December 9, 2020

Engaging Remote Employees

As employees continue to work remotely through the months ahead, keeping employees engaged and motivated may be a challenge. Although remote workers are generally enthused about the new arrangement with most surveys indicating that productivity and work-quality has gone up, forging solid ties between remote workers, minimizing workplace drama, and offering creative ways to reward and recognize employees remains a priority – and sometimes a challenge - for management.

According to KPMG’s most recent American Worker Pulse Survey, employees like working remotely. They are surprisingly MORE committed to their jobs. Most employers have done a good job making employees feel valued and appreciated. They also report an improvement in work-life balance and a greater level of satisfaction in their work product.  

But there are concerns. Since April, job demands have increased, concern about being furloughed has intensified, mental health has declined, and 34% of American workers working remotely say their relationship with coworkers has worsened.  As Matt Oldani, Vice President of Operations at the Deaconess Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, said recently about their decision to operate remotely, “It isn’t perfect, because we talk a little less, but we have tried to maintain the team dynamic. I personally miss walking to the next cubicle to solve a problem, because I am reluctant to call someone on their cell phone as it feels like an intrusion.” 

Four tips for engaging employees have particular relevance in a time when employees are working to maintain connections and relationships with one another.  

  1. Make sure your orientation and onboarding is working. Hiring new employees and getting them up to speed is particularly challenging in a remote setting.  To help new hires feel fully welcomed, consider mailing branded merchandise with a personalized note or card from coworkers welcoming your new employee to the company. Assign them a “buddy” outside of their department to guide them in the first few months. Make sure they are getting tips on the company structure, workplace tools, and roles and deliverables for the projects they’ll be working on.  And check in with them frequently to ask them how the process is going or send a survey link to gather feedback. 
  2. Continue the regular performance appraisal process. It may be tempting to avoid providing critical performance feedback which may be more awkward remotely, especially if they are not coupled with salary increases. But employees need more than ever to be “seen” and recognized. Improvement-oriented suggestions, separated in time from positive feedback, is critical as employees work together to get things done with limited resources and time. 
  3. Address workplace drama as it occurs. Just like weeds in a garden, workplace conflict and drama thrive when they are not tended to. Leaders should not hesitate to take action when tension surfaces, addressing it directly with one-on-one conversations and coaching.
  4. Provide frequent, heartfelt, positive feedback. Frequent check-ins to touch base and inquire about wellbeing and personalized, heartfelt expressions of gratitude are more important than ever to employees struggling with the stress and uncertainty of a workplace in the grips of COVID-19. Calling to say “thank you” for a job well done and recognizing employees publicly on Zoom may be hard to find time for when management is stretched thin, but it should be a priority. In the HBR Article “The Little Things that Make Employees Feel Appreciated,” Kerry Gibson advises managers to make it a habit. “Simply taking a few minutes to tell your employees specifically what you value about their contributions can have a tremendous impact,” she advises, suggesting that authentic expressions of gratitude and recognition should be built into a regular weekly routine.  

Sources: Harvard Business Review, “The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated", American Society of Employers, “The Effect of Workplace Drama on Your Bottomline and How to Stop It", KPMG, "American Worker Pulse Survey Report", HR Cloud, "8 Simple Steps For Awesome Remote Onboarding in 2020"

The views and opinions expressed in the article represent the view of the author and not necessarily the official view of Clark Hill PLC. Nothing in this article constitutes professional legal advice nor is intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice.

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