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Maintaining the Momentum When You Shift to the Remote Model

Employee engagement is a hot topic these days, and even more so when a team is home-based. Engaging a remote workforce can feel like a big challenge, especially when it’s tied to an international crisis like COVID-19. But it really isn’t. Our company was built on the idea that people can be more productive and more effective when the confines of a traditional working environment are removed. With that, we want to share our advice, experience, and lessons learned while much of the world is (temporarily) home-based.

Get social. Messaging tools like Slack, forums, Google Hangouts, or even an organization’s social media channels are an excellent way to engage employees in a distributed workforce. Employees are part of a company’s community; in fact, they’re arguably one of the most important groups to engage on a regular basis. And remember, it doesn’t have to be all business, all the time. Consider creating Slack channels specific to people’s interests (book clubs, gaming groups, fitness fanatics) and help foster conversation within each group through polls, challenges, or simple Q&As. Think of it as a virtual watercooler.

Encourage staff participation on social media, too. Remind employees to follow, like, comment, and share on the organization’s social media channels. Celebrate successes, share inspirational or motivational feedback from staff, and let them know that the organization is listening to them. Organizations might even consider community-building tactics like hosting online gaming tournaments, online lunch meetups, or even virtual birthday parties and office celebrations.

Embrace tools. To the organizations and teams that hold frequent in-person meetings, remember that technology is a friend. Zoom, Hangouts, Skype, videoconferencing — these valuable tools provide accountability, connectivity, and a sense of familiarity when isolation is the only option. We live in a world where we can connect with anyone in any time zone with a simple click, and that’s an incredible advantage that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Recurring phone or video calls with a home-based team will make everyone feel more connected and motivated to stay on track. The above platforms, among others, are extremely user-friendly and will give your employees the chance to meet, brainstorm, chat, and carry on as (mostly) normal when working remotely is the only option. We’d recommend using video for team check-ins; this will ensure you pick up on facial cues and mannerisms that are helpful in day-to-day discourse. As a bonus, regular video or phone calls might help identify which meetings could be held less frequently, or perhaps even via email, or it could reveal some disconnects that need to be addressed. Either way, it’s a fresh look with a new lens.

Don’t fear distraction. Remember that we’re human. There will always be laundry to do or meals to cook, and it’s imperative for management to create a culture that embraces life’s normal distractions. Communication is key here. Let teams know that emergencies happen and they shouldn’t feel bad or stress out if something comes up and they need to miss a call or “leave work” early. Tools like Slack make this easier than ever with both generic and customized status options to let coworkers know what you’re doing if you’re not at your desk. Communicate that dogs barking, sirens blaring, or kids singing at the top of their lungs outside your office door happens — and that’s okay. Quick fixes like noise-canceling headphones and signs around your work space indicating call status can be game changers when it comes to remote-based work. The benefit of working remotely is adaptability — employees will feel empowered when that flexibility is communicated to them. And that is critical to maintaining an engaged workforce. 

Listen and learn. Managers at all levels should take time to talk with their teams, ask for feedback, and listen to their concerns or recommendations. It’s easy for employees to feel disjointed or siloed when they’re removed from a traditional office environment, but providing avenues for open, two-way communication will give employees the chance to participate and feel heard. This is imperative for any remote-based team. This can be accomplished several ways, whether it’s through email, Slack, or on a weekly one-to-one phone call, but the bottom line is not to ignore it. 

The future of remote work is now. We’re living it. Technology enables us to connect whenever, wherever, but organizations still need to make sure they’re actively listening, communicating, engaging with, and celebrating teams on a regular basis.

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