How To Engage Employees When Working Remotely

Female professional working from home on a Zoom call with her coworkers

Remote work has its benefits. Number one right now is safety, with work-from-home arrangements significantly cutting down on in-person contact for employees and lowering the infection risk for other household members. There’s also the advantage of reduced overhead costs for the company and greater flexibility for staffers.

On the other hand, remote work also comes with its downsides; when workers aren’t in the same place as their managers, you lose a good deal of oversight and have to put in twice as much effort to keep employees engaged. After all, engagement is a key factor in retention and productivity.

As companies begin to look toward the future and formulate what work will look like in 2021 and beyond, the most successful leaders will be those who focus on employee engagement as a primary organizational goal. We’ll talk about ways to do that in a moment, but first, let’s discuss why figuring out how to engage employees in a remote-work world is so important.

The Impact of Employee Engagement

To fully understand the implications of employee engagement, it’s important to define what it is… and what it isn’t.

While closely related, employee engagement is not the same thing as job satisfaction. Job satisfaction describes an employee’s overall personal level of happiness with their job, while engagement describes an employee who feels a sense of connection to their place of work and who is actively invested in achieving organizational goals. Though they’re two different things, one usually feeds into the other and they both bear positive outcomes for the organization.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee engagement has “the potential to significantly affect employee retention, productivity and loyalty, [and] it is also a key link to customer satisfaction, company reputation, and overall stakeholder value.”

Anecdotal accounts support these statements.

Beverage giant Molson Coors found that highly engaged employees were five times less likely than their unengaged peers to have a safety incident and seven times less likely to miss work due to such an incident. The company saved more than $1.7 million in safety costs in one year by focusing on strengthening employee engagement.

Construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar has a similar story. Their efforts to increase employee engagement were tied to more than $8 million in annual savings from decreased attrition, absenteeism and overtime costs. They also saw a $2 million increase in profits.

How To Engage Employees When Working Remotely

To leverage the benefits of a highly engaged workforce even when some or all of your team members are working offsite, follow these remote employee engagement tips.

Loosen the reins

It may seem counterintuitive, but giving remote employees plenty of autonomy is actually a good thing for their sense of ownership over their work.

When workers are stuck in the same place for long periods of time (i.e. both living and working at home), taking breaks to do things like go for a walk, have a quick phone chat with a friend or do a short workout are crucial for both their physical health and their sanity. Sometimes, it will make sense for these breaks to happen in the middle of the workday, so try to avoid policing your employees’ whereabouts.

Whenever possible, give your team members the freedom to make decisions about how they’ll manage their time and prioritize tasks. As long as their work is getting done and deadlines are being met, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Set regular check-ins

Giving employees the trust and flexibility to get their work done on their own schedule comes with a caveat—it only works if you give them clear parameters to operate in. One way to set and reinforce those parameters so that everyone is on the same page is to hold regular check-ins, ideally via video conference.

Remember, employee engagement is all about fostering investment in the organization’s goals. In fact, two of the top six drivers of employee engagement cited by SHRM tie back to this: 1) trust in the leaders of the organization to set the right course, and 2) understanding of how [the employee] fits into the organization’s future plans. So, use these regular check-ins as a time to share high-level and more focused goals and show your team members how they fit into the plan to achieve them.

Meetings tend to balloon to fill the full amount of time allotted for them, and too many meetings can quickly eat into productivity and lead to employees feeling micromanaged. So, stick to a set agenda and a limited time window for your check-ins—30 to 60 minutes should be sufficient—and use email or smaller follow-up conversations to address any other topics that arise as needed.

Plan non-work meetups

We’ve heard from many workers who say non-work work events like their Friday Zoom happy hour with colleagues are helping them stay sane and feel some semblance of normalcy amid the monotony of quarantine.

Consider coordinating socially driven online meetups that give coworkers a chance to interact in a more informal setting. Virtual happy hours, book clubs, game nights, or a monthly celebration for that month’s staff birthdays are all good options. If you have a particularly social employee (or one who’s struggling with being isolated at home), another way to engage them is to put them in charge of heading up your social-hour activities.

Don’t neglect one-on-one time

Even with regular team-wide check-ins, employees still need a chance to connect with their boss one on one to flag any issues or raise concerns in a safe and private environment. Depending on the size of your team, it might make sense to schedule these regularly. If this isn’t feasible, make sure there’s a clearly communicated system for booking time with you and then follow through on those meetings when they do get booked.

Different employees will handle working from home differently; some may thrive, while others may struggle. Offering designated one-on-one time gives you a chance to pinpoint anyone who’s flailing and provide more targeted coaching on an individual basis.

Ask employees for input

Employees experience a sense of connection with their organization when they feel like their opinions and input are valued. So, ask questions that not only help you gauge how your staffers are faring in the new normal, but that may bring in helpful suggestions for improvement. You can do this in an informal way, like during one-on-one meetings, or in a formal way, like via a teamwide survey.

Some ideas for topics to ask about:

  • How is working from home going for you?
  • In what kind of situation do you feel you work best?
  • What do you need more/less of from me? From your colleagues?
  • What tools do you need that you don’t currently have?
  • Do you have any suggestions for how we could do things better or more effectively?

Show your appreciation

It’s always a good idea to offer employees written and/or verbal praise for their contributions, but in such extreme times, doing a little more to show your appreciation beyond the virtual realm can go a long way.

Send a small gift to recognize a job well done. Have a catered lunch delivered to team members’ homes after the completion of a particularly challenging project. Send birthday or congratulatory cards to recognize important milestones.

While these gestures may seem small, showing rather than just telling employees they’re appreciated contributes to a culture of recognition. When employees feel recognized, they stay with their companies longer and exhibit higher on-the-job performance, not to mention being more engaged.

Engage from day one

Employee engagement begins the moment a candidate accepts your offer, and perhaps even sooner, with your candidate experience. Build engagement initiatives into every step of your new-hire funnel, particularly your virtual onboarding process, to educate new staffers about the organization’s values and begin fostering a sense of belonging with them.

Employee engagement can even be strengthened through strategic hiring, especially when your operations go remote. Check out our post on the top qualities to look for in remote candidates here.

Hire for Engagement with Help From 4 Corner Resources

Hiring for engagement means attracting an enthusiastic talent pool, matching candidates with the appropriate role, and identifying characteristics that will make a candidate a good culture fit in your organization. 4 Corner Resources goes beyond the resume to get to the heart of a candidate, singling out those that will not only perform well in their job, but thrive in your workplace.

Whether you’re looking for an engaging leader to motivate staffers or engaged workers who will contribute positively to the company’s output, our team of headhunters can help you find the perfect fit for your role in a timely manner and within your budget. From healthcare to finance, marketing to customer service, we offer a range of talent acquisition solutions to fit your unique needs.

To learn how 4 Corner Resources can help you attract and retain more engaged talent, schedule your free consultation today.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.