Employee Engagement

Engaging a remote workforce requires some down-home hospitality

By Yasmeen Qahwash

Jan. 29, 2020

Out of sight and out of mind is far from the truth when it comes to maintaining engagement among a remote workforce.

Today’s business culture is much more open to hiring remote workers as it expands the playing field for hiring new top talent, allows for more flexibility in schedules and in turn creates a better work-life balance for employees. Working remotely has increased by 103 percent since 2005.

Currently, 3.7 million employees work remotely (2.5 percent of the workforce) at least half the time. However, this can make maintaining high employee engagement and retention rates a bit tricky due to the common feeling of isolation among remote workers.

Jason Patel, founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company, said that starting with the onboarding process is key and that it is best to treat onboarding as if they were in-office employees.

“It’s important to set the tone from the start, that remote employees are just as appreciated as office employees. If that tone is set in the culture, it will percolate,” Patel said in an email statement.

Maintaining a productive and successful remote team culture requires a strong communication line. Communication tools such as Slack, Workplace or Zoom make it easier for remote teams to communicate and feel as though they aren’t missing out on important information, meetings or celebrations. They should feel like they are in the office alongside everyone else, voicing their opinions, sharing their ideas and actively contributing to the conversations.

Making sure to include remote employees in meetings and scheduling regular check-ins is also vital for creating an inclusive environment and tracking progress, according to Carlos Castelán, managing director of business management consulting firm The Navio Group. If remote employees aren’t provided with clear expectations and direction, it can be easy to feel like they are stranded on an island. Those who work remotely need to feel a sense of purpose in order to stay motivated and passionate about the company’s goals. “One of the hardest parts of staying motivated as a remote worker is fully grasping how your contributions fit into the overall picture and mission,” Castelán said.

Although emails, phone calls, video calls and text messages are convenient, Deb Boelkes, founder of leadership development firm Business World Rising, suggests taking it a step further and planning in-person meetups as a best practice if the budget permits. Whether in the form of large company events or small team-bonding outings, it is essential to build a sense of camaraderie as this can be an obstacle for those who don’t see their co-workers five days a week.

Boelkes also recommends scheduling weekly team calls to update everyone on individual and team progress, asking and offering help, brainstorming approaches and recognizing major accomplishments and successes. “Really knowing each other and meeting face-to-face helps build trust. Try to meet in person at least occasionally,” Boelkes said in an email statement. “Otherwise use video conferencing technology whenever possible. Team members need to know the other members on the team, what they are doing, and how they can help each other.”

Gamification has also become more popular in today’s business culture as it creates a sense of collaboration, cooperation and a competitive edge to everyday work responsibilities. Gamification applies game-playing elements to nongame environments, which can be used as a tactic to encourage engagement in a fun way.

This can be implemented into the recruitment or onboarding and training processes as well to increase retention rates. According to a 2019 TalentLMS study, 61 percent of the 900 employees surveyed said they receive training with gamification. Some 83 percent of those who received gamified training claimed to feel more motivated, and 61 percent of those who did not receive gamified training said they felt bored and unproductive.

“Whatever you do with office employees is what you should be doing for remote employees. If anything, you should be more disciplined and clear when working with remote employees,” Patel said. “There are far too few touch points between you and the remote employee, which means there are plenty of intersections for miscommunication. That’s why agendas, metrics, and goal and mission articulation are so important. Make it seem as if they are in the office with you.”

Yasmeen Qahwash is an editorial associate for Workforce.

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