How to Connect with and Engage your Remote Team

In the wake of Covid-19, remote work is here to stay. In this article we look at some of the challenges involved and offer advice on how to connect and engage your remote team. 

Key Takeaways

1. Even after the pandemic is over, analysts expect that remote working will continue for many organisations, with some firms going 100% remote.

2. Loneliness is a huge problem among remote workers, especially when they are not connected with one another, and this can lead to other problems including burnout, disconnect, and poor mental health.

3. Creating opportunities for employees to openly communicate with their colleagues and management is the best way to help them stay connected and engaged.

4. Don’t rely solely on emails and phone calls; There is a range of tools that you can implement within your organisation to make communication easier and more streamlined.

How to Engage Your Remote Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely redefined the way that teams communicate and work.

It is difficult to put an accurate figure on just how many companies have embraced remote working, but Gartner reckons that around 88% of organisations have encouraged or required employees to work from home regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.

While remote working was something once rarely offered to workers, typically only allowed where an employee required more flexibility due to circumstances beyond their control, it has now become the norm for most business out of necessity.

Once the pandemic is over, however, remote working is set to continue. The truth is that COVID-19 has forced organisations and corporate decision-makers to realise that, in fact, remote working can deliver a huge number of benefits when it is done properly. But that is precisely the caveat: doing it properly or, rather, in a manner where your remote team remains connected to the business and engaged with their work and colleagues no matter where in the world they are working.

To read more about employee engagement generally (whether in-office or remote), check out What is Employee Engagement & Why it is the Key to Your Organization’s Success?

Why Remote Work is Staying

The pandemic has shown organisations that remote working is not something to be afraid of, and that it can deliver major benefits.

Businesses are primarily profit-making enterprises, and it is in a business’s best interests to maximise its margins. Operating workplaces has always been one of the biggest business expenses, but when employees work remotely then huge amounts of money can be saved on office space and all the operational costs that come with it, such as equipment and maintenance.

A recognition of this saving, and the additional costs that can apply to remote employees (e.g., equipment and utilities), some businesses consider offering a remote work allowance or stipend

It is also much easier to recruit remote workers, and they can work from anywhere in the world; your access to talent isn’t constrained by international borders. And because ‘Generation Z’ and ‘Millennials’ want to work more flexibly, offering remote working will mean you are much more likely to attract the best talent.

Remote Working Challenges

Remote work isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. Humans are social beings; we thrive on connections with others, and our workplace connections with colleagues make up a huge part of our daily lives. When these are suddenly taken away for the most part, as they were at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can lead to all sorts of problems.

Loneliness is the most cited problem and presents a huge challenge for remote workers. According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work study, 19% of remote workers reported loneliness as their biggest work struggle. This is hardly surprising given that most workers will spend most of their working time in an office surrounded by other people.

Loneliness can also lead to other problems, including:

  • Burnout
  • Blurring the boundaries between home and work can cause employees to put extra hours in unnecessarily, especially when workers don’t have a dedicated home office or workspace. These extra and unsustainable hours can easily lead to burnout which is a huge drain on employees’ regular working hours.
  • Read more about strategies for avoiding employee burnout at How to Prevent Employee Burnout
  • Disconnect
  • A recent study reported a link between loneliness and decreased work performance because employees become disconnected from their work and the wider organisation as communication and information sharing between colleagues slows down.
  • Mental Health
  • As we said above, humans are social beings, and so a lack of social interaction can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Loneliness and isolation have long since been linked to poor mental health. This, coupled with spending more hours sitting at the computer putting in work, can be a recipe for disaster.

5 Tips for Staying Connected

As an employer, you should be doing everything you can to ensure that your employees stay connected, engaged and motivated to avoid a general feeling of loneliness among them and all the problems that it can bring.

