Over the past decade, remote working became the same level of opportunity as office-based positions. More and more we are seeing companies choose it over the traditional approach where all of the staff is located on-site.
No wonder working remotely gained so much popularity – for the professions that don’t require much besides a laptop and access to the Internet it became a perfect opportunity to have autonomy over work-life balance and tap into different work locations without missing out on job opportunities.
Employee engagement starts with trust and communication between the company and its talents. It helps to keep employees productive and happy in the workplace, which greatly benefits company growth and business success.
Trends in remote teams
Remote work is growing by leaps and bounds and numerous publications confirm growing interest in remote opportunities.
With the technical tools that help to connect and optimize work processes, it becomes easier to communicate and perform work duties for employees in every corner of the world.
The figures show that remote employment has grown by 140% since 2005, which means 4.3 million employees working from home at least half the time and this growth is not slowing down.
Now that remote working is not a novelty any more the next question is rising – will it ever take over in-office work and become mainstream? We’ll live to see.
The majority of remote workers still confirms that they are more productive when working outside of the office and don’t have to face common distractions like background noises, chatting colleagues, interruptions.
Adapting your own schedule and working routine together without the need to consider commuting make them much happier in the workplace.
The challenges of working remotely
Just like any good and interesting venture, remote work comes with challenges of its own that concern distributed teams and team leadership.
It’s hard enough to put together and train an effective team in the office environment, what’s there to say when team members are not based in the same location.
Communication is considered to be one of the biggest challenges for remote teams. And no wonder, where misunderstandings and errors can occur even with regular face to face communication, even advanced technology doesn’t guarantee that something won’t be lost in translation.
Lack of involvement
Remote employees often confirm that they feel left out when it comes to company life. The feeling of belonging is closely connected with employee commitment and loyalty to the company, where the lack of it results in a high level of turnover.
Here the opinions of experts are split: some wholeheartedly believe that remote work improves performance thanks to the lack of distractions like background noise, chatty colleagues, strict schedule and commuting.
The others stand on the opposite foot – lack of office environment makes it harder to concentrate, lack of accountability disrupts daily working routines, there are even more distractions at home or in a cafe, depending on where you are working from.
The absence of an office environment makes it more complicated for new remote employees to join the team and get the training done more effectively.
Not even well-detailed documentation can compare to in-person supervision during the first days in the new position. We can’t leave out the social factor here either, which normally enables seamless integration of the new person into the group.
Lack of direction
Remote work is often associated with self-organization and autonomy in daily job duties.
To avoid micromanaging, team leaders give their professionals the reins of their own work operations which can backfire if employees sense a lack of direction coming from their leaders and lose the view of the bigger picture of the project.
Why employee engagement is critical
Employee engagement is an important part of company culture and provides long-term benefits for the ones that have chosen to make an effort in it.
Most importantly, employee engagement helps to prevent high turnover of the workforce within the organization. Engagement is based on the evidence of trust between the employees and the organization, where promises and commitments are understood and fulfilled from both sides.
Being and feeling that you are a part of the team with clear goals, strong and authentic values, and a supportive environment helps employees know that you are valued and have a positive impact on the business growth.
The companies that understand that their employees are the most valuable asset to their business and make sure they support developing new skills, recognize achievements, give and ask for regular feedback and empower their employees’ growth.
And it is fairly easier when you have employees by your side in the office.
Remote employees often feel excluded because of their location outside of the company’s physical office and find it hard to align with company culture.
So for remote team management, there’s an additional necessity to ensure that the remote colleagues are treated as equal members of the team and are involved in the company’s life.
Connects employees to the company’s purpose
Shared values create a strong foundation for a healthy company culture that attracts and retains talent in the company. When everyone is aiming at meeting the same goal people feel more united and involved in the process.
Creates trust and loyalty
Trust in the workplace if often taken for granted. Creating lasting trustful relationships between employees and company leadership is an ongoing task that requires equal participation of both parties.
Engaged employees tend to care more about their employer, which helps to reduce the workforce turnover and meet expectations of both sides involved.
Productivity has been proven to be closely linked with employee engagement.
A remote employee who is actively involved in company life and feels happy about it is bound to perform better than their colleagues who don’t feel like they are a part of the company.
Helps to feel included
A study has shown that a shocking 70% of remote employees often feel left out which makes them less happy and productive.
And it is no wonder – remote workplaces are deprived of traditional office banter and socializing, which makes remote employees feel like they are nothing but a workforce.
Company culture is so much more than just a set of company values and vision-mission statement – it covers all communications, mindset, ethics, diversity, and transparency among other things in the company.
Each and every company has it in a different way that aligns with its values, but these are some common traits that are shared between organizations that prioritize their culture like Google, Facebook, Zappos, Squarespace.
A great company culture provides employees with opportunities for growth, challenges, and development while treating them with respect and enabling trust and openness.
It doesn’t mean that you need to get a high-tech office and become all flexible in one moment, no.
