Work from home (WFH) was considered one of the benefits offered to employees. But managers would hesitate to allow people to work remotely too often because of the lack of oversight. Their underlying fear was that if they weren't around to watch over their team members, they may not be as committed to their work as they would be in the office. Managers fear that not everyone has intrinsic motivation and self-discipline to work productively from home. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Now, companies have no choice but to allow employees to work from home to ensure business continuity. Remote work and productivity There’s plenty of data to support the claim that remote workers are more productive. Work from home has several advantages -- no long commutes to work, no interruptions by coworkers, fewer sick days availed, and flexible work timings. Global Workplace Analytics has shared multiple statistics to demonstrate that remote workers are more productive than office workers. \tDow Chemicals, Best Buy, and British Telecom show that remote workers are 35% - 40% more productive than onsite workers. \tAround two-thirds of surveyed employers reported that their remote workers were more productive. Then why haven’t more companies gone fully remote? The reason: Remote workers are more productive than their office counterparts, but only if they are engaged on the job. How can employee engagement be defined? Employee engagement refers to the emotional commitment the employee has towards the company and its goals. Engaged employees care for the company; they’re not simply working for a paycheck or a promotion. Engaged employees are characterized by the discretionary effort they put in at work. For instance, they may work overtime to complete a project without being asked to. Thus, engaged employees lead to better business outcomes. “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” Simon Sinek Author, Start With Why Employee engagement is NOT the same as employee happiness or employee satisfaction. Employees can be happy without being engaged. They may be happy at the workplace, but that doesn’t mean that they’re putting in extra effort to be productive for the company. Similarly, employee satisfaction may simply mean that the employee shows up to the office every day, does her job without complaint, and collects her paycheck at the end of the month. But she isn’t going the extra mile to get work done unless specifically asked to. Moreover, she may quit the company if a rival organization tempted her away with a larger paycheck. There are two components of employee engagement: \t Engagement with the organization This concerns how employees relate to and connect with the organization. \t Engagement with one’s manager This concerns how strong a working relationship an employee has with her manager, including whether she feels valued, receives regular feedback and guidance, and is treated fairly. How is employee engagement measured? Employee engagement levels should be continuously monitored. Any time throughout the year is a good time to measure employee engagement. Usually, employee engagement surveys are conducted. These have 50-80 questions that measure factors like the performance, competency, satisfaction, and strategic alignment of employees. For the results to be useful, these surveys should be statistically validated and benchmarked against other organizations. Thus, the results not only tell us what the employee engagement levels are but also why employees are not as engaged as they should be. Relationship between employee engagement and productivity Employee engagement is a key differentiator when it comes to the capacity for growth and innovation. Companies with engaged employees have a higher earning per share (EPS) and bounce back faster after an economic recession or a financial setback. Plenty of research studies support the relationship between employee engagement and productivity: \tGallup found that teams with high employee engagement rates were 21% more productive and had 28% less internal theft than those with low engagement. Source: Gallup \tThe McKinsey Global Institute found that productivity improves by 20% - 25% in companies with engaged employees. \tTowers Perrin, a global professional services firm, found that companies with engaged employees have a 6% higher net profit margins. \tResearch by Kenexa demonstrated that companies with engaged employees showed 5X higher shareholder returns in five years. What happens if employee engagement is low? Disengaged employees use more resources while earning less for the company as compared to engaged employees. This has a ripple effect – customers can sense when an employee is unhappy and respond to it. Thus, customer satisfaction is negatively affected. Gallup’s estimates put the cost of disengaged employees to be around US$ 500 billion per year! Their research also found that the major reasons for low employee engagement were a lack of training opportunities or no room for promotions. In the words of Blessing White’s The State of Employee Engagement 2008, Engaged employees stay for what they give (they like their work); disengaged employees stay for what they get (favorable job conditions, growth opportunities, job security). However, simply letting go of disengaged employees is not the answer. Companies must actively work to boost employee engagement. How can you keep your remote employees engaged? There’s plenty of literature available on how to keep employees engaged. We’ll share some quick actionable steps to keep your remote employees engaged, keeping the COVID-19 pandemic situation in mind. 1Set up a virtual water cooler We shouldn’t underestimate the power of informal chats and quick breaks in an office. These are the ways in which people build a sense of community and belonging. It is crucial to build trust in a team. Such camaraderie cannot be replicated in group meetings or team bonding activities. With companies going fully remote, employees can hang out virtually on #watercooler channels on Slack or Tandem. 2Use icebreakers during video calls People cannot chat with each other the way they used to in the office. For this reason, you’ll want to make time for some casual conversation during the many video calls that you have throughout the day. You can use icebreaker questions to lighten the atmosphere and ease into work conversations. You may want to choose from our list of icebreaker questions to ask your remote team members. 3Set up online games What better way to have some fun than to play online games with senior leaders of the company? You can set aside some time during the workday to play games like Pictionary or conduct fun quizzes. As an added incentive, winners could be given attractive prizes. 4Give house tours and introduce family Constant video calls have brought the workplace right into our homes. The boundaries between work and home are blurred. You can inject some relief into a busy day by introducing your pets or children to your team. Perhaps you can give them a tour of your house! Such activities make you seem just as human as your direct reports and endears you to them. 5Have regular one on one meetings One on one meetings are the ideal platform for direct reports and managers to connect deeply. These meetings are a psychologically safe space for people to open up about their challenges and ambitions. When conducted regularly, you’ll find that one on one meetings help you stay on top of what is happening within the team as well as with each member. You can use a one on one meeting software to organize and streamline your meetings for better results. Effective One on One Meetings We built a software that automatically schedules, lets you set agenda, take notes, exchange feedback and track actions – all in one place. Try for free 6Conduct regular employee engagement surveys A 2019 survey showed that highly engaged companies are more likely to measure employee engagement levels and they're more likely to measure it several times a year. It is important to regularly collect information about employee engagement to understand at what level the team is, what the areas for improvement are, and what can be done in the future. Employee engagement surveys should be actionable and relevant if the collected data is to be useful. 7Offer feedback frequently Don't wait for one on one meetings or performance review meetings to provide feedback. Offer feedback at the first opportunity because timely feedback enhances an employee's sense of worth, and consequently increases engagement. For instance, if your direct report has done an excellent job on a report, don't save up your praise for later. You can tell her something like this: "The report you shared speaks volumes of the hard work you put to detail the situation, and I am very happy with the results." 8Focus on employee recognition Recognition at the workplace motivates employees to put in their best work and they feel like valued members of the team. This boosts individual employee engagement and also drives productivity. By recognizing your team member's achievements, you send a message to others about what success is like. Summing up It’s clear that employee engagement is key to having productive teams, whether employees are in the office or working from home. Almost everyone, with the exception of essential workers, is working remotely. Remote work isn’t going away anytime soon, so it makes sense to understand how to increase employee engagement and, in turn, boost productivity. PS: Read the full guide to employee engagement for remote managers HERE.