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How to create employee experience to engage remote workers

Carolyn Nevitte

Whether you are managing an entirely remote team or you are supervising both remote and in-house employees, you are probably worried about the challenge of engagement and ensuring your remote employees feel part of the team. Contributor Carolyn Nevitte, HR Director – People Insight.

This sense of belonging is important — employees with good workplace ties and relationships are more likely to be satisfied at work, to trust their organisation and to remain with a company for the long-term. Importantly, they are also much more engaged with their work.

Of course, we all want content, engaged employees, but when you operate a remote workforce, this is easier said than done — particularly if they work in different time zones. It will take considerable time and effort, but this will ultimately pay off — it’s been shown that remote employees are happier and more productive, due to a healthier work-life balance. Remote employees can even help your bottom line. According to one 2018 study, a typical business saves over £8,000 per employee per year by leveraging remote working.

To help you bridge the physical distance between you and your remote employees, we’ve put together our top tips on how to engage your remote workers and maintain a motivational company culture.

1. Take Time to Get to Know Remote Staff
Though our technology has evolved, at heart we remain sociable creatures who want to feel part of the pack. Don’t make the mistake of sidelining your remote employees, no matter how independent you think they are. Take the time to really get to know them. As part of their welcome pack, you might include a “getting-to-know-you” survey that will fill you in on key information, such as the employee’s favourite food, their hobbies and their interests. Not only will this help you feel more acquainted with your employees, but it will prove useful when you want to reward them on a special occasion.

2. Make Use of Collaboration Tools

Communication is crucial to the smooth running of an organisation. There are a number of collaboration tools that will allow your team members to interact and exchange real-time feedback. Slack is a popular option, as it is highly personalisable and comes with a great number of integrations, apps and bots. Other collaboration technology such as video conferencing, Google Hangouts and cloud-sharing, means that employees off-site can remain connected and up-to-date with their workplace.

3. Have Face-to-Face Check-ins
You might have heard that only 7 percent of communication is verbal. While some might refute this, the reality is, human interaction is complex and we say a lot with our tone of voice and our body language. This is how we get to know one another. When we work remotely and we don’t have a lot of face-to-face interactions with our co-workers and our leaders, we can lose this opportunity to develop authentic relationships.

This desire for face-to-face contact isn’t likely to go away. 84 percent of Generation Z prefer face-to-face contact with their boss. With this in mind, it’s important for managers to set up regular face-to-face meetings with their employees. Make video calling platforms such as Skype and Microsoft Teams teh first choice of communication, rather than reserving them for specific occasions — managers will need to lead by example in this area, enthusiastically using these platforms with virtual members of staff.  These catch-ups will help employees put a face to a name. It will make them feel more connected and less intimidated. You could also organise video conference calls so team members can get to know one another.

4. Set up a Virtual Water Cooler
Far from being a waste of time, it’s been shown that there are a lot of benefits to water cooler conversations. They help to build strong company cultures, create tight bonds between co-workers and improve collaboration. These informal chats can even improve levels of innovation, while employees share insights and opinions about work.

Your remote staff should also have an opportunity to benefit from water cooler conversations. Consider setting up a chat application or a Slack channel so your employees can get to know one another and build a rapport over small talk.

5. Remember Reward and Recognition
It’s official – employees who are rewarded and recognised for their efforts and accomplishments are more loyal to their companies. Acknowledgement for work done is an important aspect of employee engagement and company culture, but it can be easy to forget when dealing with remote employees.

Make a conscious effort to prioritise reward and recognition for all employees — whether remote or on-site. Recognition doesn’t have to be a pricey endeavour. There are plenty of inexpensive ways to reward employees, such as mugs and stationary emblazoned with the company logo — which will further reinforce your company culture. If you use a team collaboration tool such as Slack, you could even post a public “thank you” for everyone to see — this will help to create a great sense of community.

6. Be SMART about Goals and Expectations
SMART goals and clear objectives aren’t just good for productivity and performance. They also help keep your employees engaged. Your workforce wants to be effective and useful. They want their work to be meaningful. Your employees can’t be motivated or satisfied by their job if they don’t really understand what they are meant to be doing, or how it is contributing to organisational objectives.

Goal setting is a crucial part of the performance management process — don’t let it slide. Managers need to meet with their remote employees and agree upon short-term SMART objectives. You could even go one step further and allow employees to create their own goals, so they have real ownership over them.

7. Celebrate Special Occasions

Think about the special occasions that get celebrated around the traditional office — birthdays, the arrival of new family members, holidays — remember to extend these celebrations to your remote employees. You might not be able to share a slice of birthday cake with them, but your remote employees will love to receive a handwritten birthday card from their manager, and it’ll do wonders for morale.

8. Organise Get-Togethers
Just because an employee wants to work remotely, that doesn’t mean they want to swear off human contact altogether. In-person get-togethers can be a great way of uniting a remote team and encouraging familiarity. Budget for a few get-togethers a year at a minimum — you can share your photos on social media to help promote your company culture and brand.

9. Use Employee Surveys to Track Engagement
Your remote employees should know that their opinions and feedback matter. Make it a point to conduct regular employee surveys to track employee engagement. You can ask tailored questions, personalised to your own company culture, which will help pinpoint if you have employees who are feeling isolated or disconnected. You can also create different surveys for your office-based employees and your remote workers, so you can compare and contrast the results. Armed with this research, you will be able to put well-informed plans in place to counter your engagement problems. Following the results of the survey, consider inviting remote workers to a virtual focus group to discuss the results and look for practical solutions to the issues raised — this will do wonders for overall engagement.

10. Respect Your Remote Employees’ Boundaries
You will need to discuss your remote employees’ working hours and respect their boundaries. They will likely work flexible hours to accommodate commitments in their private lives, or their family. Establish firm rules about when you should, or shouldn’t contact them. This will help your employees get space from the ‘office’ and their work.

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