Remote Staff Community Engagement
Even before COVID-19 more employees were choosing to work remotely. Now more than ever, there is a need to ensure that remote employees do not become socially isolated and that teams remain both, connected and engaged. On a subconscious level, despite the perceived adavantages of working remotely, people tend to prefer a physical work environment. This is because work, at its heart, is a profoundly social activity. This means that employers must put an effort into creating an engaging online community if their remote workers are to be successful.
CREATING AN ENGAGING COMMUNITY WHEN STAFF WORK FROM HOME
- Historically, chat programs have not been well-received by employers, as they are seen as distracting employees from the real task at hand. However, in a remote work setting, they are essential to meaningful discussion between team members, and a means to prevent social isolation and loneliness among employees.
- Programs like Hipchat, Slack or Hangouts take distance out of the equation and enable staff to interact with each other in a meaningful way. Many of the elements of an office environment that appear to be lost through remote employees, such a collaboration, mentorship, and teamwork, can be overcome through the effective use of chat programs.
- Most chat programs allow for multiple channels to be set up. This not only enables more formal channels to be established for the different teams within an organization, but it enables informal chat channels to set up that foster the company culture and promote camaraderie among employees. Remember, 85% of workers want to feel closer to their remote workers.
- If a chat program is being adopted, it is important to establish clear guidelines about what are and are not acceptable discussions to have on the medium.
- One of the key issues for remote workers is remaining in touch with the company, and ensuring that they continue to feel invested in the success of the company. In an office environment news of the companies, success, failure, new strategies, and general company information are easily communicated to the relevant employees. This becomes harder when employees are not physically present in the office.
- A weekly newsletter can assist in overcoming many of these issues. A weekly newsletter will keep employees up to date with new team members and changes within the team structure.
- Experts recommend that part of the weekly newsletter should be devoted to team building and ensuring that all team members know each other and the roles that they have within the team.
Weekly Team Calls
- Despite employees working from multiple locations, it is still fundamentally important that teams work together and collaborate on the various projects and functions that specific teams are expected to perform. One way to ensure that all members of the team are engaged and singing off the same song sheet is through the use of weekly team calls.
- Many of the chat programs offer this function. There are also a range of business communication options available that enable video conferencing calls. These include Zoom and Skype (although Skype for Business is soon to be retired), and Microsoft Teams (Skype`s successor).
- These calls have two functions. Firstly, they serve to keep team members informed and engaged in all aspects of the team and the tasks they are responsible for within that team. Secondly, it fulfills a social function by ensuring team members are not socially isolated.
- This process enables managers to understand where individuals are at on their specific assignments and how the individual aspects of a project fit together in the larger scheme. If the meetings seem overloaded then consideration should be given to holding them daily.
- An often forgotten fact when discussing remote workers and their engagement is that much of the engagement that occurs in a traditional office environment is as a result of connections that occur outside of work hours between employees. The importance of these connections should not be underestimated. With remote employees, there is a need for employers and managers to think creatively to maintain these connections.
- Social gatherings should not be forgotten just because a good proportion of the workforce is remote. Various experts emphasize the importance of social gatherings away from the office. If a good proportion of the workforce is remote, once quarterly is recommended. The importance of these events should not be underestimated.
- The events stop those who work remotely from feeling socially disconnected, as the loss of support from an office environment is often underestimated. These events also allow relationships and connections to be forged between the two different environments, which will contribute to the success of the team.
Invest in Training
- Although investing in training may seem out of place in a discussion about how to create an engaging community, it is nonetheless relevant. When employees work remotely there is not the same level of interaction between employees and simple things like being able to quickly ask another staff member how to something is lost.
- If employees are to be successful in a remote environment they must be given the tools of success. This is especially relevant in the case of new employees, who need to be transitioned into the new environment, made to feel welcome, and that they are part of the team.
- This may require additional resources to be prepared to assist in the transition process. New employees should be given the opportunity to meet all members of the team when they start work. It is important to recognize that a new remote employee is likely to suffer increased anxiety when working remotely if they perceive there is a lack of support.
- Assigning a mentor-type person to the new employee provides them with an immediate contact person if they need to ask questions. It also gives them an immediate connection within the team, which ultimately assists them in creating a connection and engaging with the team in the long-term.
OVERVIEW OF ENGAGEMENT
- The methods of engaging within an organization are often creative and employ a range of new technologies. Traditional methods of communication have been repackaged and provide the basis for the ways remote staff communicate.
- Most of the larger programs and apps that relate to establishing an engaging community for remote workers, offer voice and video calling. These include Slack, Microsoft Team, and Zoom, to name but a few. These resources when accompanied by email from the foundation of the tools required for successful engagement.
