Frustrated remote employee
Ok, admittedly, the word “engagement” gets thrown around a lot in the world of management and leadership training. But “engagement” rose to buzzword status because a growing body of evidence shows it’s a factor that impacts everything from turnover and productivity to your company’s ability to innovate more efficiently than your competition. More CEOs understand their bottom line suffers when a team is not engaged. 

You may work for a company that has been able to respond to relevant opportunities created in the COVID-19 marketplace. Or you may work for an organization that is struggling to fight challenges to remain in business. Companies in both camps can create better outcomes by improving team engagement. Engagement, simply put, describes your team’s level of voluntary willingness to communicate, participate, and lean in to a challenge. Great companies like Amazon, SalesForce, and Disney, have established such rock-solid reputations in the marketplace that we take special note when someone we know gets a job there. But we’ve all known a company or two with employees and managers that struggle in this area, and consequently, have higher churn rates and shorter lifespans. 

To build and maintain high engagement among teams, and also between an organization’s leaders and its employees, takes intentionality and commitment. Nowadays, employees are clocking in from everywhere, and more are moving their work away from the corporate campus to home offices and kitchen tables. If your company is one of the many embracing the remote work wave, you may wonder if there’s anything different you should do to foster engagement across your remote team.

Actually, many of the tactics used to build highly engaged employees can be just as effective when applied to off-site teams. The three biggest components to success are the same in remote settings as in-person. But to make sure you see results, the approach does change a bit. 

#1. Casual Communication

It’s a little harder to pop in and chat with individuals in a virtual environment. You likely don’t pass anyone else’s office on your way to the bathroom. And you don’t share a kitchen or break room with co-workers, but casual banter is super important. It’s how you and your team build and maintain authentic relationships over time. In a natural and gradual way, individuals learn more about who one another is as a human being: likes and dislikes, family structures, unique passions and senses of humor. Relationships deepen and so does accountability to the team. People are naturally more accountable to others they know and like. 

Make sure to create a virtual space for casual communication to take place almost as organically as working in a shared space. There are some really effective apps like Slack and Google Hangout that offer a place for employees to share thoughts, talk about their weekends, trade gifs, and banter throughout the workday. As a leader, you set the tone for casual communication. You must be mindful of that. But it’s ok to tastefully let your hair down in accordance with your organization’s culture and values. If you’re juggling a full schedule, set a reminder to post, message, or email a light-hearted comment a couple of times a day. It’s not a waste of your time and, kept in check, it’s not wasting your team’s time either. They work better if their days are peppered with humor and expressions of comradery. What’s more, unstructured banter generates some pretty darn good ideas sometimes. 

#2. Structured Communication

Teams working at a corporate office can use board rooms and meeting lounges to hold focused discussions that help them efficiently progress through assigned projects. For remote teams it can be a little more difficult to connect, focus, and document progress made during meetings. Give your collaborative teams a virtual workspace for structured communication to take place. Slack and Google Hangouts may work well for smaller project teams in place of physical meeting rooms. Make sure each team member has access to a shared drive to contribute and save notes, data, and any other documents to assist their progress. 

Companies that employ remote workers risk higher levels of disengagement if they’re not diligent about maintaining leadership and manager/employee communication. In a remote setting, it can be easy to let this slide. Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams are a few technologies known for supporting large meetings as well as smaller ones. Make sure to have the appropriate technology on hand to schedule and hold the important meetings that provide structured, goal-driven communication: round tables, all hands, and even celebratory meetings. Don’t miss the important opportunities to communicate your expectations and values all of which hold your organization together.

#3. Team Development

Managers can stay connected to their teams and drive innovative spirit through regular team meetings that discuss the week’s events, problems encountered, and ways to solve them.

As a highly engaged manager, you’ll want to encourage or require remote meeting participants to turn on their cameras so they can continue to nurture authentic conversations and relationships. 

Hold mentor meetings and one-on-one discussions designed to help your employees grow professionally. Many employees are facing challenges and stresses that can impact their performance. You can help them overcome these challenges and extract the most value from their experience. Show your commitment to team members by making time to listen, encourage, and coach them along. 

Some highly innovative and mostly virtual companies have had success with scheduling regular virtual pair-ups, which are like video “coffee dates” held between two employees or between a leader and their subordinates. The meetings rotate participants so that dialogue and growth continue between individual teammates and their leaders when it’s not easy to grab coffee or lunch at the physical office. To get the most from a virtual meet-up, the facilitator can designate who will converse each week, or each day, whatever the cadence. Pre-plan a few questions for the participants and include some time for unstructured catch-up. 

The good news is that people are becoming more comfortable with online, remote communication and are even more available to participate now that barriers like commuting time and schedule disruption are no longer a factor. You may end up inspiring even the quietest, most reserved individuals on your team to contribute in rewarding new ways. 

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