As the business-world settles into a new way of working - with ‘hubs’ replacing head offices and businesses making the bold move to 100% remote work - there has been an overnight shift in the way we engage with our teams.
With people working from home, employee engagement is at the forefront of every manager’s mind. As is the heightened challenge of engaging new recruits - welcoming people to your team without even being able to shake their hand.
HR teams, leaders and managers around the globe are now asking:
- “How do I know if they are engaged with the business?”
- “How much should I communicate?”
- “How do I engage my team and show them they are valued, when I can’t give them the frills of being in the office?”
- “What if they’re spending their days looking for other jobs?”
The marketplace for jobs just became borderless; it’s a fantastic time to be looking for work and for you as a business… well, your talent pool just became so much deeper.
But once you’ve hired your amazing recruits, how do you keep them engaged and make sure you retain them for the long term?
In our webinar series, HR Consultant, Shari Angle, helped us share some tips for engaging remote employees across four key areas:
- Continuous improvement
- Career Success
1. How to communicate with remote teams
Chats by the water cooler are a thing of the past. While this is a big win for office gossip, it could mean that teams lose many opportunities for ideation, learning, information sharing and, importantly, human connection. Leadership teams need to shape their internal communications to help staff stay in the loop and engaged.
Tip one: Be intentional
Shari believes that you can’t necessarily ‘over-communicate’ but you can communicate ineffectively. Each and every communication, impromptu or not, should have some intention behind it; are you sharing information? Are you checking in on someone’s well-being? Are you providing advice?
Intentional communication is mutually beneficial; it can still happen organically but with people not bumping into each other in the hallways, we have the opportunity to get the best out of our conversations with colleagues.
Being intentional can also ease underlying tensions. Shari recalls a client once saying; “My manager calls me all the time - are they checking in or checking up?”. Remember that your intentions might be good but if they aren’t clear, they may be perceived very differently and could have a detrimental effect on engagement.
Tip two: Understand your audience
Your communication style and channel will (and should) vary, depending on your audience.
Shari recommends a very personalized approach for individual communication, but when it comes to broad, business-wide messages, adopting multiple channels to ensure all personality types tune in and soak up the information.
Consider introverts and extroverts
Put simply, introverts are drained by social interactions, while extroverts gain energy from them.
If all of your interactions were on group Zoom meetings - would you be catering for the introverts in your team?
You can find out your team’s communication preferences by asking them some simple questions or getting them to complete a purpose-built questionnaire, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a psychological self-assessment that measures how people prefer to work and learn.
Don’t forget that your team’s communication preferences may vary due to their home-working environment. Your star team member might be working in their kitchen with their pet cat in the background. Let them turn their camera off if that makes them feel more at ease.
Tip three: Remember to be human
When we’re communicating digitally, it’s easy for interactions to become task-oriented and for people just to ‘get down to business’. It’s essential that you make time for human connection.
Why not try allowing five minutes at the start of a meeting to ask how people are feeling? Or simply how their day is going. Instead of sending a document, create a video explaining your work and let people hear your voice. Or at the end of the week, arrange drinks or lunch with your team. If you want to go the extra mile, you could send credit for UberEats (or your local equivalent) to change things up a little.
2. How to facilitate continuous improvement
Continuous improvement and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. An engaged workforce is more likely to support a businesses continuous improvement, and likewise, the demonstration that a business is continuously improving is likely to raise engagement levels.
And so the cycle continues.
Implement a four-step process
Step One: Ask
Shari always reminds her clients that continuous improvement is about co-creation and the first step to get things moving is just to ask.
“We want to understand what our employees are experiencing and what’s important to them. And you can do that via any feedback channel”. Some tools that Shari recommends include:
Remember that this is your opportunity to be more human as an employer. Hold up your hands and say “I don’t have all the answers but I trust you to help me find them.”
Step Two: Define
Now’s the time to get into the nitty-gritty and group the feedback. This doesn’t need to be complicated - just simple lists of pain points and opportunities, broken down into categories.
Step Three: Focus
Oftentimes this is where employers get stuck. Feedback can seem overwhelming but it doesn’t need to be… you just have to get started. Whether you focus on the pieces that are going to have the biggest impact, or simply some quick wins, just pick your battle and take small steps to make a change.
If you’re having trouble creating an order of priority, you can make this a team effort. Once you have completed the list of opportunities for improvement, ask your team to pick three and apply the below labels. This can help you create your shortlist and understand the perceived impact the change will have.
- Easiest to implement - “This is a quick win”
- Biggest impact - “This will have more long-term benefits”
- Personal preference - “I’d just like to see this happen”
Step Four: Involve
Continuous improvement shouldn’t be something you quietly chip away at. Nor should it be something that only the leadership team can focus on. Make this a whole of business effort, communicate regularly about changes, do pulse checks and admit when you’re getting it wrong. This will inherently impact engagement, before you’ve even implemented any change.
