Engaging Remote Workers

By Denise Spillane, senior vice president of marketing at StayWell

A barely-moving morning rush hour makes you late for an important meeting. There’s more gridlock at lunch—this time, it’s the long line to use the kitchen microwave. Traffic jams on your commute home meaning you won’t make it the dry cleaners—again—to pick up your cleaning. You decide to set the alarm even earlier tomorrow.

That’s a realistic snapshot of a commuter’s life, an exhausting balance of hurry up and wait. But it’s not the typical case for the marketing team that I have the pleasure of leading at StayWell, which offers remote work flexibility to more than 75% of its staff.

Working remotely has many advantages including easing the stresses that can come with a daily commute. Gallup recently found that workers who spend three to four days working offsite are substantially more engaged in their jobs.

How can you best engage workers across multiple individual locations? Consider these five remote employee engagement ideas.

Always consider the remote prospective

Consider collaboration challenges your remote team members may face—like trying to keep pace with a conference call, especially as the only remote participant who can’t break into the conversation. Whether you have one remote team member or an entire remote team, it’s important to create a consistent experience.

Try using video conferencing, with cameras on, for all meetings. This will ensure everyone has the same audio and video experience. It also allows the host to survey video feeds as they would an in-person environment—to see who’s engaged, who’s not following, and who’s checked out. Daily face-to-face interaction helps build relationships over time across the organization.

Talk time zones

Always keep time zones in mind, especially if you have team members in multiple locations. (My team is in 10 different states alone.) It’s unrealistic to “require” employees who work across the country to have the same office hours given the realities of childcare, home care, and other personal commitments in employees’ lives.

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

Honor office hours and weekends

When you work from home, your phone or laptop is typically always within arm’s reach. 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 will.

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.

Use technology to build a sense of community

You may not be able to gather remote employees in a conference room for a surprise birthday party or give them a high five when a project reaches a significant milestone. But you can offset the void of cubical-to-cubical conversation and keep a dialogue going by emphasizing remote employee engagement activities like:

  • Creating a central location where team members can share highlights from their weekends and top priorities for the work week (e.g., Salesforce Chatter)
  • Encouraging team competition with activities such as a March Madness bracket challenge or fitness-related challenges (e.g., Million Steps Challenge)
  • Using Skype or another instant messaging service to celebrate team wins, individual goals achieved, and birthdays and work anniversaries

Additional ways on how to make remote employees feel included could be organizing volunteer events, holding annual in-person team meetings, or attending an industry conference.

Offer a high-touch onboarding program for new hires

Working remotely is not for everyone. The lack of face-to-face interaction can feel isolating to some. During the hiring process, probe candidates’ experience working in a remote environment and what aspects appeal to them.

Also consider bringing new hires to a specific location during the first week of orientation. This will help them build an understanding of organizational culture and processes and allow for significant time for personal interaction. Daily check-ins during the first two weeks can be helpful for getting answers to “over the cubical wall” questions, too.

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