support groups.
- Encourage physical activity: Sitting at a desk all day is good for no one. By encouraging your remote workers to get up and move, they not only break the cycle of bad physical habits but recharge their minds.
- Provide ergonomic tools and equipment: Working remotely without proper physical support can lead to long-term health problems. Moving is just one piece of the puzzle. By paying for your employees to upgrade their desk and chair, you’re providing them with physical support to do their job comfortably and in a healthy way.
Check out our employee wellness program ideas.
14. Encourage Your Remote Employees to Set Boundaries
Part of promoting wellness is ensuring your employees aren’t overworked. Working remotely may sound like a 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. 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, which 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. 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.
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.