- Other methods center around ensuring that both in office and remote employees regularly communicate on both a social and professional level. Many organizations require remote employees to attend the office on a defined number of days or for defined events. This means that they at least have a physical presence.
- With some organizations forgoing a physical office environment, co working spaces are becoming increasingly popular. These environments have office space that companies can use on a when required basis for meetings and interactions that require a physical presence. Multiple different companies use the same space at different times. These spaces can also be employed when remote workers need to collaborate on a project in person.
- There is no right or wrong answer regarding the most appropriate frequency to communicate with remote staff. It depends largely on the role they have within the company, the type of work that they do, the degree of interaction required by the team to perform its core functions.
- "The frequency of interaction needs to be balanced so that it reflects the needs of the team members themselves. Long established and cohesive teams are less likely to require the same level of support and engagement that more newly-established teams require.
- When the frequency of engagement with remote staff is considered it is important to not only consider the frequency of the interactions, but length of the interaction as well. Shorter more frequent meetings may be more beneficial than longer less frequent interactions. It is all dependent on the requirements of the individual teams.
- Google Shared Documents is used by a range of organizations to facilitate the better transfer and utilization of data and documents. These documents can be shared instantly by team members. They can also have multiple contributes. Multiple staff can access the documents at the same time.
- In addition to the main platforms of Slack and Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts. Cisco Spark, Workzone, and Fleep offer similar type products.
OVERVIEW TEAM BUILDING FOR REMOTE STAFF
- Webinars can be used to good effect to create a connected team. There are a range of professional webinars available online. Many companies are choosing to make their own webinars, especially those to be used when new staff are being introduced to the company-
One on One or Team Experiences
- Gathering around the virtual water cooler is an opportunity to engage in informal conversation. This gives employees the opportunity ti interact one on one with each other. This can be enabled through a platform like Slack or simple email. It is the concept that is important.
- Remote team building can also include a range of games to encourage people to engage. An example of a successful game that has been used with great success is ask me anything.
- Software like Campaign have made it ready to improve the team synergy. This software assists in workplace collaboration and workflows, over the course of a campaign.
- Slack Donut gives teams the opportunity to have a virtual donut and coffee. Using direct messaging Slack introduces the people on teams that do not know each other well. Over 5,000 teams, including In vision, Culture Amp, and Betterment have used Donut to encourage better team engagement.
- Slack Aloha is an on boarding tool that helps new team members integrate into the team. As well as introducing new team members to the team, it provides them with al the necessary documentation to enable them to be successful.
TRENDS IN REMOTE WORK
Increasing Emphasis on Employee Engagement
- With more people transitioning into remote work, organizations will place an increased emphasis on employee engagement. Some workers struggle to adjust to working remotely, especially if they have worked in the onsite office for a number of years. Many workers experience feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Organizations are increasingly looking to foster a sense of community and engagement with their remote team members. To date, this has been by way of micro learning opportunities utilizing self-paced, company sponsored resources and classes, scheduled face-to-face company events including weekly check-ins, quarterly in-person meetings at the organization's offices, the establishment of career mentoring programs, and clear guidance relating to career progression.
- As this trend gains momentum, employers will respond to the difficulties facing remote workers. They will make moves to attempt to engage employees so they feel supported and connected in their new roles and continue to be productive team members.
- Wonder is an example of a company that has created an online community for not only its employees but its freelancers. The community is hosted on Slack. It provides members the opportunity to engage with each other, discuss ideas, pool ideas and resources, get input from other members when completing various aspects of their work, and, perhaps most importantly, feel supported throughout their workday.
Remote Work Will Be New Retirement
- With members of the Babyboomer generation currently approaching retirement age, remote work presents an opportunity to ease into retirement, escape the rigors of a daily commute, and earn some additional cash from the comfort of their own homes.
- There is an increasing trend among Babyboomers to ease into retirement after a period of remote work. Following this foray into remote work many Babyboomers may continue remote work as a freelancer, following their actual retirement. For Babyboomers, remote work gives them the opportunity to ease into their retirement.
- Babyboomers are embracing the ability to work from home, with many eager to forgo the daily routine associated with the commute, while giving them the ability to create a better work life balance. They may not have the technical knowledge that GenZ does regarding their technical expertise But it would be a foolish person who wrote off the remote working older person.
- Most organizations are encouraging the trend and supporting the quest of older employees to work remotely. With 47% of this generation due to retire in the imminent future, many employers see this as an opportunity to capture their skills and expertise for the younger generations.
To determine the current trends in remote work, we reviewed a range of industry publications, media articles, and expert opinion. We considered something a trend if it was referenced in multiple articles, generating industry discussion, and organizations were acting on it-