Prioritizing company culture means focusing on people and their needs first, making them feel welcomed and happy in the workplace, treating them with respect and trust, just like you would like them to treat their employer.
Remote employees might be harder to get actively involved in company culture, but here are some ideas that could help them feel more engaged.
Showing trust to the employees by delegating them some of the responsibilities that affirm their position in the company is an efficient way to show them what role they play in the team.
By taking their suggestions into consideration, giving them the lead in the meeting and by involving them in activities that are outside of their scope of responsibilities, you remind them that they are part of the whole team just as much as their colleagues in the office are.
Ditch 9-5 mindset
A remote team is more than just coworkers spread all over the world – it’s a community of like-minded professionals that share values and life views and can benefit each other’s personal growth.
Treating the work of a remote team from a pragmatic point of view robs you from an opportunity to create an environment where people want to return with their ideas, passion, and desire to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the project.
Don’t ignore real-life meetings
If the company can afford it, meetings in real life and company retreats become a fantastic opportunity to put a face on virtual colleagues and get to meet them in real life.
Another fantastic option if you have a physical office is to welcome your new employee there and have onboarding and training sessions in person before diving into responsibilities.
Collaboration and fun
While maintaining a productive workplace is the priority for any company that adapted remote working practices, allowing a little bit of fun and informal communication helps to maintain a humane approach to work that separates management from leadership.
Plus, it helps to promote creative collaboration by letting your team members stay out of their monotonous routines.
If employee values do not align with company ones it might become difficult for them to stay motivated and dedicated themselves to the project they are working on.
From the moment the selection process starts to daily working it’s crucial that the company clearly communicates its values and where it’s standing to make sure that everyone in the team is seeing eye to eye and is believing in the common goal.
Remote work heavily relies on trust within an organization as it requires the employees to be self-organized and team leaders to avoid micromanagement. A trusting atmosphere gives remote professionals the opportunity to see how the company values them.
Getting things done
Promoting a healthy competition between peers within a company motivates everyone in the team to show better results and keep up with the others.
While doing the job is the actual responsibility that you hire your remote employees for, a little extra push can help them achieve better results and feel included in the team activities.
We’ve mentioned several times that remote employees feel excluded, but here we would like to go over some ideas on how you can help them to feel more like part of the team.
The modern approach to employment shifts from hiring people just to do their duties towards a more human-centered and growth-oriented approach.
Companies know the value of great talent and understand that a paycheck is simply not enough to retain them. Human capital came to the top of priorities among the companies that focus on long-term growth and stable economic position.
After all, it’s people who make or break your business.
You can show your remote team appreciation in other ways rather than a paycheck.
Positive feedback and a reminder of the value that they add to the team and the whole company can do magic on the employees and point out to them that their work means more than just their time online.
Appreciation is one of the most simple and most effective ways to motivate your remote employees. Numerous studies have shown that workers are less motivated by money and more by such things as an acknowledgment of their ideas and suggestions, growth potential and having authority.
It doesn’t mean that you should stop paying bonuses for work well-done, but pair it with employee recognition and you will get a fantastic response.
Focus on people
Behind every job, there is a person with their own dreams, fears, ambitions, ideas, and life that has a direct effect on their performance in the workplace.
As much as productivity should be a priority during the working hours, you might want to dig a bit deeper to understand what drives your remote employees and how that can help them to show their better selves in the workplace.
Build social capital
Social capital refers to our ability to work together towards a common goal, to solve complex problems through collaboration, improve social structures and attitudes.
Social activity in the remote workplace can be just as beneficial to the project’s success as performing direct work responsibilities (but not replacing it) and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Ask people of different roles for input
You might find much more original and unique ideas coming from the people whose work responsibilities are not related directly to the question in place. We tend to get into working routines and find a certain optimal solution to a challenge and stick to it.
Turning for an opinion or advice to a person who can see from a completely different point of view can help find more interesting and unusual solutions that you haven’t thought of before.
Remote team building
How do you bring teammates together when they are spread all over the world?
That question has been bothering remote team leaders since remote working actually became a reality.
No one doubts the benefits of team building activities, but the traditional way requires everyone to be present in the same place at the same time.
If your organization does company retreats that could be arranged, but not all businesses can afford to fly all their employees to the same place.
Luckily there are a number of things team leadership can do to contribute to bringing the team closer together.
Memorable onboarding activities
Make meeting the team for new remote employees an experience where they get to virtually meet and introduce themselves to everyone else in a creative way.
Traditional ways to introduce employees to the team have their right to exist, but if you want to spark excitement about the new employee you might want to walk the extra mile.
The options are only limited by your creativity.
You can go as simple as a list of unusual (but respectful) questions or “would you rather” questions to get to know new remote employee more personally or create a process that would make them to talk to all the team members, just make sure it is something more engaging than a formal letter of introduction.
Ice-breakers are a great way to help your remote employees avoid awkward conversation openers and effortlessly participate in the discussion.
Whether you use them to introduce new members to the team or open a virtual meeting, ice-breakers are a simple, yet effective way to engage everyone in the conversation.
