How To Keep Remote Employees Engaged: 10 Strategies for Success
Content Editor at Workvivo
22 Feb 2023
If you’re like the average company, more than three out of every five employees in your organization are disengaged.
That’s what Gallup found in its 2022 State of the Global Workplace report. And it has staggering implications for business productivity, success, and profitability.
The reasons for this rate of disengagement are numerous and nuanced, but the pandemic and the often chaotic shift toward remote and hybrid work certainly play a part.
As a manager or leader, you may have a good handle on how to boost employee engagement with in-person teams. But what about remote teams, distributed teams, and isolated individual remote employees?
Boosting engagement in this group can seem confounding. These 10 strategies can help you improve the employee experience and boost engagement among remote workers.
Why is it so important to keep remote employees engaged?
There’s some debate over whether remote employees are naturally more or less engaged. Many managers believe experientially the answer is clearly ‘less’, but some research suggests otherwise, with hybrid employees faring the best and on-site faring the worst.
Our own research among 1,000 US and UK workers generally concurs: most (88.1%) would prefer to remain fully remote or hybrid, and 70.5% state they feel more productive in these arrangements.
Whichever side ends up being right on that point, both agree on this one: when a remote employee does become disengaged, the outcomes can be rough. With no in-person social network and often less direct accountability, remote disengagement can come on suddenly and accelerate quickly.
Consider these four strategic reasons why keeping remote employees engaged is vital.
Productivity and performance
First, disengaged employees tend to lag in terms of productivity and performance, while engaged employees do more and do it better. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey finds that 79% of professionals believe fostering a sense of belonging at work is vital to success, and 93% say it drives performance.
Beliefs and opinions are one thing, but we can draw an even more direct line between engagement and productivity. Gallup’s 2022 report – which we’ll return to several times below – identified a 14% rise in productivity among engaged workers.
Employee retention and work satisfaction
Not only do engaged employees perform better, they stay longer and remain more satisfied. Once again, we turn to Gallup, which found that the higher engaged a business unit is, the lower the turnover rate for that unit. At low-turnover organizations, the difference is a stunning 43%. At organizations with high turnover rates, 18%.
It’s worth noting that when you ask them what they want, most knowledge workers say they’d prefer remote or hybrid work over 100% in-person. So in some cases, the remote aspect of a role may directly play into engagement, retention, and satisfaction. At the same time, it’d be a mistake to assume that just because someone says they prefer remote that they are automatically engaged.
Attracting top talent
It’s not rocket science: top performers don’t want to work at companies with a lousy work culture. If the general tone of the employee population is one of disinterest and malaise, it shows. A manager or executive can go to great lengths to court a high performer. But when that high performer meets a sea of low-performing (disengaged) teams and individuals, the hot prospect will look elsewhere.
Profitability and business results
When you increase productivity, performance, retention, and satisfaction, the result is inevitable: your business results improve, and so does your profit level. Gallup calculates the profitability difference between highly engaged and disengaged at 23%.
Take a moment and think through what that means. By focusing on and improving employee engagement (something many firms tend to overlook and underfund), you’d increase your profits, on average, by nearly 25%!
10 tips for keeping remote employees engaged
Looking for more strategies for getting and keeping remote employees engaged? Try these ten methods.
1) Use a social intranet to keep employees connected in a familiar way
One element that often weakens or even disappears with the switch to remote work is human connection.
A social intranet is one solution. Social intranets combine the best parts of a classic intranet (central hub for information and documents) and a modern social experience. Workvivo’s social intranet provides an attractive, usable platform for keeping coworkers connected – even across different time zones or flexible working hours.
Employees can post and share professional updates, accomplishments, project completions, and more, and they can also recognize the accomplishments of their peers. It’s also a great way to disseminate company news and updates – in a location people will actually want to keep coming back to.
Social intranets are also great places to host and store onboarding materials for new hires, and they’re an effective communication platform for one-to-one chats and virtual teams alike.
It’s a great way to breathe more life into your company culture and internal communication strategies, making it a solid remote employee engagement strategy.
2) Promote open, two-way communication
The nature of communication changes when people go remote. If you’ve been in leadership for a few years, you’re likely quite accustomed to simply walking over to someone’s desk to check in. While digital tools have come a long way in bridging the gap, there’s no corollary that’s 100% just as good as face-to-face.
As a leader, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of one-way communication with the remote employees under you. You tell them what to do, give them updates on company news, send them a direct email asking for specific reporting information, and so on.
Of course, all of these are important and unavoidable. But if not tempered with open, two-way communication, all that one-way messaging can certainly lead to an employee feeling like a soulless cog in the machine, not an equal part of the team. Over time, this can deeply affect an employee’s well-being and lead to burnout or quitting.
Recognizing the loss here, it’s important to emphasize, promote, and model open, two-way communication with remote employees. This can look like a video call or one-on-one where you ask open-ended questions instead of conveying instructions and giving orders.
It can take some finessing, but if you can get your remote employees to open up to you, you’ll show them you care – and usually keep them engaged.
3) Create opportunities for employees to socialize in various ways
In-office, there are all sorts of natural opportunities for socializing: water cooler talk, shared lunches or breaks, and simply milling about the office.
Things like this simply don’t happen on remote teams unless someone makes them happen. Intentional unstructured time at the beginning of synchronous video meetings is one strategy. Virtual lunch-and-learns or affinity groups or mixers are another. Even adding a ‘social’ or ‘just for fun’ channel in your collaboration app could make a difference.
The software and tools you use can help build a socializing-friendly culture as well.
For example, Workvivo offers organizations numerous ways to help their team members socialize. Workvivo’s activity feed or newsfeed allows users to see updates and changes from colleagues in real time and to communicate with each other, either publicly or privately. They can comment on posts, send accolades and kudos, and more.
