Ways to engage and communicate effectively with remote workers

By Denise Spillane, senior vice president of marketing at StayWell

Public service announcements encouraging us to avoid shaking other people’s hands and touching our faces. Cancellations of college classes, sporting events, concerts, and industry conferences. Wherever we look, it’s evident that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is already dramatically impacting daily life.

In response, companies are increasingly taking their employees off the road and out of corporate offices, shifting to “work from home” cultures as much as possible, in an effort to slow the virus’ transmission rates.

StayWell, which currently offers remote work flexibility to more than 75% of its staff, and other companies have been making this transition over the past few years. But nearly 60% of U.S. employees don’t work remotely in any capacity, and for some of them, this will be the very first time they do.

How can you best engage and communicate with your workers across multiple locations? Consider these five remote employee engagement ideas:

Create a “camera on” culture

Think about the collaboration challenges that going remote can bring—like trying to keep pace on fast-moving conference calls or breaking into conversations when you are not the loudest voice. These activities may be more difficult for some employees than others.

Try using video conferencing—with webcams on—for all meetings. It ensures that everyone has the same audio and video experience. It also allows the host to survey video feeds as they would in an in-person environment—to see who’s engaged, who may have questions, and who’s checked out. Daily face-to-face video interaction also helps build relationships over time across the organization; and I know from personal experience that it connects people in a way, encouraging them to put their best face forward (without sliding into a sweatpants slump)!

Talk time zones

Always keep time zones in mind, especially if you have team members across geographies (I lead a team of more than 50 employees in 16 different states alone). It’s unrealistic to require employees to work the same office hours given the reality of how coronavirus may be impacting commitments such as childcare and home care.

Encourage employees to work within their own time zones, and avoid scheduling meetings before 9 a.m. (PT) and after 5 p.m. (ET), but also allow room for flexibility. For example, one of our Utah-based employees collaborates mainly with individuals on the East Coast, so she has chosen to work on Eastern Time. Once you determine how each individual works, respect their working hours.

Use technology to build a sense of community

Working remotely does keep employees from gathering in a conference room to celebrate a birthday or stopping by their coworkers’ workspaces to recognize significant milestones. But you can offset the void of cubical conversation while connecting employees by:

  • Purposefully leaving space at the start of calls or video chats for small talk, to fill the gap from the lack of hallway banter
  • Providing a central location where team members can share highlights from their weekends and their top priorities for the week (e.g., a Salesforce Chatter group)
  • Encouraging team competitions or fitness and other well-being challenges (e.g., a Million Steps Challenge)
  • Using Skype or another instant messaging service to spontaneously celebrate team wins, individual achievements, and birthdays and work anniversaries

Offer a high-touch onboarding program for new hires

Remote work isn’t for everyone. The lack of physical interaction can feel isolating to some. Take care of your newer associates, who may be less familiar with whom to go to for guidance, or how to find company policies and procedures. Assigning a mentor or hosting daily check-ins during the first few weeks can be helpful in answers the “over-the-cubical-wall” questions too.

Honor actual office hours and the weekends

Employees who work from home often keep their phone or laptop within reach, as technology has made it easy to check email in seconds. However, just because you find it convenient to catch up on email later in the evening while watching TV doesn’t mean your coworkers or direct reports do.

Refrain from creating an “always on” working environment by clearly communicating expected response times for emails. Or simply delay sending emails until the next day.

Learn more about how StayWell emphasizes employee well-being and partners with organizations to build an engaging culture.


 
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