Navigating Employee Engagement in the World of Remote Working

COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have forced a widescale level of remote working adoption and has shown even more leaders of organisations and their staff how different physical working arrangements could operate in future.

Remote working out of sheer necessity threw a curveball to many.  Ultimately, most organisations had significant gaps in their internal culture to support and harness remote working, at a time when organisations really needed to be ‘on their game’ to survive the economic repercussion of the pandemic. This goes beyond a basic training need and is about an enhanced and reset culture that adapts ways of working, roles, leadership styles, people practices, management controls – ultimately adapting the way the organisation does things.

Engagement, in particular, is difficult to grasp in this new normal of remote and hybrid working.

A couple of months ago, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani commented that those preferring remote working over time in the office were the “least engaged”. This prompted a certain amount of backlash on social media, and Mathrani has since apologised for his comments and clarified, “Ultimately the findings overwhelmingly demonstrated that employees are energised about choice, about finding new ways to work – and CEOs are equally committed to providing options that work best for their people, whether that be working from home, utilising drop-in space, going to a corporate office, or a hybrid of these options”.

The conversation around employee engagement in this new normal requires some nuance in terms of the cultural makeup of an organisation. But, in short: happy employees tend to be the most engaged. The organisations willing to offer their workforce a choice of where to work are on the way to having happier employees. So how do you ensure that engagement is at the right level for your business.

Striking a balance between engagement and bombardment

For many, technologies such as cloud storage, Zoom and Slack make remote working as efficient as going into the office. Online communication is quicker and more convenient than ever before. However, it can be very easy to overload your staff with meetings and instant messages, to the point of the working day becoming counterproductive. Here’s what we suggest:

Minimise your use of apps – Think about the best ways for employees to communicate and stick to one or two platforms to facilitate the conversations in a productive manner.

Avoid Zoom fatigue – Stanford University research has shown that a day of being on-camera can be hugely draining. It can be tempting to add team check-ins and progress meetings when you haven’t seen your team in real life for a while. But, seriously consider – can the next meeting you schedule just be an email instead?

Respect boundaries – If you’re in your home office you can, to an extent, manage your time to work when you feel most productive. That said, do bear in mind your employees’ working routine if you’re emailing out-of-hours, and consider using email scheduling tools if you have them.

Trusting the workforce to get on with their jobs

Ensuring a high level of engagement between management and staff will naturally rely on the culture within your organisation. Fostering an environment of trust and support for your workforce is the key to a happy workforce.

Avoiding micromanagement is one way to build the culture you need in your business. As a leader, if you are implementing a blanket return to the office full-time to keep an eye on what is going on day-to-day, then there are some clear trust issues. In the remote space, the same issues will crop up if leaders micromanage their people. This breeds a culture that will have a negative effect on motivation, productivity and engagement.

The past year has seen us experience a collective trauma and work doesn’t need to be made more difficult as we come out of this difficult time than it needs to be. Leading with empathy and trust will be noted and appreciated by everybody.

Customise your engagement style

Obviously, everybody has different ways of engaging and communicating at work and remote models do make this a little more complex.

It’s worth remembering that remote working has been a relief for some people, from a health and wellbeing standpoint, or just because they work better alone in a quiet place.

On the other hand, there are people who feed off the energy of others to stay productive and accountable for the quality of their output.

The solution? Ask questions! Talk to your team one-on-one, get a sense of how they want to engage with the team and management that allows for vital communication flow and also suits their working style, to provide the best quality output they are required to do.

Time management for hybrid working to maximise collaboration and productivity

Right now, hybrid working models seem to be a common route for many business, allowing employees to set their own schedules should they wish to. At the same time, you can’t beat face-to-face interaction for relationship building and collaborating on ideas and projects.

Hybrid working allows for the best of both worlds; to come into the office for meetings that require these collaborative efforts or to hash out key business strategies, and to work remotely to tackle the To-Do List with minimal distractions. And that requires efficient time management and organisation skills to really pull that off.

Remember that your people are your greatest asset

You’ve given your employees the choice to work where they choose. But don’t just stop there – listen to their concerns and use that feedback to do continual work on improving your culture.

A recent study showed that “employees at remote work-friendly firms were 14% more likely to agree they feel safe to speak their minds and 9% more likely to report that their leaders value different perspectives, compared to their peers in companies that haven’t enabled remote working.”

As in-person interactions weren’t possible during lockdown, remote workers had space to reflect on what mattered to them beyond their monthly paycheque. Aspects of working life, such as development and progression opportunities, a sense of belonging, and greater inclusion came to the forefront of priorities for many.

Many people in the corporate space, as well as recruiters, speculate a shift towards an employee-led market, where the workforce have more power to dictate their terms and benefits of working in an organisation. If they don’t like the working conditions, they will simply go somewhere else that serves them better.

People value their workplace when they feel their voice is heard. The collective trauma of this pandemic has caused many to pause and reflect on what is important to them in all aspects of their lives.

Therefore, this marks a pivotal moment for leaders to take employee feedback on board than ever before. Put employee happiness higher in your priority list, and the rest – increased productivity, innovation and engagement – will soon follow.

How we can help

Designing and Embedding Remote Working Cultures

Remote working is not a new concept- we’ve been helping our clients over a number of years keep their teams productive, engaged and well; regardless of whether they are office based, home working or out in the field.

We offer a remote working culture audit/assessment to uncover the real enablers and inhibitors of your current culture and work practices, enabling you to focus on the right cultural shift to enable the remote working model to really work for you.  The audit provides practical and actionable insight that can be used to design the culture required to support your future performance goals and strategy execution, whilst harnessing the benefits of an engaged workforce in the remote working (or hybrid) operating model.  The insight is gathered through an online survey, supplemented by qualitative insight gathered via online staff focus groups and equally applies at team / departmental level as an organisation-wide exercise.

The remote working culture audit is a specific product is one of the many tools and services from our 3-stage methodology for designing and embedding future-proofed cultures, so comes with the same level of practical impact and results focus as all our award-winning culture change programmes.

Designing the Employee Experience

Whatever their position or location, you need to consider how they feel about the company culture, the technology and tools you provide for them to do their job and the physical environment that they work in.

A positive employee experience will ensure greater employee satisfaction levels, productivity, performance and wellbeing. It will also enhance your employer brand and facilitate the attraction and retention of the most talented people.

Some of the things that make up employee experience (EX)?

  • How aligned your employees feel to the purpose and values of the organisation.
  • Whether they think that it’s a fair and inclusive place to work that treats people with respect.
  • Whether they are given the right technology, tools and skills to do their job.
  • Whether they have been given the right amount of autonomy, empowerment and flexibility to do their job well.
  • How people are recognised and rewarded internally.
  • What the physical environment is like.
  • How authentic and ethical the leadership team are.
  • How customers as well as suppliers are treated by the company.
  • How well the company listens to its employees and how much the employees get to contribute to any decisions that are made (especially when they will be directly impacted by them).
  • How much they feel that the company cares for their general wellbeing as well as their personal and professional development.

Contact us about how we help business to build a culture that nurtures and supports its greatest asset – its people.

Photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels