Before the COVID-19 outbreak, our office employees and remote employees were offered differential engagement programs. Remote and distributed teams had to be left out of the in-office employee engagement initiatives due to their physical absence and therefore, engaging them was often overlooked. This article takes a deep dive on how to engage remote employees.

A lot has changed over the last two months for the then-trivial remote  engagement. Organizations now are extrapolating their knowledge of once-managing their remote workforce to their regular employees working remotely.  These circumstances have led to quite a few out-of-the-ordinary disruptions that will benefit the remote working economy in a big way. Here are some ways to manage your employee’s performance while they are working remotely with low workforce visibility.

Organizations and HR leaders are now scrambling for ways of engaging work-from-home employees as efficiently as they were engaging them before the lockdown.

They have come to realise the significance of designing an inclusive engagement strategy and a benefits program that suits both their desk as well as remote employees. Furthermore, offering remote work to office employees has been observed to be a great way to retain them and offer them flexibility.

Appreciation is one such engagement mode that lifts employees up the best way thus helping teams with effective virtual work. Below are some tested methods that renowned organizations across the world have adopted for keeping remote employees engaged.

1. How to Engage Remote Employees with Rewards and Recognition

1.1 Recognize the good efforts and behaviour

In the US alone, 4.3 million people work from home at least half of their work time - denoting the contribution of ‘remote working’ to the country’s workforce.

Since employees continue to add value to the business, even while working remotely, it is important to recognise their exceptional contributions.

Mechanisms need to be put in place to track and identify such efforts to reward such behaviours in time and enhance their employee experience. Value-based awards, for instance, can go a long way in recognising efforts and behaviours that are commendable - despite the less-than-perfect remote working conditions.

1.2 Embed recognition in your company culture

While traditionally recognition has been top-down, it has never been more important to democratize the recognition activity if you have remote employees. Remote team members work in narrower silos - with very less cross-functional interactions otherwise possible in an office environment.

Every manager and peer interacting with an employee needs to be empowered to recognize them by providing them with plentiful opportunities to appreciate each other - thus ingraining a culture of recognition. A social platform that allows peer to peer rewarding and spot rewarding is an ideal environment that nurtures a culture of recognition.

1.3 Recognize and appreciate in public

Recognition in public needs fundamental rethinking when your employees are remote working. It is only with the help of organizational groups of communication platforms like Slack or teams or employee engagement platforms like Empuls, can recognition in public occur. Distributed teams can not be recognized in person and, hence public recognition tools work best to let others know about their work.

1.4 Don’t hesitate to say Thanks, Kudos and high fives to the team.

Two-thirds of remote workers work with a team currently and sending out that e-thank you cards can make a difference in managing all of them in your teams. Communicating appreciation to team-members, remote or otherwise, never becomes too much- because these make your team members clearer on how they are adding value to the team goals. Celebrating small wins and small good work done - can all go a long way to help them sustain and thrive in the remote work environment.

1.5 Send your remote teams a surprise gift card or an experience reward.

It is projected that by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers - in other words, engaging a remote team member will become an essential part of team management.

One of the great ways to appreciate your remote-working employees is with a surprise gift to let them know their contributions are counted. These gift vouchers can generally be redeemed on a range of brands and events - based on the employees’ interests like a favourite movie or a book.

2. How to Engage Remote Employees: Feedbac

2.1 Proactively share positive feedback and good news.

Timeliness of recognition is the most important factor for its effectiveness. Constant and consistent communication, especially about the good things happening around is important. These messages help in keeping morale and productivity high for remote employees. These include appreciating a good-work done or announcing a company achievement - every bit of positivity counts.

2.2 If a client has appreciated the efforts of a team, acknowledge the efforts of that team.

Like how all roads lead to Rome, all efforts of an organization must be directed towards creating a valuable customer experience. If a customer appreciates such an effort, make sure to celebrate it in the best way. Announce it in the company social group, talk about what went well and name each and every one of the contributors. Such appreciations give out clear signals to employees about the customer-centricity values that need to live.

