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 organisations 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.
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 organisations 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.
Organisations 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, organisations 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.
Optimising 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 cognisant 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.
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.
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.
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 organisation, or bolstering their skillsets through educational opportunities.
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 organisations 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.
Organisations 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 customise their benefits packages to meet their individual needs.
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.
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 organisational news through the company intranet and social channels. Employees should be encouraged to share their pictures and stories and participate in organisational 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.
As the pandemic continues to disrupt traditional ways of working, organisations need to be aware of how these changes are impacting the way employees feel about their roles and the company as a whole. EY emphasises the importance of monitoring employee sentiment during the rollout of structural remote working.
Global research analyst Josh Bersin claims organisations should build a management culture that allows people to feel safe and comfortable when voicing their feedback. Organisations will need to have the right technology in place to continuously collect feedback and identify trends and gaps across the organisation. 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.
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. Organisations 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 organisation drive performance and productivity amid changing business environments.