What We've Learned About Keeping Our Teams Engaged While Working From Home
If anything, a business with unengaged employees is potentially going to underperform one with fewer, but highly engaged ones
As March rolled around, companies around the world launched the largest work-from-home experiment overnight, whether we were prepared or not. And the single lesson that businesses have learnt is, even if you were able to get by with semi-engaged employees who would trudge into office for their paychecks before the world changed, those guardrails of a formal work environment are now gone.
If anything, a business with unengaged employees is potentially going to underperform one with fewer, but highly engaged ones.
A highly engaged team can mean the difference between failure and success. Bringing a project across the finish line is half the battle, but if you keep your team engaged, they'll have the motivation to go above and beyond.
As I've transitioned to running teams in India and the US entirely remotely over the past two quarters, I've learnt more than a few lessons along the way.
Become an investor in your people
Humans are innately driven by the need for personal growth and wellbeing. It stands to reason that this is even more true when they have more time on their hands.
In the first few weeks of the lockdown, I found that people were using the additional time freed up from their commutes into picking up new skills and starting their own side-projects, with some even taking up university courses. While it can be tempting as a manager to see this as people taking up these initiatives as distractions, I've found that encouraging and aiding my team in their personal initiatives has actually ended up in them being more invested and productive at work.
Weekly 1:1 meetings are a good way to stay clued in. This is more than a check-in—it's an opportunity to gauge an employee's feelings, needs, and desires and discover how you as a manager can support them. Without an office environment, there are fewer opportunities to provide feedback in passing or in the moment. The 1:1s are a regular chance to provide the insights you need as a leader. My weekly 1:1s have given me a chance to really get to know some of my team members, in some cases even better than I did before.
Beyond 1:1s, it's important to speak up to elevate your team members. Your employees want to be appreciated. Start by making a conscious effort to say thank you, often. It's a small step that often gets overlooked, one that initiates a culture of thanks—so don't be surprised if your "thank you" starts a chain reaction.
Get your team to interact with each other. After all, employees work best together when they trust each other. The social component of the workplace is one of the main reasons people find their workplaces satisfying. While we've had to find virtual analogues, we've found success over the past few months with game/trivia hours and even hosted a virtual comedy and entertainment night to give our team exciting experiences that go beyond an ordinary Zoom happy hour.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) to discuss other personal interests and identities is something which modern workplaces should establish. Having a safe space in the workplace for everyone contributes to psychological safety. That establishes a lot of trust and happiness throughout an organization—and your team will respect you for it.
Cool tech exists—use it!
Luckily, there are plenty of tools to increase engagement for on-site and remote employees alike. Enterprise social networking tools like Jive or Jabber keep your teams communicating and socializing. Messaging tools can keep the watercooler conversations flowing. Tools like 15five help you track performance and engagement. And new social-based technologies like Donut connect employees randomly to form cross-company relationships. Maintaining a social structure keeps your employees in tune with each other, remote or not.
Set norms to keep your team motivated and connected. The only difference between your on-site team and your remote team should be the location.
Encourage your remote workers to structure their days as they would in the office:
- Make sure they're taking their lunch breaks and nourishing themselves.
- Set up proper productivity tools to keep your entire team on the same page.
- Utilize video conferencing in every meeting with remote team members and encourage everyone to stay on camera, so every employee—remote or not—feels included and stays engaged.
Employees need individual structure, too. Make sure you provide them the tools and means to keep things on track and organized. Allow for autonomy when managing their own time—knowing they are trusted to do their jobs well will give them the motivation to do well.
Initiatives mean nothing if your employees are overworked, overtired, and straight-up overwhelmed. Set up company-wide policies like logging offline after working hours or enforcing no-meeting days to keep personal wellness a priority in the workplace.
Offer individualized benefits
Your employee engagement strategy means little if you aren't able to walk your talk and provide for your team. Secure proper flexible benefits for your remote workers who can't necessarily use all of your company's offerings. A remote worker doesn't need the monthly parking pass or catered lunch you provide in-office, so find ways to provide relevant alternatives.
The opportunities for perks and benefits for remote employees are endless.
- Try offering a lifestyle spending account, which allows your team to build individual benefits packages based on their own needs.
- Offer ergonomic assessments and an equipment reimbursement plan so each individual has a proper workspace at home.
- If your office provides catered lunches or snacks, give your remote workers a choice between different snack or meal subscription options.
Ultimately, we've found that every individual has their own goals and source of fulfilment. Staying aware of that individual context has made our people a collective (work) force to be reckoned with.