don't be remote to your workers

How to Engage with your Remote Employees During a Pandemic

If anything a global pandemic has taught us, is the importance of engaging with our staff, especially remote employees.

A pandemic certainly changes the way we work, but it shouldn’t change prioritizing the employee experience and maintaining relationships with them. It just might look different.

In this “new normal,” stress and mental health have been more emphasized than ever. Health, daycare, social interactions, schooling, fear mongering, conspiracy theories, safety precautions, societal pressures… there is a LOT going on right now that will impact focus, productivity and priorities.

Annette Franz put a great article together in collaboration with the CXpert website called Five Tips to Engage Remote Staff during Lockdown. In it, she highlights five areas: maintaining culture; communication; feedback; tools and resources; and autonomy and empowerment. I couldn’t agree more with her suggestions. To further support that focus,  I wanted to share some things that we’ve done at work that has really helped.

My Experience in Keeping Remote Employees Engaged

  1. Communicate, communicate and communicate – expectations, concerns, direction, timelines, encouragement… all the things you’re supposed to do even when you’re not remote are even more important when you’re no longer working in the same space. Remote employees can’t just pop in to talk about projects, they only have communication channels to rely on. Make sure you are almost over communicating as a way to create an environment with little confusion.
  2. Allow for some time to be social – set a time for them to be themselves, either in daily stand-ups, weekly get togethers or a dedicated group chat. That casual camaraderie “water cooler” time is no longer a possibility so allow for it during the course of your day. It reinforces that your team is a team, filled with humans who need to connect with one another.
  3. Be a good, caring human – show interest, empathy and compassion… ask your team how they are doing, and mean it. Ask how their family is doing during this stressful time. How their kids are handling new restrictions at school. How isolation is impacting them. Everyone is going through a different experience, full of the unknown and unfamiliar. Fear, unease and anxiety are common during the pandemic so it’s important that everyone shows support for their experience. Not everyone will want to share openly and that’s fine. But they should still feel like their experience matters. As well, share how the pandemic is impacting you personally. This is new and odd for everyone, you’re no different.
  4. Don’t ignore the pandemic – include topics about how COVID-19 is impacting you and your team that is out side of work duties and responsibilities. The latest information that impacts individuals and your organization. Without betraying privacy, make sure your team is up to date on current information.
  5. Bring the organization to them – highlight other areas of the organization to give a sense of togetherness. Whether it’s a podcast or an employee newsletter, use creative platforms to make your organization a little “smaller” and intimate by sharing stories and experiences. Even if your business is extremely siloed in work or geography, stories of success, challenges and experience with a human face/voice can reinforce a sense of community.
  6. Accessibility – be there for each other when anyone wants to talk. Whether it’s any member of the team, make sure you make time for those that need it, even if it is something they may not usually “bother” you with. That connection to others is sometimes just the right amount of assurance needed to get you through the day.

These are just a few tactics you can take to help your employees feel more connected.

How You are Being Kept Engaged

I reached out to my own network to understand some steps their organization took to help keep them, as remote employees, engaged. I asked:

What has your organization/supervisor done during COVID19 that has helped you feel more engaged/connected?

Below are their answers and I hope some might work for you.

  • “Required all meetings to be on camera so we can actually see each other regularly.”
  • “[My supervisor] was really thoughtful about engagement for people working remotely even before the pandemic – a skill thats invaluable now. Plus, he’s really understanding of people’s individual circumstances, of which there are many (people trying to manage childcare, people worried about elderly relatives…).”
  • “[My supervisor] sends us thank you gift cards which is really, really nice, as well as frequent communication, team calls, etc. [Our organization] hosts “Fridays at 4″ – giant super casual WebEx calls with trivia, scavenger hunts. etc. Everyone joins in from the president on down. Our president has shown fabulous leadership, sending  a weekly email that’s really authentic and encourages positivity in tough times, sharing his own weekly COVID experiences (Netflix picks, hobbies and haircuts to show he’s passing the time). It’s been comforting to see this side and yet know they are working tirelessly to be strategic and meet the challenges we have been handed.”
  • “I worked when our hospital had a COVID outbreak. It was a very long and scary 50-ish days. Everything changed with regard to how we were expected to provide patient care. Our manager held daily “huddles” and was very transparent with policies and stats. She did draws for a few $5 Starbucks cards . And we each said one thing we were thankful for, or told a corny ‘dad’ joke at the start of each huddle. It kept morale up. Oh… and she arranged four times for the COVID testers to come to us! It was so much easier as testing became mandatory.”
  • “Been up front about how things are. And stayed optimistic. Not foolishly so. But kept the mood up.”
If anything I’ve experienced or been told about, it’s the personal touches that have had the greatest impact. When employees are treated as living, breathing, caring people, not metrics or a means to an end, the engagement is always more meaningful and impactful.
What’s working for you? Please share below. 

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