Since March 2020, the global remote workforce has seen drastic shifts in size, scope, and organization. More companies than ever before are offering remote-friendly roles, which bring a plethora of benefits to employees and employers alike.
Yet with a change this significant often comes challenges of its own—one of which is retaining high levels of employee engagement. Luckily, it’s not impossible to do so. And it doesn’t even have to be complicated.
This guide will share everything you need to know about the continual transition to remote employment, how engagement levels are affected, and what your company can do to mitigate the risks. Specifically, we’ll walk through the following key topics:
- The Move to a Remote-Friendly Workforce
- Why Is Remote Employee Engagement Essential?
- The 4 “E’s” of Effective Remote Employee Engagement
In many ways, engaging remote staff members follows similar employee engagement plans and practices as their traditional, on-site counterparts. At the same time, the ways in which the two approaches differ should not be overlooked.
Are you ready to find out how your company can maintain high levels of teamwide engagement even in a shifting corporate landscape? Let’s dive in with a bit of background information.
The Move to a Remote-Friendly Workforce
Millions of corporate employees have transitioned to work-from-home jobs over the last few years, while thousands of other workers have been telecommuting since the mid-1990s.
As this is becoming an increasingly popular option for both employer and employee, more is being done to prioritize and boost these team members’ levels of engagement, productivity, fulfillment, and retention.
But before you can know how to engage your remote workforce effectively, it helps to build a solid understanding of the make-up of this particular employee sector. That said, most remote workers fall into one of three categories. Depending on which type you’re managing, you may adjust your engagement approach accordingly. These include:
- Temporarily full-time remote employees: Studies show that more than 70% of full-time U.S. employees are working remotely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While some of these companies plan to retain their remote work structure into the future, others have plans to return their teams to traditional work environments upon health risks dying down. The latter group would be considered temporary remote workers.
- Permanently full-time remote employees: Many companies have appreciated the benefits of remote work so much that they’ve chosen to keep their employees on virtually for the indeterminate future. Other corporations have leveraged remote employees since long before the remote spike of 2020. These teams are fully remote and don’t have any imminent plans to alter their structure. A key benefit here is that permanently full-time workers can be employed from just about anywhere in the world—effectively broadening the horizons for both companies and employees.
- Hybrid employees: These employees typically spend a certain amount of their time in a physical office, while other times are able to work remotely from a location of their choosing. Some companies going the hybrid work route will assign certain required in-office days, while others leave the decision to each employee. Many view this structure as a “best of both worlds” combination.
Regardless of the kind of employees you’re aiming to engage with, the bottom line is the same. Team members need to feel a sense of belonging to the company, connectedness to one another, and productivity within their roles in order to keep their engagement levels high while working remotely.
Why Is Remote Employee Engagement Essential?
Remote employee engagement is essential for all the same reasons that traditional employee engagement is—with an added emphasis on the remote aspect due to it being a potential challenge to overcome.
Keeping all kinds of employees engaged helps bring about the following key advantages:
- Growing levels of team member productivity
- Higher employee retention rates and lower levels of churn
- Opportunities for increased diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Lower levels of absenteeism
- Higher quality goods and services produced
- Happier, satisfied, fulfilled, and loyal employees
And when remote employees remain highly engaged with your company, you’ll be able to continue reaping the benefits of a remote workforce. This includes lower overhead costs, flexibility in hiring across geographic boundaries leading to a substantial pool of talent, increased levels of profitability, and more.
The 4 “E’s” of Effective Remote Employee Engagement
Looking to increase employee engagement while remote? Here’s are four things you can do:
1. Encourage non-work-specific interactions.
The lack of casual colleague interactions can be a significant hindrance in employee engagement and one that is often seen among telecommuting teams. When employees work entirely remotely, they miss out on the opportunity for organic “water-cooler chats” that allow them to connect with their teammates on a personal level.
As a remotely working company, one of the best things you can do to overcome this obstacle is to promote additional non-work-specific interactions among teams. You might plan a virtual happy hour, organize a recurring, friendly lunch-time Zoom meeting, or even host an after-hours online trivia night (just don’t forget to have digital or mail-ready prizes!).
2. Establish or grow workplace giving programs.
Corporate giving participation is one of the largest drivers of employee engagement levels. After all, team members are more likely to be interested in benefiting a company they know is making a positive impact on the world.
When these companies place employees in the driver’s seat of their philanthropic programs by enabling individuals to choose which organizations the corporation supports, the benefits of corporate giving are even higher.
The two biggest examples of this idea include:
- Matching gifts: An employee makes a donation to a qualifying nonprofit, and their employer agrees to provide the same organization with a matching gift of its own.
- Volunteer grants: An employee regularly volunteers with an organization (including virtual volunteerism) and the company offers a set dollar amount per hour volunteered.
In each of these cases, an individual employee is able to dictate where a portion of their employer’s set-apart corporate giving budget is directed. Jim from the accounting department can secure a donation match for his favorite charity (a global-scale health aid organization), while the marketing manager, Eliza, collects a volunteer grant for her dedicated work at the local animal shelter.
And there’s no in-person aspect required, making it a perfect opportunity for engaging with remote employees.
3. Explore virtual volunteer opportunities.
Piggybacking off the previous corporate philanthropy idea, corporate volunteerism can be one of the best ways to foster team relationship growth, instill trust in the employing company, and increase overall employee engagement levels. And luckily, tons of organizations are seeking virtual volunteers in the midst of a virtual-first societal shift.
The first step in establishing a virtual volunteer program for your company is to locate opportunities to get involved. These may include working as a crisis text or hotline operator, assisting with online research, offering writing or design help, and more.
Then, begin promoting these ideas to your staff. Remember, in order to drive team engagement, you should emphasize the importance of working in groups. For example, look for virtual volunteer events online or even organize and host your own to get your whole team involved!
4. Equip your team with the right technology.
One of the most crucial prerequisites for fueling employee engagement is ensuring team members are provided with the tools they need for success. Keep in mind that those requirements can vary significantly depending on whether the employees in question are working remotely or not.
In the virtual workforce, new technology is becoming increasingly important. Where a company might have previously held team meetings in a shared office space, they may now rely on video conferencing software to facilitate ongoing and efficient communication. As a result, choosing the highest-quality conferencing platform on which to base your teamwide connections is essential.
And that’s just one example—the same principles can be applied to providing your employees with computers, tablets, mobile devices, internet access, industry-specific software, and more. Plus, if you’re going to be scaling up your company’s corporate giving efforts (which you should), establishing an effective CSR management system should be a high priority as well.
Whether your company is relatively new to the virtual workforce or you’re a seasoned pro looking for unique ideas to scale up your efforts, incorporating the tips provided above can help. And as you certainly know, the corporate landscape continues to evolve, so keep an eye out for any further developments to guide your strategy.
Best of luck!