May 6, 2020

Engaging remote employees: Eight strategies for the new world of work

Organizations will need to implement new strategies to engage remote employees as business environments continue to change. To be successful in the long term, a holistic approach is needed as well as investment in a wider cultural shift. Kristi Kelly, VP of Workplace Experience at Ceridian, shares a few considerations to help build employee engagement that will last over time.

Research shows that remote workers generally have higher job satisfaction. They quit their job less and are happier than their office-bound colleagues. This is great news for both remote workers and the companies that support these types of work arrangements. When done right, remote work can improve employee productivity, creativity, and morale.

In the last few months, companies across the world have transitioned their employees to work virtually to support physical distancing efforts. As the pandemic evolves and physical distancing restrictions lift, it is imperative that organizations think about what comes next. According to Gartner, remote work is likely to be more prevalent than it was pre-pandemic, as 74% of CFOs say they expect to move 20% of on-site office based employees to permanent remote work arrangements post-COVID-19. In addition, remote work may become more the norm as companies look to cut commercial real estate costs. Approximately 13% of CFOs have already cut real estate expenses and another 9% are planning cuts in the months to come.

Engaging remote employees post-COVID-19

A remote or partially remote workforce has many benefits. Companies can diminish the cost of physical real estate obligations with increased virtual work arrangements, as well as gain access to key talent in markets where the company may not have a physical office.

However, remote working arrangements over the last few months have accentuated the criticality engagement plays in helping organizations meet their targets as traditional regularly occurring, in-person face to face interactions have vanished. What used to work in driving engagement in the 2019 workplace will no longer be effective for the 2020 remote workforce.

Companies need to be intentional with their employee engagement strategies and implement plans that are tailored to the needs and expectations of employees in an entirely new environment. 

Organizations that currently have remote employees or extend work from home polices after the pandemic, will need to effectively engage their workforce by building visibility and trust. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: leading and integrating teams with clear communication, addressing the technological needs of remote workers, and by creating social and educational opportunities that are on par with an in-office working experience. To successfully navigate the changing world of work, organizations will need to take a holistic approach and shift from antiquated cultural paradigms. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when developing an employee engagement strategy for the remote workforce.

1. Lead by example

Optimizing the remote working experience starts with clear communication from leadership, and seamless integration with the rest of the team. For example, use visual communication tools, like Zoom, video chats, or screen sharing during meetings. Make “open door policies” applicable virtually as well as in-person. And take time to chat for a few minutes with remote employees as you would with an in-office employee – whether it’s about reiterating or clarifying expectations for projects, or more personally to foster a stronger connection.

Be cognizant of unintended modeled behavior consequences. Remote employees can sometimes feel that they are expected to be “on” all the time. If an employee sees their leader always on and emailing 24/7, there is inadvertent pressure put on that employee. It’s fine to send an email after hours but be clear that you do not expect an immediate response.  

Related: Employee engagement strategies for today’s workforce

2. Allow for flexible scheduling

According to a recent study, a flexible schedule is the biggest benefit of remote work. Some employees may have personal matters to address such as taking their child to a doctor’s appointment. Flexible scheduling will be essential as employees continue to adjust to a new normal and balance competing work and personal priorities. This may involve allowing employees to start work later and end later, for example.

3. Clearly define expectations

Employees that are working outside of the office – especially those that are new to remote working arrangements – can feel disconnected from company goals. Defining expectations will help remote employees clearly understand what their role is and what the expectations are. According to McKinsey’s COVID-19 Briefing materials report, defining clear objectives and key results (OKRs) and communicating goals and outcomes, is an essential part of providing the workforce with necessary structure to retain employee engagement. Communicating expectations will be paramount as business environments continue to change and adapt to new ways of working.

Managers should continuously check in with their people and define expectations – especially as they relate to potentially rapid changes in business goals and direction. Maintaining regular touchpoints with employees will also be critical in helping them feel that their needs are being met and maintaining connectedness.  

