An increasing number of companies across all industries are building flexible workforces with a mix of remote and local employees. In some cases, entire departments are remote and team members know each other more by chat avatars than by faces.
Even as IBM calls its remote workers back to the hive (or“co-locates” them, as it’s apparently called in IBM corporate speak), the flexible remote work economy is here to stay. While this team arrangement can be incredibly productive, it does present unique challenges in terms of employee engagement. It turns out that happy hour is a lot harder to arrange when the commute is 3,000 kilometers—who knew? Scrap that plan and keep your remote team engaged using these 8 manager-approved strategies.
1. Get to talking
One of the most straightforward ways to avoid alienating your team members is to clearly outline expectations from the start. For example:
When should they available and on what medium (e.g., by phone, email, chat, homing pigeon)?
Which meetings are mandatory?
What should each member contribute to these meetings?
It sounds so simple but managers often forget that greater distance means a greater risk of expectations getting lost in translation. Combat this with extra communication and transparency.
2. Go from inbox zero to hero
One Canadian study found that employees spend an average of 17 hours per week managing their inboxes at work and home. A full 30% of that time involves emails that aren’t important or urgent! Enable your remote team members to focus on working rather than reaching inbox zero—implement a “necessary emails only” policy, allow team members to only check and respond to email at designated times of the day, and/or encourage other communication such as phone calls instead.
3. Schedule play dates
When each employee is doing his or her own thing remotely, a cohesive group identity rarely happens organically. Carve out some time each week to devote to fun team-building activities such as coworker recognitions or group video games (workplace appropriate ones, of course). You know what they say: all work and no play…
4. Perk up
Show employees you care with remote-friendly workplace perks such as money toward each team member’s gym membership. You provide a monthly stipend, they get to put it toward a local health facility or sports association of their choosing. Perfect for a team where one-size-fits-all isn’t an option.
5. Build a water cooler
Can’t congregate at a physical water cooler? That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the interpersonal experience! Create a virtual water cooler by hosting quick team pow-wows every morning or once a week, where everyone shares something about their lives—what television show they can’t get enough of or their latest foodie discovery, for instance.
Another option: create an online “front page” where employees can leave shout outs or updates for the group, and make it the first thing everyone sees when they log into your central project management dashboard for the day.
6. Become a masterful, magical manager
Any employee who has ever had a manager (that’s pretty much everyone) understands the power of one-on-one attention from their boss. In fact, Gallup reports that in some geographies and industries, managers are responsible for 70% of an employee’s engagement. Give team members the attention they deserve and cultivate their strengths. They’re guaranteed to be more engaged because of it.
While we’re on the topic of becoming a superhero manager, one of the best things that you can do to engage team members—whether they are remote or work right down the hall—is to appreciate their contributions and wins. Research and common sense both demonstrate that when employees feel valued, they are more engaged.
8. Check(list) this out
Throwing new hires straight into the deep end is never a good idea, but it’s disengagement waiting to happen if you do that for your remote employees. Take each new team member through a comprehensive onboarding program throughout their first days, weeks, and months to ensure that they hit those essential productivity milestones and feel like part of the team.
Download our free New Hire Milestones checklist, which can help employees learn everything they need to know in their first year and love your company in the process!