4 Tips for Engaging Remote Employees

Posted in Best Practice Research Thoughts & Culture

Before 2020, most of us wanted more flexible work arrangements. But are we happy now that we got our wish?

The data might suggest otherwise.

Remote is here to stay.

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In early 2020, companies scrambled to help their people get set up in hybrid and remote working arrangements without any idea when everyone would be coming back into the office. Now, per Lattice’s 2023 State of People Strategy Report, 1 in 4 HR leaders expect over 90% of their workforce to work remotely next year.

Who could have possibly seen such a drastic and sudden change coming, and who would have thought it would have such lasting effects?

With the realities of a remote work world setting in and increasing demand from younger employees for more flexible work options, it’s clear that we need to more seriously understand and cater to the needs of our remote-working colleagues.

Unfortunately, the shift to remote and hybrid work affects more than our employees’ commute – it can negatively affect morale as well.

Out of site, out of mind.

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Our latest survey found that 93% of respondents are feeling connected to their co-workers (a positive 10 percentage point jump over the results of last year’s survey). But when we dive into the data, we see a different picture emerge:

When we split up the data by work arrangement, we see that, while the numbers are up overall, remote workers are actually 3x more likely to report feeling disconnected than their full-time in-office peers; and this lack of connection can produce some incredibly detrimental effects on worker productivity.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. is experiencing the worst drop in worker output since 1947, but “no one is sure why.”

… Well, we have a guess.

A disconnected employee is an unproductive employee.

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Could it be that feelings of connection have a strong impact on employee productivity?

We certainly thought so, so we were ecstatic when our survey results backed it up:

We found that 94% of employees agreed that they’re more productive when they feel connected to their colleagues, and, with these stronger feelings of connection, we also saw increases in employee retention and even positive workplace sentiment.

Feelings of genuine human connection were even more powerful than we had originally thought.

So, how do we get our remote employees to feel as connected as their in-office colleagues?

How do you foster genuine human connection in a remote work world?

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Ok, before we dive into how to specifically help our remote employees feel connected, let’s take a peek back at what makes all of our employees feel more connected in general.

Here were the top 10 activities our employees reported that helped them feel connected (with the percentage of employees who agreed with each of these options):

    1. Team meetings (49%)
    2. 1:1 meetings with managers (30%)
    3. Skills sharing with co-workers/peers (29%)
    4. Spontaneous interactions with colleagues in the office (28%)
    5. All-company meetings (26%)
    6. Connecting with managers outside of work responsibilities (24%)
    7. TIED: All-company communications (e.g., newsletters) (21%)
    8. TIED: In-person bonding events (21%)
    9. Meeting co-workers/peers outside of work (e.g., going to dinner) (13%)
    10. Messaging/chatting with coworkers online, unrelated to work (8%)
      Virtual bonding events (6%)

Note: While going into the office regularly isn’t a prerequisite to building connections, over half of the employees we surveyed (57%) perceived social elements to be the biggest attraction of the office, in general.

Remote workers reported the same priority for the first two activities (team meetings and manager 1:1s) as their full-time in-office peers, but then they deviated slightly, preferring messaging co-workers/peers online, all-company meetings, and virtual bonding events to in-office meetings (since they aren’t able to have these in-person interactions themselves).

Where the two groups are similar is in their reliance on their co-workers and peers to help them feel connected (74% of remote employees cited their peers as the main source of their feelings of connectedness, vs. only 61% of full-time, in-office employees).

Where they differ is their methods of forming and maintaining these relationships – and that’s where we need to focus our attention.

So, with all of this data in mind, here are 4 data-backed tips to help your remote employees feel engaged:

1) Use buddy systems effectively.

Our remote employees still want to feel like part of the team, even though they may physically sit miles away. Pairing them with a workplace “buddy” is a great way to help ensure that they are getting the human connection they need despite their distance.

If possible, set up your remote buddies with an on-site buddy, so they can get information on the happenings within their team that they might otherwise miss from not being on-site.

Remember to be sensitive about time zones and other cultural differences that may affect the success of your buddy system!

2) Incorporate peer-based learning.

Seventy-one percent of the people we surveyed last year agreed that they need to discuss their learnings with others in order to learn something new or change their thinking, so learning provides another great opportunity for meaningful interactions between our remote and in-office peers.

So, instead of having your people do their training independently, incorporate team and/or peer-based learning to help your employees grow closer to their teams.

(And using learning buddies will make your trainings more effective as well!)

3) Keep remote employees up-to-date on team news.

Even with the best corporate communication strategy, remote employees can often be inadvertently left off of smaller team-level communications, making them feel even more disconnected.

Be sure you’re making an effort to periodically reach out to your remote employees and keep them informed on any news happening within your team or department, even if the news is seemingly insignificant.

Nothing makes employees feel disconnected like continuously finding out information second-hand.

4) Keep employees top-of-mind with nudges.

Again, it takes effort and intention to remember to check in with your remote employees periodically, so don’t take all of this load solely upon yourself.

Using an employee communication and workflow platform like Enboarder can help you offload this manual effort and cognitive load by sending you regular nudges to remind you to reach out to your remote employees, and it can also provide prompts for topics to talk about.

Distance doesn’t have to feel distant.

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It’s no surprise that when it comes to being productive and feeling connected, our remote employees are struggling the most – simply put, it’s harder to form relationships with people who they may have never actually met in person.

While fostering these feelings of connection at a distance may be challenging, it’s far from impossible. We just need to be intentional in how we create and provide these opportunities to our remote employees and keep their unique needs and challenges in mind.

So, make sure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity for communication, and look to the four tips we mentioned above for inspiration.

Just because your employees are physically distant doesn’t mean it has to feel like it!