Here are five tips for keeping your team connected and engaged while working remotely:

  • 1. Have Open Lines of Communication
  • One of the most effective ways of keeping a team connected is keeping an open line of communication so that they feel heard. When there is an open dialogue, employees are far more open to sharing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns with supervisors and managers.
  • Examples of open lines of communication include everything from regular one-on-one check-in meetings and occasional team or company-wide meetings to Slack channels where colleagues can communicate freely and casually. Another example is having a clear ‘remote work policy‘ setting out expectations for remote workers across the organization. 
  • Open communication helps to foster a company culture that enables employees to say what is on their minds without fear of any negative consequences or ramifications. When employees feel like they can be honest and know that they will be heard, they are more likely to feel connected to the organisation.
  • 2. Provide Honest Feedback
  • A great way to improve engagement is to make your employees feel valued through frequent feedback. It is a great way to not only show your remote workforce that you are paying attention to their contributions but also identify and improve any problem areas. Feedback should be constructive and honest; make sure anything said has both merit and value.
  • If you encourage feedback and build a culture that encourages it, employees are likely to end up on the same page when it comes to what is expected of them in their respective roles, and they are also less likely to be caught off-guard by the inevitable negative feedback—nobody’s perfect!
  • 3. Allow Flexible Working
  • Now more than ever, employees need to be given a certain degree of autonomy when it comes to setting their working hours. Flexitime and flexible working policies allow your employees to decide which working schedules work for them, and this can be especially beneficial for remote employees who must juggle other commitments like childcare.
  • Giving your employees this autonomy can deliver many benefits to your business. It lends a huge hand to boosting employee wellbeing by allowing them to achieve a better work-life balance. It also allows them to adapt to changes in their personal lives as they happen.
  • Think about it this way: If employees are completing their work on time and to the standard expected, does it really matter what hours they work?
  • 4. Hold Weekly Team Meetings
  • Another very effective way to help your remote team feel more connected is through regular team meetings, preferably with video enabled to throw some much-needed face-to-face interaction into the mix since your employees can’t see each other in the office. Tools like Zoom and Skype are fantastic tools for holding video meetings that have been built for large-scale business use.
  • Regular team video meetings will allow employees to get face time that they are missing and protect the pre-pandemic bonds that they built with their co-workers or build new ones with employees that started their jobs during it. These meetings don’t need to be purely work-focused, either; add a personal touch by allowing time before and after for personal discussions.
  • 5. Encourage Informal Interactions
  • In a social, close-knit physical office, people aren’t always sat at their desks ploughing out work. They are getting up to stretch their legs, make a coffee, and chat with co-workers. Exchanges like these help to bring together employees from across different teams and give newer team members an opportunity to connect with their senior colleagues.
  • In a purely remote setting, however, these opportunities simply don’t exist. This does not mean socialising needs to be completely absent, however.
  • You can still encourage candid interactions without a physical office in a number of ways, such as by creating informal Slack channels, scheduling optional meetings with no set agenda where employees are free to talk about what they want, and virtual team building events like happy hour on a Friday.

Helpful Tools to Better Engage Your Remote Team 

A sure-fire way to make a success of remote working and encourage connections and engagement among your team is to use the right tools. These can make the difference between a productive workday and a frustrating, wasted one.

Since communication is by far the biggest challenge for remote teams—as we have discussed—many of these tools have been designed with it in mind. Here are a few that we recommend as remote working experts:

  • Zoom: The tool that arguably defined the pandemic, Zoom offers the ability to host video and online meetings with features like chat, file sharing, and screen sharing.
  • G Suite: Files can be shared among teams and employees can work collaboratively on the same files at the same time.
  • Slack: Slack markets itself as a sort-of virtual workspace. It enables real-time communication and file sharing through a platform based on instant messaging.
  • Trello: Trello allows you to create virtual lists and cards following the ‘Kanban’ organisational style.
  • Asana: A project management tool with automation, project tracking, direct requests, task assignment, and to-do lists.

Keeping Your Team Connected is Important

When your employees are working remotely in different locations—especially if they are working internationally—they are missing out on connecting not only with each other but with the organisation overall.

According to the Harvard Business Review, remote employees are more likely to feel like their colleagues mistreat them and purposely leave them out. If your remote workers are experiencing feelings like these when it simply is not true, their productivity and overall wellbeing could slip and harm your company’s performance.

With analysts suggesting that the shift to remote work is likely to be a permanent measure for many organisations, now is the perfect time to prepare for the future of work by figuring out ways to keep your team connected and engaged.

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