As teams grow increasingly remote (including adding people who have never met in person), cohesion and familiarity can suffer. Workvivo’s profiles for individual users include a personal bio, some basic information about the person and a profile picture. It’s hardly the same as happy hour, but it’s a solid start toward seeing coworkers as people.
4) Build a culture of recognition and appreciation
Recognizing employees earnestly and often makes a difference in employee engagement. One of the quickest ways to disengage is to feel like that cog in the machine rather than a valued human being. Warmly sharing appreciation or employee recognition is one of the most direct ways to show someone they are valued.
Another way to build this kind of positive work environment focuses on the impact a person’s work is making – not just around their individual accomplishments or personality or skills. People innately desire to be a part of something meaningful. But often in the modern knowledge economy, it’s hard to see how your individual contributions fit into the big picture.
It’s up to leaders like you to pull out this story and share it with the people and teams that make your company what it is.
Workvivo’s core experience as a social intranet can help you build this kind of culture. Share recognition and appreciation posts in the newsfeed, and every employee can see and celebrate success.
5) Be open to feedback – and ask for it often
If someone is already feeling isolated, it’s easy to also begin feeling like their voice doesn’t matter.
There’s something about being able to read the real-life room: as a leader, you can ‘say’ with body language or even just a look that you want that person to share their perspective, and the employee can more easily read those cues.
Video meetings remove nearly all these cues, making it harder for people to know whether they should speak. In that situation, many simply won’t.
So as a leader of a remote team, you have to work harder to signal that you’re open to feedback and value each team member’s contributions.
When people feel like their opinions are valued – truly valued, not just surface-level courtesy – they tend to engage deeper. You can make that happen by seeking those opinions, thanking them for them, and implementing the ones you can.
6) Highlight team wins
Building a culture of recognition and appreciation extends past the individual level. Leaders of teams should do the same thing by highlighting team wins and giving praise where it’s due.
Too often in project work, teams rush to the completion of one project and then dive straight into the next (which is probably already getting a late start). Do this for too long, and a team starts to believe they’re not contributing like they should. That leads to demoralization, which is usually accompanied by disengagement.
Here too, it’s all about seeing their work’s impact. With smaller, more agile teams working on smaller segments of a larger whole, it can be difficult to see this day to day. But when you highlight team accomplishments (and do so publicly, such as by promoting accomplishments using Workvivo’s social intranet) teams can see how much you value the stuff they’ve worked so hard to accomplish.
7) Invest in your employees’ development
Investing in an employee’s development at work speaks volumes. It says you value their contributions enough to put time or money (or both) behind their continued development and success. It says you’re committed to their growth. And it says you’re looking at the long-term, the big picture, not just what that employee can do for you over the next three to six months.
Think about what’s next in your own career development. Maybe it’s an MBA or executive MBA, or some other advanced credential. What would it mean to you if your boss was willing to foot the bill? Would it make you more or less engaged?
The answer’s the same for your people.
8) Increase leadership interaction and visibility
Remote employees need to see and hear from the big boss. In the old days, this might happen via unscheduled walkthroughs, dropping in on divisional meetings, and the like. These days it takes a little more creativity.
Yes, leadership can still drop in on a virtual meeting. But the effect probably isn’t quite the same.
Newer tools, including asynchronous communication tools, give leadership new ways to interact and stay visible.
Quick, casual company-wide videos and podcasts are low-cost and low-complexity options that don’t take much technical backend support. And a social intranet like Workvivo can accomplish this kind of visibility via posts to the social feed and company-wide updates.
9) Keep an eye on data and analytics
A lot has been said about measuring productivity among remote employees, but measuring engagement is perhaps just as important.
Here again, the old ways of doing things gave us a sense of security (though perhaps a false one): department leaders could walk around and assess whether employees were engaged, on track, and productive.
Today we must rely on data, metrics, and analytics in addition to more qualitative observations using emotional intelligence.
Not sure how exactly to measure employee engagement data? Workvivo has the measuring tools you need, like measuring the reach and engagement levels of content posted to the social intranet. Workvivo also equips you with powerful surveying and polling tools.
10) Provide the right technology and tools for success
Perhaps most important is equipping your employees with the technology and tools they need to work effectively in a remote or hybrid environment.
Early in the pandemic, the suddenly remote workforce got by however they could. There weren’t enough webcams or headsets to go around, let alone functioning private home offices. We all did the best we could to overcome those hurdles and get work done.
But the newness and shock of it all is long past. If employees are still hobbled with insufficient hardware at this point, it’s communicating something specific to them: their employer does not value them enough to support them.
That’s an instant one-way pass to disengaged status.
So make sure your remote and hybrid employees are equipped with the necessary technology. And don’t stop there – your remote employees also need the right digital tools for successful, efficient remote work.
Along with a modern social intranet, your team needs a handful of tools, including task management tools (like Asana, ClickUp, or Monday) and team communication tools (like Zoom, Slack, or Microsoft Teams).
With better tools for project management, synchronous collaboration, asynchronous communication, and social intranet, your team will be better equipped to navigate and succeed in the world of remote work – especially when they can access each one from a central hub with third-party integrations, like Workvivo.
Amplify employee engagement with Workvivo
These ten tips and best practices can help businesses like yours get your remote employees engaged and keep them there. But above it all, you need an amplifier – a tool that amplifies all the rest of your engagement efforts.
Workvivo is that tool. With a social newsfeed approach to employee news, and project milestones, you’re gaining an intranet people are actually motivated to use. And that social intranet will create a sort of feedback loop, growing and amplifying engagement throughout your organization. Ready to supercharge employee engagement with a modern social intranet? Request your Workvivo demo today.