4. Develop talent and career paths

A concern for many employees is that they can feel stuck at a certain career level. For remote workers, this feeling may be more pronounced. It’s the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality. Leaders must develop clear career paths whether employees are working remotely or in the office. That means understanding career interests and continuing to set goals for growth, whether it’s progressing into management, making a lateral move by exploring other opportunities in the organization, or bolstering their skillsets through educational opportunities.

5. Support mental well-being

While remote work has many benefits from an employee perspective, such as reducing commuting time and added flexibility, it also creates challenges at scale that organizations might not have anticipated. For many employees, a disruption in face-to-face interaction with others can feel unnatural or frustrating, particularly for those who aren’t used to it. New work arrangements can feel isolating and may contribute to compounding loneliness and even result in employees feeling a lack of psychological safety. In fact, it’s been widely reported that loneliness is a growing health epidemic among workers of all ages and in all roles. Employees that have long been working remotely aren’t strangers to managing burnout, feeling disconnected, or experiencing loneliness. It’s therefore critical to support employee mental health and well-being not only in times of crisis, but as part of a long-term strategy.

Organizations can offer holistic wellness programs that include mental health benefits to help ensure employees have access to the type of care needed to prevent, treat, or manage psychological distress and burnout. Taking it a step further, innovative technology such as online benefits selection tools will help employees customize their benefits packages to meet their individual needs. 

Related: How to help employees cope throughout the five stages of COVID-19

6. Provide social learning experiences

Social learning through learning experience platforms (LXPs) will help engage the remote workforce as employees can share their expertise within a channel or discussion forum to help solve problems and answer questions in a collaborative way. This is also an effective method of engaging newly onboarded remote hires as more tenured employees can act as “experts” within a channel or discussion forum.

Related: Trends for workplace learning and the outlook for 2020

7. Get creative with events

It’s easy for remote employees to feel isolated, and when most of your workforce is spread out, it can be difficult to maintain a strong company culture. Think about extending engagement initiatives to the remote workforce. For example, putting a social budget towards virtual team events. Remote employees should still be able to get together every so often for happy hour, a monthly social, or participate in an virtual contest.

Additionally, it’s important to connect with the remote workforce by sharing organizational news through the company intranet and social channels. Employees should be encouraged to share their pictures and stories and participate in organizational initiatives, from volunteerism to committee membership.

These smaller initiatives should not be overlooked as they can add value when layered into the larger engagement strategy for remote employees and help build internal employee networks.

8. Lead with employee feedback

As the pandemic continues to disrupt traditional ways of working, organizations need to be aware of how these changes are impacting the way employees feel about their roles and the company as a whole. EY emphasizes the importance of monitoring employee sentiment during the rollout of structural remote working. 

Global research analyst Josh Bersin claims organizations should build a management culture that allows people to feel safe and comfortable when voicing their feedback. Organizations will need to have the right technology in place to continuously collect feedback and identify trends and gaps across the organization. Employee engagement technology can provide managers with real-time data from surveys so they can identify trends and build specific action plans to respond accordingly.

Related: Improving the employee engagement survey by adopting an “always-on” approach

Moving towards a world of remote work

Cloud technology will be a critical part of effective remote employee engagement strategies in the months and years to come. In fact, 20% of CFOs said they are cutting their on-premise technology spending with another 12% planning the same move in the near future.

Team collaboration tools can only go so far in maintaining engagement with remote employees over long periods of time. Organizations will need to have the right systems in place to engage the workforce. This includes learning and development, engagement feedback and analysis, as well as performance, and scheduling.  

Learn how Dayforce employee engagement software can help your organization drive performance and productivity amid changing business environments.

Kristi Kelly

Kristi is Ceridian’s VP of Workplace Experience, with 20+ years of extensive experience in Human Resources, helping organizations navigate through change and crisis comes naturally. Prior to joining Ceridian 12 years ago, she managed HR in a variety of sectors including manufacturing, financial services, technology, and non-profit. Kristi is a summa cum laude graduate of Vanderbilt University where she earned a B.A. in Human and Organizational Development and Psychology and M.A. in Leadership and Organizations. When not at work, Kristi enjoys running after her two small children, skiing, tennis, and passionately cheering (okay, screaming) for her favorite hockey team.

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