5 Research backed Tips to Keep Remote Workers Engaged
By Mare Derks | March 17, 2020
Now-a-days, remote working or working from home has become pretty standard in organizations that can facilitate this. For employees, working from home (perhaps one or two days a week), can be a nice break from the regular office hustle and bustle. It can also stimulate them to finish that high-concentration project when there are no colleagues to interrupt them, or help them find a healthy and efficient work-life balance.
But what if remote working becomes inevitable or mandatory for a longer period?
A risk of long-term remote working is employees getting overworked without you noticing.
Let’s look at the positive side first…
Research tells us that working at home has multiple benefits including increased creativity, greater autonomy, reliability, productivity, and work quality. These all make for a happy employee, and a happy organization. Van der Voordt (2001), Rietveld (2016).
However there are also negative effects to long-term remote working…
Loss of social (work-related) contacts, the risk of overworked employees without you noticing, a barrier in collaboration (agile teams, scrum), and of course it can also be challenging for managers to keep their (newly) remote workers engaged. Van der Voordt (2001), Rietveld (2016).
If you are new to managing remote teams, or you just want some new ideas to keep your remote employees engaged, continue reading! In this blog you will discover 5 research backed and effective ways to keep employees happy, productive and involved while they work from home!
5 Tips to keep Remote Employees engaged
1. Organize structural daily interaction
Humans are social beings. With little interaction, our overall well-being declines. As a leader it is your job to organize or facilitate structural (daily) interactions. Moreover, daily interaction within teams is an important aspect of keeping employees engaged. This can be easily facilitated through audiovisual meetings, using smart collaboration and communication tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Yammer or Zoho. Additionally, creating a daily or weekly check-in, ‘’How is it going today?’’ is also an effective way to increase interaction among employees team and solicit daily progress reports (or personal news). With large teams, sub-teams can be created, and the task of facilitating the “check-in” can be delegated to team leaders among the different groups. This will help employees stay engaged, up-to-date, and connected to one another. Sundin, K. (2010).
Best practice: When our 2DAYSMOOD team works remote, we host a 15-minute virtual coffee-meeting every morning via Slack. Each team member gives a 15-second update about his or hey daily tasks and can additionally share good news or ask a question to a colleague. This not only helps us to collaborate very efficiently, it is also a way of maintaining our good relationships. On top of this we fill in our online anonymous mood and engagement survey every week, which is focused on our energy, happiness and stress during the work week. When we see notable signals in our team’s weekly mood report we discuss it in the coffee-meeting!
2. Open Communication is Key
Communication is key as a manager. Being able to develop and preserve relationships with remote workers is important to maintain employee engagement. Short and frequent communications are vital to keep remote employees in the loop.
Interactions such as:
- Sending updates on projects
- Asking the employee how they are getting on with their tasks
- Asking if they need any support during the day
These short interactions are effective ways to replace the common small interactions that traditionally happen within the workplace.
Therefore, it is important for managers to always be available for contact with remote employees. Without a strong managerial connection, employees may feel isolated, resulting in less engagement. Sundin, K. (2010).
Best practice: Not only the manager but all team members should be available for contact to support each other. When your team is working remote, it is important that you do not install a control mechanism, but agree on rules about availability. For instance, colleagues are available online or via phone, but they are allowed to set a status ‘’Do not disturb’’ or ‘’Talking a walk’’ without negative consequences. If the mutual communication is open and honest, a team can work on trusting each other and trusting that every member will fulfill his or her responsibilities.
3. Build a Lasting Community
The biggest challenge for remote workers is little to no engagement with team members. Creating an internal social network can be used to build a sense of personal community among employees. Additionally, it can be a convenient instrument to share professional knowledge and information.
The difference between just using a collaboration tool to exchange knowledge or using it as a social network, is that the networking part can help facilitate communication and interaction among different departments, hierarchical levels, and regions, with a number of different goals. Sending a funny quote or video can make a colleague’s day. Sharing a whitepaper can spark new ideas. Or having frequent pleasant interactions with team members can lower the threshold to ask each other for help and communicate openly about (personal) issues.
Moreover, when remote workers are in constant virtual connection with their team, the likelihood of being committed to the team’s goals increases. As a manager, it is your responsibility to create a friendly (and psychologically safe) virtual environment that mirrors the informal professional development otherwise provided by the company. Sundin, K. (2010).
“Internal social media, can increase communication among employees and management, and ultimately improve the overall work performance of employees and innovation.”
– Ewing, M., Men, L. R., & O’Neil, J. (2019).
4. Form Trust Between You and Your Employees
Trust is a very important factor in regards to productive happy employees. However, managers often have a difficult time adjusting to fully trusting their remote workers, especially if it is a new experience for them. Trust considered one of the most difficult aspects of remote management.
There are options available for management such as a software-enabled monitoring system that track the progress and activities of the remote worker, however, managers must be cautious to NOT be a micro-manager. Although it may be tempting to install such a software on remote workers, but the tracking employee activities actually undermines the feelings of trust between the employee and the manager.
Research suggests that a rigid structure of micro-managing is detrimental to employee productivity and motivation. Sundin, K. (2010), Cisco. (2007).
Best Practice: A “weekly retro” (retrospective) is a great method to inform each other on completed tasks of the past week. (Don’t micro-manage, but monitor based on results and performance!). You can make it an informal and celebratory session, so it’s not ‘’just another meeting’’. For example, award a “kicking-ass-cup” or virtual prize to a colleague who has delivered outstanding work that week. The winner can nominate a new colleague in the next ‘’retro’’.
5. Remember to Give Recognition
Often remote workers become unmotivated when managers do not give enough recognition for the amount of work they do. It can also be frustrating for remote workers when too many tasks are assigned to them because managers not understanding the weight of each project assigned to the remote worker. Often these issues are easily communicated in a normal office, however, with remote working, it is not easily recognized. Cisco. (2007).
Best practice: to increase recognition towards remote workers, try implementing a few simple strategies:
- Watch this video of Claire McCarty sharing how we are missing the obvious in recognition.
- Watch this short video to understand the importance of saying thank you.
- Practice recognizing individual accomplishments!
- Use 2DAYSMOOD’s engagement measurement, to ask remote employees (anonymous) feedback on the theme of ‘’appreciation’’ or “mood and its reasons”.