Best Practices for Preventing Disengagement Among Remote Employees

While the prevalence of employees teleworking has increased in recent years, a fully remote workforce is a novel concept for most businesses—one that they’ve had a crash course in since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether new to remote work or veteran telecommuters, employees often begin to feel disconnected from their colleagues and organization when they spend the majority of their working hours logging in from home. Couple that with the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for disengagement. Even in the best of times, only 19% of employees consider themselves ‘very engaged,’ so the question then becomes: how can organizations today ensure that their remote employees are feeling content and being productive?

Although COVID-19 is responsible for the majority of today’s remote work, the principles for ensuring engagement remain the same as those in the pre-pandemic world.

Stay connected through Culture Continuity

Online or offline, in-office or remote—maintaining a consistent organizational culture for remote employees plays an important role in facilitating their engagement.

This is not the time to let out of sight become out of mind. Organizations should leverage this opportunity to nurture their corporate culture by extending in-office experiences such as yoga, mindful meditation, and company-wide meetings to their employee’s new virtual workspaces through video conferencing solutions. These shared experiences help colleagues to feel more connected despite their physical distance.

Employees negatively affected by full-time telecommuting may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Reduced output
  • Short or abrupt emails
  • Reluctance to engage in telephone calls or video conference calls
  • Shortage of new ideas

These attributes of disengagement could signal a morale issue that requires the attention of the employee’s people leader. Changes in behavior that are wide-spread will require the attention of the organization itself to ensure that employees feel supported and inspired to perform their job duties.

Leverage your culture of recognition

To reduce feelings of isolation and encourage engagement, organizations should strive to maintain a culture of recognition—a primary driver of engagement. In a Harvard Business Review report that studied The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance, 72% of respondents agreed that recognition given for high performers had a significant impact on employee engagement. In addition, our research has shown 82% of employees would like more recognition at work.

In the month following the onset of the pandemic, Achievers was pleased to see a 14% increase in the number of recognitions sent across its platform. This demonstrates that many organizations are getting it right during times of crisis by increasing the frequency of peer-to-peer and leader-led recognition.

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Fostering a culture rooted in recognition requires active participation from leadership. High-quality contact (recognition and other forms of rewarding social interaction) between colleagues occurs when it’s part of the corporate culture. People leaders must lead by example, recognizing employees for living the organization’s values, supporting their team members, hitting prescribed targets, etc. These acts of recognition are perpetuated throughout the organization at all levels, spreading and reinforcing a culture of recognition. This pattern is vital to employee engagement, as it’s shown that good relationships among peers can help reduce the risk of burnout and increases motivation at work.

Fine-tuning engagement through technology

Your organization’s technology plays a critical role in bringing together global and local workforces to ensure that business objectives are met. Today, it also plays a pivotal role in keeping your workforce connected while adapting to telecommuting.

Best practices for supporting employee engagement through technology include:

  • Encouraging the use of messaging systems that not only allow employees to share information and documents for work purposes but also facilitate casual conversations and connections on a personal level with their peers.
  • Looking for new ways to recognize milestones outside of performance, such as birthdays or personal achievements.
  • Leveraging communication channels to share important company-wide communications. When doing so, ensure that your message is clear, aligned with the organization’s values, and authentic. During difficult times, employees value transparency, even when messages contain difficult news.

Measure activity

While your organization will hopefully not experience another crisis event requiring a fully remote workforce any time soon, it’s important to learn from today’s pandemic experience and use insights gained to inform future employee engagement strategies.

Be sure to measure employee activity during the pandemic to identify how your workforce responds to working remotely. Perhaps you’ll discover increased productivity within some departments and challenges within others. Watch for attendance at company-led virtual social events and examine their impact on overall engagement. Collect as much data as you can to understand what the ideal state of employee engagement looks like at your organization—whether it’s in-office or working from home. This data is invaluable in helping you understand how to support your employees and organization during times of change or uncertainty.

Today’s best practices are tomorrow’s best telecommuting experiences

Preventing disengagement means being both proactive and responsive to evolving employee needs during times of flux. With workforces likely to continue operating remotely for some time into the future, organizations can take learnings from today’s tele-workforce experience to evaluate how heavily their culture is tied to being in the office and to understand how best to maintain continuity during organizational change.

Natalie Baumgartner, Ph.D. is the Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, an employee engagement platform specifically designed to align everyone with business objectives and company values, driven by recognizing shared victories every day. She has spent her career translating engagement and culture research into technology that improves the lives of every employee.

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