An employee is working remotely at home.

It is hard to overstate the importance of employee engagement and its impact on employee retention and job performance. Over the past few decades research and experience has taught us that employee engagement leads to happier and healthier employees and highly productive organizations. Whether you’ve moved to remote work as a response to the current health crisis, or you are considering it as an ongoing option for a segment of your workforce, now is a good time to revisit employee engagement strategies.

What Is Employee Engagement

First, a refresher on what employee engagement means. Employee engagement is not the same thing as employee satisfaction or employee happiness. Employee engagement can be defined as the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and the organization’s goals. An engaged employee is not only working for their own paycheck or career plan, or the organization’s mission. An engaged employee is working for the good of the organization (and probably those other things as well). You can read more about employee engagement in these articles.

How to Maintain Employee Engagement

Organizations that make a regular effort to improve and evaluate both organizational culture and employee engagement may have an easier time maintaining both when a segment or all of their employees work remotely. These are some of the things you need to do to maintain engagement with remote employees.

Establish new goals and expectations – Most of us have had the disorienting experience of starting a new job with no real sense of what was expected of us. When an employee switches from working in the office to working remotely, they are essentially starting a new position. The goals and expectations you had for an in-person employee may no longer apply. If your employees are working remotely in response to a crisis, you may not be able to clearly define expectations and goals right away, but it’s important to set and communicate both goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) as clearly and quickly as you can.

Create a Communications Plan – Employees who work in an office receive information in a variety of ways. There are formal communication channels such as emails and meetings, but there are also informal channels. Prior to quarantining you could walk by a co-worker’s desk and ask them a question, or run into a team member in the parking lot where you could learn both personal or professional information about your colleague. These informal opportunities are greatly reduced when people work remotely, so it is especially important to have a clear communications plan. Many organizations find that using tools such as “g chat” or “slack” helps them maintain some of the informal communications channels.

The lack of informal communications channels may also mean that you need more regular or scheduled check-ins and touchpoints for both individuals and teams, and that you may need to empower leaders to make routine managerial decisions. For some leaders it is much harder to give direct reports the attention they need remotely, especially if you are not used to doing so. Empowering your leaders and managers to make decisions will help not only with their engagement, but with the engagement of their direct reports.

Embrace Flexibility – Many remote employees like to stick with a regular routine. They get up, dress for work and make sure to be at their computer during regular working hours. This does not work for everyone, especially now. Employees with school-age children, toddlers or babies, or those working around spouses also trying to work, may need to work in the evenings or on weekends. If flexibility is not already an organizational value, now would be an ideal time to explore what flexibility means for your remote workforce during quarantine and beyond.

Sustaining Your Culture – When you think of your office culture, what comes to mind? Do you have regular get togethers? Do employees eat lunch together in a break room? Are there team meetings where good work is recognized and rewarded? All of these things lend to employee engagement, which means they’re important to continue in some fashion while working virtual. If only some of your employees work remotely, it’s important to find ways to keep the remote employees involved in these events. Similarly during quarantine, leaders should schedule virtual social activities, recognitions, and team games to ensure not only individual employee wellness, but team cohesiveness. Organizations such as Museum Hack can be an excellent resource for sustaining culture and employee engagement for your remote workers.

If you’d like to talk to us more about employee engagement, and work through thoughts on how you can improve engagement in your organization, please fill out our contact form and check the box for consultation.