8th June 2020
Many workers have returned to work as furlough starts to tail off, however the government has urged anyone who can work from home to continue doing so, while some transport companies have urged employers not to re-open offices to keep commuters to a minimum.
In large companies such as the Home Office and those that share multi-company offices, bosses have warned that in order to meet social distancing guidelines it is likely employees will be working from home for the rest of the year at least. Some companies are even looking at making remote working the norm, with Twitter stating that employees who prefer to work from home can do so indefinitely.
Working from home may have become the ‘new normal’ but it arrives with its own distinct challenges for managers and HR teams; with employee engagement at the top of the list. Here we look at the importance of employee engagement in a remote working situation and the ways that employers can maintain it successfully.
Employee engagement is always essential to an organisation; without engaged employees a company will see lower morale, a decrease in productivity and ultimately a higher turnover.
With a remote workforce it becomes even more of a sensitive topic, as lack of face-to-face contact makes it harder to monitor and maintain this engagement. It is much easier for remote workers to become disengaged due to the isolated nature of the situation.
We look at the specific challenges for employee engagement presented by managing a remote workforce below.
Humans are social creatures by nature – on the whole. The challenges of remote working all stem from the fact that it’s much harder to satisfy our psychological and social needs via a screen and telephone. Employees need to be able to interact with co-workers and managers to thrive in their roles.
For managers and HR teams a remote workforce makes it much harder to successfully foster a workplace culture. Lack of social conversation and face-to-face interaction combined with the obvious distance also makes it harder to monitor whether this culture is being transmitted and maintained.
Lack of face-to-face supervision may leave employees feeling unsupported – and less confident or newer employees may struggle with their tasks due to lack of information or guidance. For other employees, without close supervision productivity may drop-off, although this is more often an unfounded fear of managers than true for the majority of employees.
Isolation is a big challenge for remote workers and can hugely affect morale and employee mental health. If left unchecked it may lead to disengagement with both the job at hand and the wider company, resulting in a higher intention to leave.
This should include daily check-ins from managers, regular 1-1 phone or video calls between managers and employees, weekly or even bi-weekly team video calls and regular full-company conferences. We have previously looked at why consistent employee communication is essential during a crisis and many of the same rules apply here.
It goes without saying that ensuring all employees have access to the equipment and technology that they need to succeed at home is vital for fostering trust and feeling valued. Keeping in touch will help employees feel connected and supported, while giving managers an opportunity to set and reconfirm expectations.
Using collaboration hubs like Slack or MS Teams helps keep teams in touch with each other. It fills-in as a virtual water cooler for the non-work related chatter that is such an important part of ‘office life’ and essential for engagement.
These hubs are also the ideal tool for sharing ideas and knowledge, fostering a work culture and helping with project collaboration when teams or team members are separated. Plus the GIFs can really brighten up a day!
Even though employees aren’t in the same office it’s still possible to run team building activities without expensive away days or big dinners out. There are plenty of ways managers can help motivate their teams, ensure that members still feel part of a connected team and foster a sense of belonging to the wider company, even when working remotely.
Celebrating wins both large and small – whether it’s with a group email, a mention in a group chat or a shout out in a team video meeting – will ensure employees feel valued. Make sure birthdays and important milestones are still recognised – employees may not be able to eat cake together so instead opt for surprise cake deliveries or team video calls to sing happy birthday.
Informal social activities help keep and build important connections between team members; such as organised games, bake-offs or virtual quizzes and will also draw in newer team members to the fold.
Keeping employee engagement at the fore should be an essential part of your strategy when managing a remote workforce. These simple tips, combined with top-led planning, access to the correct tools for the job and training for managers, will ensure that all staff are set-up for success and no employee will feel disengaged when working from home.