3. How to create a sense of community
While your sense of community can be driven by your overarching business objectives (more on that later), it tends to develop through office interactions. When creating relationships in the office becomes a thing of the past, it’s up to you as the employer to make a regimented (yes, we just used that word) effort towards creating and maintaining the sense of community.
Because, frankly, it impacts your bottom line.
But aside from that, we as employers have a duty of care to ensure our staff are in an environment that enhances mental wellbeing and promotes engagement; we need to create a sense of belonging.
Shari recommends that we get some structure in place; “begin by doing an audit or review of what has been gained and what has been lost. Communication might actually be clearer now, but people could be missing their monthly socials, or might not understand their greater purpose. But we’re all connected by disconnection and this has set a level playing field for everyone, so it’s a good place to start.”
Once you have done your audit, here are some ways you can create a sense of community:
- Create opportunities to make a difference, whether it’s in the business through working on key projects, or within the community. Internally, one idea is to ask members of the business to ‘share a skill’, doing short sessions where they impart their knowledge with others. This helps them feel like they’ve made a difference, allows people to learn and also helps people understand their broader network.
- Don’t forget to have fun… but don’t force it! This is a tough one. Try simple things such as sharing company memories, or creating team challenges.
- Create shared goals. This has always been important but it is now more than ever. Ensure your individual and team objectives ladder up to your broader business objectives and communicate about them regularly. It’s basic, but important.
- Enable collaboration - ensure you have the right tools in place to help people connect. You’re probably saving on office rental, so invest some of that money in helping people connect through tools like Slack or Facebook Workplace.
Don’t forget that feedback is important to help people feel connected too, so rather than simply thanking someone for a piece of work, explain why their efforts are significant. If “thanks for that” becomes “thanks for that, it will really help me win that deal and reach our monthly target”, you instantly create a shared sense of accomplishment.
4. How to enable career success
A study by Jovite revealed that 33% of new starters leave their job within the first 90 days.
That’s a shocking statistic revealing an acquisition and onboarding issue that may even have been further amplified since businesses began to work remotely.
The question is - are these 33% being set up for failure from the outset?
When it comes to enabling career success, we need to begin at the beginning - onboarding.
The importance of onboarding
Where do you begin? For new starters, or even when reviewing existing members of staff, start with a brainstorming session. You have to be able to relay the uniqueness of your business, so ask yourself:
- Who would it be beneficial for this person to connect with?
- What does success look like in 3, 6, 12 months?
- What tools and relationships do they need access to to make them successful?
- Do we have social and operational norms that this person should follow?
Remember: people are no longer “learning by osmosis”. They can’t listen in to their neighbour’s conversations or quickly say, “Hey, I’m setting up this meeting, who should be there?”, so we have to connect people to do that.
Shari’s big tip? Assign a buddy - someone who knows the ropes in detail. They aren’t there to train the new starter, but can help them connect the dots, navigate the business and settle into their role faster.
And how do you know when onboarding has been a success? One simple indicator is observing how quickly a new starter’s language changes from “they”, “them”, “you” to “we”, “us”.
How to enable development when working remotely
We have to make a concerted effort to help employees continuously develop, and because we’re working remotely, this might mean introducing some new practices or training. Here are Shari’s top tips.
- Create cross-functional teams. Create opportunities for people to work as a collective on projects, or simply bring people together to facilitate discussion and ideation.
- Assign internal mentors and coaches. You might be surprised by the number of people in your business who love to share their knowledge and watch others grow. Put a simple coaching and mentoring program in place - either with assigned mentors or access to mentors on rotation.
- Train managers to have development discussions with teams. We need to understand our team members’ goals and values and assess them against the resources and relationships that they have available to them as a remote worker.
- Don’t be afraid to have specific talent discussions. There might be stars in the business that you simply couldn’t live without, or quiet achievers that are ‘keeping the lights on’, so to speak. Find out what skills these people have and understand how they can be protected and shared - you will not only help people develop but you will be protecting your business.
As more of us are inviting our colleagues and peers ‘into our homes’ through virtual meetings, our personal and professional lives are becoming more intertwined. Things have shifted for employers; businesses now need to remove some of the barriers and interact with their teams in a way that is more authentic. After all, we’re all trying to work this out together.
Our key takeaway from our webinar series, and Shari’s golden nugget, is to “be intentional”.
- With the things you communicate about
- With learning about your teams
- With allowing time for connection
- With implementing change
Engaging remote teams requires a little more thought, and a slight gear change, but ultimately, it comes down to understanding the people at the heart of your business a little more.
About Shari Angle
Shari Angle is the President & Founder of LOFT Consulting Canada and has more than 20 years of Human Resources experience, over a decade of those at an executive level. Lending tailored support, experience and expertise to mid-size businesses is one of Shari's core focus areas. Developing strategic initiatives, improving workplace cultures, and creating an empowered workforce is what she does best. She is passionate about helping leaders create best-in-class workplace cultures where employees thrive and business booms.
If you want to listen to our discussion with Shari in more detail, you can watch recordings of our 15-minute webinar series here.