Engaging Remote Employees During and After Covid-19
The lockdown during Covid-19 has left everyone working from home making it difficult for managers to engage remote employees. However, engaging remote employees can be made easier with a few conscious efforts.
Today, engaging remote employees is very different what we have known about employee engagement.
With the uncertainty brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, remote working or working from home has forced companies to redefine what engaging remote employees means for the company culture.
Many companies, however, are still contemplating if it is the best choice to let employees still work from home/remotely now that the lockdown is lifting up. It will be interesting for them to know that remote working has actually proven to increase productivity in employees according to a study by Stanford University.
This is primarily because remote workers on average are less likely to burn out. They also get to spend more time with their family as it saves daily commuting and has a better impact on their health.
With teams distributed across multiple locations and time zones, companies are now responsible for an invisible workforce, and it is an ideal time to formulate a concrete plan to ensure a business’s continuity and economics ahead of the curve.
Since engaging employees is seeing a drastic shift across the world, what is it that companies and managers, most importantly, can do to make employees feel more involved?
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Employee engagement: Pathway to effective management during Covid-19
The workforce that was used to going to the office, interacting with colleagues and customers, and had no experience of working remotely, has been forced by the pandemic to work from their homes.
Engaging remote employees is now about collaborating with our colleagues/customers/vendors, etc. and keeping them motivated towards their work through better and more open communication, giving them autonomy, and setting clear expectations & processes.
Employees are afraid to go to work due to the worldwide spread of the deadly virus.
This has been one of the driving factors to promote a remote work culture that will sooner or later be the ‘new normal’ for many industries that do not need on-site management.
When times are this tough, a flexible and distributed workforce will be one of the leading HR trends in the future of work with a focus on agility and adaptability, not only for the employees but for the employer too.
5 ways to engage remote employees during and after Covid-19
1Understanding employees’ perspective for effective employee engagement
Working from home does not imply a shift from office desk to home desk.
Working remotely under these uncertain circumstances means adapting to a new environment and battling a new set of distractions, along with experiencing an unprecedented fusion of work and private life.
Childcare, managing home, probable illnesses, etc. are just a few of the things that employees are dealing with.
To understand what employees are thinking at this point and to make employee engagement better, it is advisable to communicate about their problems either through one on one meetings or conduct engagement surveys that can help identify issues and help managers resolve them.
Empathy can be a leader’s most important tool in times like these.
Understanding your employees’ perspective will allow you to build a strong relationship with them, help them overcome their personal and professional struggles and keep them motivated.
A motivated employee is an engaged employee.
2Over-communicate with employees
“Over-communication in remote work is just communication,” Laurel Farrer, CEO and founder of Distribute Consulting believes.
Since employees are now working remotely, it is difficult to get the non-verbal cues that managers were used to when working in the office.
It is not possible anymore to judge what an employee is feeling just by their body language.
Moreover, it is easy to feel disconnected from peers when confined to home, particularly if employees are used to working closely in an office.
Employees start missing the little things about working at the same place and when this effect is scaled across an entire team, it is easier to understand how communication breaks down and magnifies unresolved problems.
Hence, ‘over-communication’ is important to ensure that you and your team members are on the same page to avoid any room for confusion.
It is the need of the hour that remote managers working on engaging remote employees avoid assuming and start sharing thoughts descriptively and encourage employees to do the same.
For instance, if you were to share feedback with an employee on a report they may have shared, it is advisable to say, “This was a good report; it met the deadline and laid out all the relevant stats in the form of graphs; the client was happy,” instead of just saying, “Good work.”
Detailed feedback communicated in the right way sets the right expectations for an employee.
A few ideas on communicating everyday while working remotely are:
- Using the right mix of technology that works well with the team as well
- Communicating ground rules (e.g. mandatory tech-check, everyone logs in via laptop) and providing fast support to solve unexpected technical issues (e.g. increasing server capacity)
- Setting clear processes like daily stand-up documents, status updates at the end of the day, etc.
- Scheduling quick sessions to frequently check-in with colleagues if they find it difficult to focus
- Sharing frequent and spontaneous feedback using the right medium of communication
- Making sure that messages are received well by asking the team to share what they have understood from a set of instructions to avoid any kind of miscommunication
- Documenting discussions in one place, for record and future assistance
- Make employee recognition a part of your daily communication as it makes the employee feel their work is valued and motivates them
Engaging remote employees to ensure they continue working efficiently and create value under these new circumstances, you will have to understand, accept, and support your employees’ specific situations and needs.
Over-communication may feel unnatural at times, but the more you communicate, more you get the opportunity to start a dialogue that can help gather valuable feedback and root out and solve hidden concerns.
An open and more easily flowing communication makes it easier to collaborate for work, maintain morale and togetherness during this crisis, help employees ensure their business stays a place to do good work, and it is essential for maintaining a resilient culture.
While having a good culture is most valuable and most difficult during hard times, manifesting shared purposes makes it easy for employees to act out the culture.
Encouraging small wins, expressing gratitude for someone solving a problem, asking co-workers if they want to have a chat, and most elementally, having one on one meetings through virtual mediums can boost morale of your entire team.
3Have frequent meetings to engage employees
A study by Gallup revealed that although remote workers tend to have higher morale and lower stress levels than those working in an office, they often miss out on critical social interactions and collaborative opportunities that are vital to the well-being of the business.
Managers, therefore, must use a well-thought-out system of remote meetings to help keep operations running smoothly and ensure every team member is on the same page to keep remote workforce feeling they are a part of the big corporate family.
