10 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement with a Remote Workforce
10 Ways to improve Employee Engagement with a Remote Workforce
Employee Engagement is known to be the intangible key to a successful business. Pre-Covid this success factor often remained very elusive for many organizations, with some reports suggesting that only 15% of employees were actively engaged and almost 65% of employers stating that retention was more difficult than attraction. According to a study by Gallup highly engaged workplaces saw 41% lower absenteeism.
Of course, the war on talent is now hotting up, and it has been reported that millions of workers are actively looking to change jobs as part of the Great Resignation and the desire by most employees for flexible or remote working. Some of this desire to move is as a result of remote workers having time to reevaluate their lives during lockdowns and for others it's realizing that life is too short to remain in an unsatisfying role. Although many businesses saw a rise in productivity since home working became compulsory for many at the onset of the pandemic, with the rapid increase in remote working as a result of various lockdown restrictions, employee engagement has become even more of an invisible challenge for many managers and businesses.
New issues facing managers include trying to identify the levels of engagement of those who are home working as there are many employees who have been putting in the extra hours at their laptops, filling their commuting time with responding to the rise in emails and video calls, then possibly ending up with screen fatigue, increased stress and even burnout. Then there are the remote workers who feel guilty about leaving their desk so spend normal office hours sitting at their laptop but are not very productive – thus creating the new version of presenteeism. Conversely, there are those team members working from home who may be taking advantage of the autonomy by starting work late, finishing early, taking long breaks and are likely to be using their time to do household chores.
So how does a line manager identify and manage these different types of workers and address the different issues when they are managing remotely?
Here are 10 of the most practical and effective methods:
1. Now that the majority of recruitment, selection, interviews, induction, and onboarding is carried out online, it is even more important for leaders, managers, and organizations as a whole to ensure that all communication is open and honest about the real responsibilities of the role and the actual culture of the organization. Then pay attention to how new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviours to become effective remote team members by ensuring that any ‘on the job training’ is conducted by fully engaged individuals, not by ‘nay-sayers’ or those suffering from presenteeism or screen fatigue.
2. Line managers still need to hold regular weekly, bi-monthly, and/or monthly ‘face to face’ 1:1s with their direct reports, often via video calls, not just on the phone, in order to be able to ‘see the whites of their employees’ eyes’ so they can assess commitment levels, mood, and morale. A reported 85% of employees who do not have regular 'face to face' meetings with their line manager were actively disengaged.
3. In addition to more formal 1:1s to assess performance and identify any key issues, many managers are still holding regular informal catch ups via video calls so that their team members can have a non-work conversation to replicate their coffee breaks or water cooler conversations. Some of these gatherings are compulsory, others optional, but if a team member consistently doesn’t join in with these get togethers, or any online work social events, it’s key for their line manager to have a chat with them 1:1 to find out the reason behind this.
4. With the majority of office workers still carrying out their daily work tasks from home, or in a hybrid model, employees need to be trusted now more than ever. A good way of empowering team members is asking them to set their own objectives and performance goals. According to a Gallup survey pre-Covid, 69% of employees who were not held accountable for their performance were actively disengaged, with only 3% being engaged. It was estimated that poor engagement and ‘presenteeism’ cost organizations around £370 million a year in the UK.
5. Common complaints from remote workers are that they don’t feel part of an organization, they’ve lost their sense of belonging and teamship, that they feel they are operating in a vacuum and are lacking recognition. Managers who create high performing teams focus on identifying and developing strengths, as well as dealing with performance issues, in order to be motivational, inspirational, and encourage higher levels of engagement. Regular, balanced feedback, recognition and praise for good work, especially from a senior manager, all contribute considerably to the employee feeling valued. Almost 70% of workers say they would work harder if they felt valued. Avoid being a demotivating manager, who delivers positive feedback, always followed by a ‘but’: ‘…but, this could be improved’ or ‘…but, you could do x or y better.’
6. As some of the pressures of Covid-19 start to dissipate, it is important to hold regular conversations regarding career progression. Providing learning and development is proven to improve levels of both retention and engagement. Research has shown that companies who spend more time and money on training have lower employee turnover rates, more top-performing employees, higher rates of promotion, and overall higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. Encourage blended learning opportunities and reimburse tuition fees for relevant online external courses.
7. Identifying and developing rising stars is increasingly important when retention is starting to become an issue again. 60% of employees are said to expect to be offered career development opportunities, with promotion from within being a great motivator. However, before the pandemic according to Hay, 43% of employees didn’t feel that good performance was rewarded and 41% didn’t consider there was a structured approach and process for Talent Management and Succession Planning.
8. Employees are seventeen times more likely to be engaged if their manager is aware of the current projects they are working on, with increased engagement as a result of a line manager taking an active interest in the life of their employee, again reinforcing the need for regular communication.
9. Having the time, equipment, and adequate resources to do the job at home can also increase levels of engagement. Ensuring that employees have the tools to manage their workload will prevent sickness absence and increase motivation. Many firms are funding ergonomic office chairs or standing desks to avoid their employees from suffering from neck and back issues as a result of balancing laptops on settees/bedside tables or even ironing boards!
10. With increased restrictions, added to Covid cases in offices or schools forcing employees back into working from home, some are feeling isolated, demotivated, and unaware of their real contribution to the organization. When employees feel empowered and actively contributing to the mission and vision of the company, they are more likely to display discretionary effort. So, frequently ask employees what they want and what motivates them. Don’t rely on hearsay or assumption. What motivates one team member is often very different to another. It’s also still important for managers to encourage increased collaboration with other functions in order to share ideas, processes, and procedures, as well as promoting innovation and creating an engaging remote company culture. When strong leaders and managers hone their active listening and emotional intelligence skills and demonstrate that they value their employees’ input, performance levels increase.
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