5/14/2020

16 Tips to Ensure Your Remote Staff Stays Engaged

Despite attempts by a few corporate dinosaurs that cannot let go of the past and cling to the ideal that all their employees must work from a physical office five days a week (won’t name names but you know the culprits), the remote workforce is exploding. Indeed, though the numbers vary, research pegs the number of employees who work remotely—at least some of the time—between 60% and almost 80% of the workforce. 

Benefits and Opportunities of Remote Staff

There is no indication remote work is going to diminish any time in the future. The U.S. Census Bureau finds that the number of people working remotely has grown nearly 400% in the past decade. The benefits of remote work cascade to both workers and employers. Over one-third of workers reveal they would change jobs for one that allows for remote work at least part of the time. They also have better work-life balance and report better health. 

Employers have a long list of benefits as well. Remote employees work an average of 16.8 more days every year than their in-office counterparts. They are 22% happier in their jobs and 13% more likely to stay with their employer than an in-office worker. Benefits extend beyond productivity and loyalty. For example, a recent Gartner report predicts that the increase in remote staff will allow organizations to support 40% more employees in the same amount of office space they currently use. Healthcare tops the list of industries with the most remote workers, followed by education, retail, financial services, and manufacturing.

Remote Staff in COVID-19 Work-from-Home Environments

With work-from-home (WFH) COVID-19 mandates affecting most states and industries, businesses of all sizes across virtually every industry find themselves facing new challenges. For businesses without a remote workforce and for workers accustomed to working from a physical office (or even a shared office space), WFH can be jarring and disruptive. The upside is that there is long list of businesses that have embraced remote staff already. These businesses, along with their remote workers, know what it takes to build and sustain dynamic, highly productive remote work environments. 

Businesses and workers struggling with COVID-19 WFH need to look no further than these early adopters for lessons on how to ensure their remote staff stays engaged. Economic, political, and social signals indicate that a significant portion of the workforce will remain WFH for the foreseeable future. Those wishing to thrive must pay careful attention to the early adopters of remote work to sustain and build their businesses during this difficult economic environment.

Recommendations on Keeping Remote Staff Engaged

Following are recommendations that businesses can leverage to ensure their remote staff stay engaged:

1. Meetings.

For remote staff, it is important to maintain a regular cadence of all-hands, management (for managers), team, and one-on-one meetings. Even short check-ins can help ensure remote teams are aligned and focused on critical measurements. 

2. Video On.

Virtual face-to-face meetings are important for remote staff. Nearly every worker’s computer comes with a high-definition camera, and free video conferencing services like Zoom and Google Hangout make easy. Research shows that video conferencing is significantly better than audio-only conferencing: Up to 73% of companies experience better quality of communications, and half indicate there is better understanding of the issues being reviewed.

3. Silence Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Yes.”

Silence doesn’t necessarily mean “yes” in virtual meetings. Coaching remote staff on roles and responsibilities and the need for verbal affirmation and disagreement in meetings is important. Further, for meeting facilitators, it is important to engage all attendees and ask for confirmation or declination from each for decisions.

4. Communications.

Remote teams require more regular communications than on-site staff. Whether virtual video meetings, chat messages, or email messages, these communications are critical to keeping remote staff engaged.

5. Special Budget for Home Offices.

Remote workers spend at least eight hours a day in their home offices. Giving each staff member a special allowance to buy the right gadgets and tools for their home office can help energize remote staff—particularly for those who aren’t accustomed to WFH.

6. Flexible Schedules.

Research shows that workers who have flexible hours sleep better, feel healthier, and are less stressed. Measuring remote staff on what they get done versus how many hours they work makes good business sense.

7. Empowerment and Autonomy.

Employees seek transparency and trust, and they need clear goals and metrics. This is especially important for remote staff.

8. Feedback and Questions.

Remote staff want a chance to provide feedback on company objectives and decision-making. They also want opportunities to ask questions. Don’t expect them to voice always voice feedback and questions during public forums. An anonymous channel for feedback and questions is just as important. 

9. Onboarding Experiences.

For remote workers, unique and memorable onboarding helps ensure their productivity out of the gate as well as their long-term retention. 

10. Collaboration Tools.

Virtually every organization with multiple staff recognize the need for a collaborative team chat app such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, ProofHub, and Chanty, among others. These can be configured to provide specific communications to remote workers, team communications, as well as one-on-one communications. During COVID-19 WFH, businesses can create specific channels for communications related to COVID-19. 

11. Project Management Tools.

Collaboration chat tools are great, but for most remote teams a great project management tool is a requisite. These help teams plan their schedules, collaboration, communicate, and measure business outcomes. 

As with collaboration chat tools, there are a plethora when it comes to the project management space—Trello, Asana, Wrike, Zoho, and many others. There is really no one-size-fits-all project management all, but rather teams need to evaluate them based on their project management methodology (Scrum, Lean, Agile, etc.) as well as the requirements of individual members and the team in general (e.g., do clients or partners need access and the ability to interact, is a mobile app version needed in addition to a web-based tool, with what other applications does the tool need to integrate, etc.).

12. Extracurricular Activities.

The modified adage, “Work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull worker,” applies here. For the past couple months, businesses have been heads down dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19. Many workers have steadily logged 12-plus hour days for 8, 9, or 10 weeks. Businesses need to ensure they build in extracurricular activities for their remote workers. Potential activities range from a virtual happy hour, time for the team to share what they did over the weekend, photos or videos of their home office, and more.

13. Shared Workspace.

Not every remote worker excels in a WFH environment, and they need “office” time with other professionals. Once shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted, remote workers will have an opportunity to use shared workspace locations—from once or twice a month to several times a week. The chance to interact with other professionals in their area, even if they are from other companies, enables them to share ideas and network. They can easily and quickly find and reserve coworking and dedicated office space using tools like Davinci Meeting Rooms.

14. Special Remote Staff Perks.

Giving remote staff special perks can help them stay engaged. Discounts on office furniture, computer accessories, home services, unpaid time off, vacation stipends, branded items (e.g., Amazon Prime), monthly subscriptions, and more can go a long way in expressing appreciation to remote workers. 

15. Professional Development.

Nearly all professionals seek opportunities for professional development, and employers have a professional obligation to provide them with such. There are myriad ways to do so—whether by giving them time to attend physical and virtual conferences, taking online training courses, or getting coaching from a mentor. 

16. Staff Recognition.

Lack of recognition is the third most-often cited reason workers list for leaving a company. 82% wish they received more recognition for their efforts. Remote staff often can be left out of employee recognition activities, and thus it is important to ensure they are included. A peer-to-peer recognition platform that gives remote staff the ability to recognize each other as well as executives and managers to recognize remote workers for their efforts and successes may be a good starting point. 

Sustaining Remote Staff Engagement

Competing in the COVID-19 economy and hopefully soon-to-be post-COVID-19 economy requires transformation. Those businesses that previously adhered to the philosophy that their workforce must travel to a fixed office location and spend eight hours sitting in a preassigned seat have been forced to reevaluate their business models and the remote workforce. The “genie has been let out of the bottle” and there is no way that they will be able to stuff the genie back into the bottle and return things to their previous state. 

When COVID-19 WFH ends, a portion of nearly every business’ workforce will remain remote—from those who work remote permanently to those who work remote part of the time. Hybrid workforce models will quickly become the norm. They key will be in understanding how to motivate and engage these remote staff.

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