A few types of meetings that can help are:
i) Daily stand-ups
Keeping team members up to date on the latest goals and projects is a quintessential part of any business operations and is more impactful when held on a daily basis to help identify roadblocks and things that are coming up next.
ii) Weekly one on one meetings
Whether is it about onboarding new talent or keeping the current team updated, a one on one meeting is an excellent way to bring every team member up to speed and effectively close the gap between long-distance working relationships.
One on one meetings in times of crisis also provides a psychologically safe space for your employees, where they can confide in you and share their fears and concerns.
Besides, you can exchange feedback, appreciate their work, and apprise them on the way forward for them and the organization, leaving little or no room for assumptions and keeping any kind of confusions at bay.
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.
iii) All-hands meeting
An ideal way to disseminate key company information and updates throughout the organization, these ensure that everyone is in sync regardless of location or time zone.
When conducted well, these meetings can help remote teams gain greater clarity towards the health of the company as well as guidance on the goals currently driving decisions.
These must be held monthly or biweekly, keeping in mind that it might be difficult to get time-zones to cooperate.
iv) Mentorship meeting
Remote mentorship is a little different from mentoring employees in person.
It is instrumental in helping teammates understand their role and how to execute it more effectively.
When communicated with a defined structure, it is a great management asset to set goals and expectations, and offer feedback, answer questions, and recognize the efforts of the mentee.
These should ideally be held once per month with quarterly reviews.
PRO TIP: Icebreaker questions during any kind of meeting specially held with remote employees can be a great way to build a better connection with the team. Find icebreaker questions for specific meetings HERE.
4Promoting ‘individualization’ in employees
A crucial element in engaging remote employees is identifying and accepting the individuality of every employee working in a company.
While a few remote workers feel isolated by working alone, many others feel liberated.
A few like the 24/7 access to work, however, many others need to have a real boundary between office and home.
A few bring out their best work in the middle of the night, while many others keep strict office hours.
Every remote employee’s methodology differs from the other making it necessary that managers coach the “individual” even when promoting engagement between employees.
The process of understanding how every employee function, also known as ‘individualization’, not only helps remote workers work better, but they also feel cared for as a person which is a fundamental element of engaging remote employees.
A few ways to promote individualization in employees to keep them engaged are:
- Evaluating current recognition systems and creating an opportunity for individuals to achieve commendations for their specific functional accomplishments within a larger initiative
- Creating a platform for individual contributors to share their insights through one on one meetings with their leadership, and then implementing their ideas
- Facilitating assimilation between the already forged groups and a new contributor
- Considering special projects to elevate an individual’s uniqueness
It may take diligence, creativity, resourcefulness, and many conversations to develop talent over a distance, however, assignments aligned with an employee’s talents can help the individual develop them further into strengths while improving business outcomes.
5Define clear expectations to encourage accountability
Engaging remote employees also involves encouraging them to be accountable for their work.
Since you and your employees are not available in the office all day, it is essential that you explain in detail the work that their team members are accountable for, as well as the work style they are expected to follow.
This also includes any interruptions that managers might notice impacting the productivity of the team.
You need to be explicit about what the remote employee must produce including the parameters, deadlines, and metrics of tasks, alongside the manager’s personal expectations.
Along with this, considering an employee’s materials and equipment forms another foundational element of engagement.
Since a few might be operating under unusual conditions, they may not have or know how to get the networking platforms, technology, access to company systems, etc. that they need to do their work right.
Here are a few key considerations for both employee and managers that must be communicated clearly:
- Employees must be available for calls and be ‘present’, even when not connected physically
- Providing clear guidance and establishing an appropriate team meeting culture
- Knowing and embracing the different personas in your team and their specific situation
- Being approachable and authentic to address an employee’s concern as well as to share one’s own feelings with the team
- Focusing on simplicity and practicality while using the current situation to test agile approaches
- Handling resource availability effectively and offering virtual learning nuggets as well as exchange formats to develop competencies required later
- Balancing the interest to continue running the system and preparing the workforce for the future after Covid-19
Achieving desired business outcomes is possible by engaging the workforce no matter their location and providing an effective means of virtual assistance to employees while maintaining the most critical personal and business data required for worker status.
Building the capability for crisis resiliency by engaging the employees (virtual, onsite, or hybrid) through a sustainable operating model can anticipate and adapt to any change.
Emotional support during & after Covid-19
The focus of every business right now is employee wellbeing while driving business out of this crisis.
People’s physical and mental health bear the brunt in times of high stress and uncertainty around work making it all the more important to have structures and programs in place for employees to lean on, no matter their location.
Open and honest communication is a great way to encourage employees at all levels to share problems. This can also be done by fostering a community that interacts, learns from, and supports its members.
Managers who go out of their way to make employee wellbeing non-negotiable have engaged workforces who get the required headspace to look after customers – which means a productive remote workforce, doing more work, better.
Small changes like temporarily gathering employees for a quick weekly meeting to share the latest info shows that companies are prioritizing them.
How managers and employees connect and conduct themselves during this tough period will make a lot of difference when things start going back to the “new normal”.
Staying focussed on growth, innovation, and customer obsessiveness is critical to building a sense of togetherness and forms an essential part of engaging remote employees.
When people return to the office, leaders and managers will have the time to reflect on what they learned from “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment” and make better decisions about flexibility.
However, managers who do not pay heed to practice good remote management now will most likely conclude that it just does not work.
Having the patience to engage employees effectively and hold people accountable for the right things, communicating expectations, and individualizing team members can come to a very different conclusion that will have an enormous impact on companies and the future of business.
PS: Read the full guide to employee engagement for remote managers HERE.
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