6 tips to improve remote employee engagement

While COVID-19 has affected just about everyone in one way or another, for many people, one of the biggest changes has been around their work patterns. According to one study, approximately 31 percent of employees began working at home once the pandemic hit — forcing both them and their employers to quickly adapt to new ways of work.

This change has not only affected how people work, but it has also impacted employer-employee interactions. One of the biggest challenges facing employers in the new work-from-home model is how to maintain and improve remote employee engagement.

Achieving and maintaining employee engagement requires continuous employee feedback and work to make improvements — even under normal conditions. With so many employees now working from home, remote employee engagement has become a top priority — and a challenging one, given that the issues affecting remote employees are, in many cases, quite different from those employees face in traditional physical workplaces.

We asked Amber Trail of The HR Trail, an independent HR consulting firm, for her ideas about how to improve remote employee engagement. Trail is an HR veteran of 12 years who has worked with numerous companies throughout the United States.

Tips for improving remote employee engagement

Trail has been helping companies adjust to the new reality of remote work since the beginning of the pandemic. One of the biggest challenges employers have faced in this transition is maintaining employee engagement — the connection employees feel to their employer, their colleagues, and their work.

Higher levels of engagement are linked to higher productivity, greater employee satisfaction, lower employee turnover, and ultimately, business success. But this can be harder to achieve in a remote work environment that lacks daily physical interactions and the opportunities they present for engaging employees. Here are Trail’s top six tips for maintaining and improving remote employee engagement:

1. Set clear expectations. Make sure remote employees are clear about performance expectations. Managers can’t “look over employees’ shoulders” for continual feedback on employee performance when those employees are working remotely.

Employers can address this issue by setting specific expectations for work tasks and scheduling frequent one-on-one check-ins for managers to answer employee questions, troubleshoot problems, and give feedback on employee performance to keep them on the right track. Jotform can help with a variety of customizable templates that are useful for performance evaluations.

2. Be flexible. Work-life balance is an important element in employee engagement in all work contexts; employees who are constantly stressed by work demands tend to be less engaged and experience greater burnout.

Home is a vastly different work environment than the company office. Employees working from home face a lot of distractions from their children (who may be at home doing remote learning) and spouses who are also working from home.

Employees with school-aged children in particular need more flexibility because they may have to supervise their children’s online learning sessions and work with their children on school assignments.

Working around the schedules of employees facing these challenges will greatly reduce their stress levels and improve their engagement.

3. Keep virtual meetings as brief as possible. Many workers have attended meetings that drag on longer than needed. As hard as it is to maintain focus during a meeting where everyone is in the same room, it can be even harder in an online meeting.

For one thing, employees aren’t in a room set up to minimize interruptions — they’re at home, often with children, pets, and other distractions. Online meetings can also be more tiring; they require participants to focus more intently to follow along and expend more effort to ignore distractions.

Last, but not least, long meetings take time away from employees’ work tasks — and employees working from home and juggling work with caregiving responsibilities may already be stressed by the time crunch imposed by these dual responsibilities. Shorter meetings avoid adding unnecessarily to that time crunch, helping lower stress levels and increase engagement.

Keep meetings as short as possible, have an agenda, and share it with meeting participants ahead of time. Jotform can help facilitate your online meetings with templates for meeting invitations.

4 . Communicate and listen to employees continuously. One thing that can negatively impact remote employee engagement is an eroding sense of connection with the organization. Communication — and listening to employees — is the key to reinforcing connection.

Jotform’s customizable survey templates offer a way to listen to employees by asking for their responses to specific questions. One-on-one manager-employee meetings, email, and online messaging applications like Slack are other options for communication.

Individual employees are each probably experiencing their own unique issues with remote work; managers and the organization need employee feedback to help them resolve these issues.

5. Enable and encourage collaboration. Set aside time for team members to talk with one another and work through problems together, or use private “breakout rooms” in your team meetings to allow employees to brainstorm in pairs.

These collaborative opportunities can help employees maintain connections with their work colleagues, increasing their sense of connection to the company — and by extension, their engagement with their work.

6. Celebrate success. Employees need recognition for their contributions even more than usual when the sense of connection to the organization is more tenuous. Be sure to continue showing appreciation for employees with a quick hurrah in the team meeting, by mailing cards to employees’ homes, or with a surprise lunch delivery.

Trail has many clients whose employees are working remotely right now; the tips above are the things that have been most helpful for her clients as they adjust to managing remote workforces — and the challenges that distance poses to keeping employees engaged.

She notes that many employers have also had to adjust their strategy in the wake of the pandemic; in recruiting, she’s noticed that a majority of interviewees are looking for remote work. “There will be a new normal,” she says, “and it won’t be like the pre-pandemic normal.”

Employee expectations are shifting, and it’s critical that employers understand and try to support the mental well-being of their employees at this time. There are a lot of issues to work through, and most are getting through them by juggling.

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