3. How to Engage Remote Employees: Communication

3.1 Use an engagement tool to spread happiness

Happiness and motivation are infectious. It is thus important that happy discussions say - about a new customer acquisition or great customer feedback - are not made in silos, through chats or emails. Despite various advancements in collaboration technologies, email still remains to be the predominant medium of communication with remote workers.

Engagement tools like Empuls work best to really drive a culture of motivation and appreciation by circulating such motivating messages across the organization.

3.2 Conduct electronic brainstorming sessions

Employees claim that brainstorming sessions are the most challenging during remote work because they are not physically present with each other in a meeting room.

Modern platforms can circumvent and almost more efficiently conduct brainstorming sessions using dedicated group conversations.

For instance, in Empuls, managers can create either a dedicated brainstorming group (for conversations requiring documentation) or a group chat to quickly discuss action items.

3.3 Call out people who have done a good online demo, a webinar or anything remotely.  Recognize and reward them.

Remote working is a hitherto workforce management opportunity for many organizations, and there are immense learnings to be made. In addition to organization values, you need to reinforce practices that help remote working work.

Appreciate employees who disrupted their functions to not only adapt but also excel during remote work.

3.4 Give a surprise visit to your remote team members and take them out for lunch or dinner

Sometimes, meeting face to face can become very important to work with each other with high efficiency. It is only when people spend time with each other will they understand each other the best way. Make way to such conversations by actually flying down to meet your remote team members once in a while.

3.5 Build a community around work, hobbies, interests etc for remote workers:

While it is only natural to feel disconnected while remotely working, virtual communities are a wonderful way to bring together employees who have common interests which could definitely also include remote employees. When there is active community involvement, the feeling of isolation reduces. Hence involve them in virtual communities in Empuls like any sports, hobbies, charity, book reading and training.

4. How to Engage Remote Employees : Perks and Benefit

4.1 Technology perks

The day to day WFH tools can make a huge difference to their productivity and job satisfaction. Having an extra monitor, a tablet, better headphones, a laptop upgrade, internet connection, or new software can be very helpful. Consider giving employees an annual technology allowance so that they can pick and choose these benefits.

For instance, a recent survey recorded that 75% of remote workers claim that they self-finance their home internet - an expense that the company could take up.

4.2 Home service perks

There are few critical services that, if taken care of, might add great value to the remote employees’ daily life. It should also help your team keep things running smoothly at home. These services could be that of cleaning, gardening, laundering, daycare, food delivery or cooking.

Evernote offers home cleaning service, and JibJab Media offers laundry services for both their office as well as remote employees to help them enjoy their free time.

4.3 Home Workspace

While there are dedicated teams in the office who work towards ensuring their office seating are ergonomic -  the conditions in which remote working happens is often overlooked. Offering your remote team a budget for upgrading their home office- should help them sort this out.

71% of companies do not compensate for the co-working spaces, but the benefits of offering employees a proper office environment weigh very high against the costs - especially if the employee insists.

5. How to Engage Remote Employees: Localise Rewards and Benefits

5.1 Configure benefits and rewards

A majority of a company’s remote employees work from different geographical locations which leave them blinded about their unique issues. organizations end up failing to understand the real needs of remote workers as they don’t understand their location constraints so well. The best way to ensure this is to provide them with the flexibility to choose a solution that fits their needs the best.

5.2 Respect their local culture, rituals and beliefs

If your remote workers work from diverse geographies, it is important to carefully consider their local culture.

A classic example of these cultural preferences is how individualistic rewards work more effectively in the US than in China.

Thus, it is important to understand the regional culture to fine-tune your reward policies and work schedules to align with their local rituals.

While technology can provide organizations the ability to collaborate, innovate, and co-create with remote team members  - trust plays an overarching role in it. Managers need to work extensively towards nurturing intra-team trust and cohesion.

Providing absolute clarity of deliverables through on-going communication will help them effectively contribute to business results. Putting support systems in place like remote employee training and digital technologies help pace it up.

Once the downsides of “lack of face time,” are overcome using robust digital technologies,  remote workforces tend to thrive on trust, pervasive communications and real-time collaboration.

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