Remote Work Isn’t the Time to Overlook Engagement and Connection

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May 11, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Microsoft recently set the standard for prioritizing company connectedness in a time of fully remote work. The tech giant managed to pull off a historic, all-remote town hall meeting bringing together 148,000 employees across 210 countries.

But when it comes to going the extra mile to boost engagement and foster connectedness, many businesses fall short.

Realistically, many organizations focused on other priorities during the first few weeks of remote work. They needed to get employees comfortable working remotely and establish how the business would operate moving forward. Now, most businesses have adapted, making it the perfect time to bring connection and engagement back to the workplace — remote or otherwise.

Shift from communicating facts to fostering connection and engagement

With procedural communication and technology adjustments squared away, keeping employees connected, engaged, and happy for the remainder of remote work should be your top priority. In addition to virtual town halls and Zoom happy hours, you need to take proactive steps to promote connectedness and engagement while everyone works at a distance.

  • Be human. First and foremost, this is the time to demonstrate humanity and empathy. When employees are worried about the health of their families, their supply of groceries, and keeping up with the latest news, work deliverables may be the last thing on their minds. Lead by example so your employees can divide their time between family needs and work priorities without feeling guilty. Company leaders should communicate to their teams when they go offline for an hour to play with their kids or adjust their working window to grab groceries. By providing greater transparency about the realities of remote work, you can empower employees at all levels to follow suit.
  • Encourage daily connections. Healthy work cultures thrive on quick “hellos” and ten-minute desk chats. But with interpersonal communication now limited to essential teammates, a level of camaraderie may be missing. A lack of consistent communication can also create disconnects across teams and make it difficult for information to flow smoothly throughout the organization. Again, lead by example and send a quick chat to check-in with those you might normally grab coffee with or send an email encouraging others to do the same — guilt free.
  • Don’t silo successes. Make sure employees have a platform to share and celebrate their successes with the entire organization. Even small wins and a few coworker kudos give employees something to cheer about during a time when they might be struggling. For example, many companies use a sales gong to celebrate the signing of a new client or deal. Finding a way to incorporate that same signal of success into the digital workplace reaffirms that wins are still happening, and it encourages employees to continue working hard and staying productive.

Make sure that increased communication and connection doesn’t backfire

Effective communication and engagement strategies with an entirely remote workforce hinge on using the right tool for the right message. For example, a kudos or a high five can easily get buried beneath rapid-fire chat conversations, meaning it might never be viewed by the intended recipient.

While hyper-communication was always a problem, the pandemic has exacerbated the issue. Employees are bombarded with meaningless updates and oversharing on apps like Slack and Teams. To help alleviate the flood of messages, create guidelines around how employees should share specific types of information. For example, if your company uses Slack, create a #KudosCorner channel to share successes and encourage only non-text reactions to the posts to limit chatter. Or, better yet, publish this type of information more formally inside your intranet through a forum, so there is consistency in how kudos are shared and the criteria for giving a shoutout.

With “noise” at an all-time high, it’s also critical to ensure that important information shines through. Consider taking official HR announcements and messages from the C-suite off communication apps and revert to tried-and-true tactics like blog posts on the company intranet or as a secondary option, email. At a time when employees feel unsettled, these tactics offer the benefit of familiarity — and they can stand alone without being lost as is all too common with Slack and Teams.

Is your company ready for company-wide, remote work going forward?

Once engagement processes are in place and communication channels sorted, step back and analyze the tools you have, how employees are using them, and whether or not they are performing effectively. Is your company intranet full of outdated content that no one cares about? Are resources buried in Slack channels actually everyday essentials? The answers to these questions are helpful tools for carrying your organization forward and allowing it to prepare for the possibility that company-wide remote working could happen again.

While it is hard to prepare for something unprecedented, in an instant, almost every organization found themselves in a very difficult situation: Setting their employees up for remote success and then adjusting to a new way of work. But whether your workforce is totally remote or in the office, pay attention to engagement, connection, and everyday communication. While it’s critical that daily outputs remain high quality, interpersonal communication and connection is the fuel that keeps the engine running.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.