If you can’t think of any, try “2 truths and a lie” or a quick question about favorite things or the best moment in their life, etc.
No matter what ice-breaker you are using in the conversation, it helps to know more about the personality of your team members and bring everyone closer together.
Creating unique rituals and traditions helps remote teams to bond and keep the company culture strong. While working remotely your employees may feel disconnected sometimes, small team rituals are the way to unite them in the virtual space.
Have Friday after-work drinks during a video chat, organize secret Santa for Christmas, keep a separate chat for cute pet pictures, share the fun fact of the week – the list can go as far as your imagination does.
One thing doesn’t change – bringing your remote co-workers together helps productivity and morale.
Have a quick break while playing charades or Pictionary online with your remote team.
Or, have some good fun with team games like Clue Murder Mystery, Game Show Extravaganza, Code Break and Team Pursuit.
A little competition and distraction from routine aid greatly to building a strongly-connected team.
Virtual challenges and competitions
Another great way to motivate your remote employees is to organize some sort of virtual competition with a small incentive.
It doesn’t require much of leadership’s time or investment but could be a great addition to your activities outside of work.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, communications are one of the biggest concerns when it comes to remote work, so it is crucial to create an environment that promotes open and trustful connections between the team members.
There is no space for doubting, assumption and second-guessing.
Use chat programs
The technological advances has provided us with numerous tools for online communication.
If, previously, video-conferences were dreaded because of complexity and low quality of video and sound, now hopping on a call doesn’t seem that complicated at all.
Besides work communication, it’s a perfect opportunity to tap into informal chats that help to establish better relationships between co-workers and boost the team’s morale.
Embrace small talk
Some people avoid small talk because of it being seemingly pointless and try to get straight to business, but we want to underline once again that it is important to get personal with the team members and get to know them outside of their work environment in order to create trust and closer connections.
Informal communications help remote employees to familiarize themselves with other team members and shift from 9-5 mindset, where online work is something limited to the duties and work hours only.
Every remote team is a small community that should promote socializing and human interactions just as much as efficiency and productivity.
By creating a “watercooler” chat or email thread you make a dedicated space for them to express themselves like they would do in a regular office environment with colleagues, share life updates and anything interesting that they saw or heard or think is worth sharing.
Encouraging them to do so helps to break the ice and bring the remote community closer together.
Even such simple things like a funny dog picture or a .gif can show people that there is more to this team than just deadlines and a paycheck.
Measure employee engagement
What complicates the whole story about remote employee engagement is the fact that the whole concept of it is rather vague and requires certain KPIs to establish measurements of the situation and how it’s changing.
It is important to show your remote employees that their value to the company and involvement is not just a trend passing around but an ongoing task aimed to provide them with the best possible environment and show them how much they are appreciated in the company.
Survey employee satisfaction
To evaluate how engaged and happy the remote employees are in the workplace you can use surveying as the basic method. Depending on the company’s policies you can ask remote employees for an evaluation as often as weekly to see what are their main challenges, improvements, and achievements.
There are a number of tools that help you to collect and analyze data and show how the situation in your remote team is developing. Officevibe, SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, Monday, Culture Amp, TinyPulse, Energage just to name a few.
Reflect on productivity
There is no doubt that employee engagement directly reflects their productivity.
If you have noticed that your remote team member hasn’t been showing their best results lately and their performance went down, you might want to have a look into the reasons and check how you can help them to get back on track in achieving the common goal.
Your remote employees know exactly how to improve their engagement, so why not ask them?
And more importantly, after you’ve shown them how their opinion matters – implement some of the suggestions.
Of course, you can’t be expected to meet all their expectations, but instead of going around and guessing you can just ask them directly what would help and at least understand what are the things that motivate them and how work culture can be improved.
The same tools that you are using for surveying your employee’s satisfaction can be used to collect this information anonymously in case somebody doesn’t feel like sharing their ideas publicly.
Role of leadership
It is a direct responsibility of team and company leadership to help the remote team members to feel included and valued just as much as their office colleagues.
Enabling and promoting a safe and supportive environment for collaboration, creative expression and growth is the key to help employees be more engaged with the company’s life.
The complexity of remote work environment doesn’t ease the task of keeping your team happy and productive for the team leaders, but it’s their responsibility to observe and identify the opportunities for improvement and offer a helping hand to the employees that struggle with being included in the team and need support to perform their best.
The good news is that remote employee engagement is not an impossible task.
The simple key to it is leading by example. Engaging leaders produce engaged employees.
By simply showing your team that you care, are open for discussion and communication, are there for them and treat them with respect and trust you will encourage the same kind of behavior within your team.
We can go over techniques and complicated methods on how one can build a remote team engagement, but in reality, all you need to start with is the leader who cares about his team.
About The Author:
Daniel Alcanja is Co-Founder & CTO of Trio. With more than 17 years of programming experience including Web and Mobile App development, Daniel is passionate about building impactful and meaningful products.