Employee Engagement Strategies in the Age of Remote Work

Kickstart your HR career 100% online with a CIPD qualification

Most studies and research have reported that employees are, by and large, quite satisfied with remote work. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant problems that need to be ironed out with this new way of working.

One of these is a hangover from the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re talking about employee engagement when it comes to remote work.

The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic hurled most businesses head-first into implementing remote work policies at speed meant that there wasn’t much time available to sit down and really think through how this different form of working would work – especially when it came to employee engagement.

Employee engagement is regularly cited as being one of the most important factors in building a resilient, productive and happy internal culture in your workplace. It can affect everything from retention and employee loyalty through to productivity and profits so getting it right is essential. Unfortunately, when it came to remote working during the pandemic, it often took a backseat.

Now that remote working is here to stay, it’s clear we need to adapt our approach and pin down the specifics of how we can keep employees motivated, focused and productive whilst working from home. Here are our top pick of employee engagement strategies in the age of remote work.

1.   Communicate consistently

The success of remote work is founded on the quality of internal communication at your organisation. Naturally, when you’re in an office environment it’s generally pretty easy to communicate with someone. All you need to do is get up out of your seat, walk across the room (usually) and start a conversation. When you aren’t working in the same location though, communicating can be

Research suggests time and time again that good communication helps to encourage employee engagement at work, improves retention and builds a positive workplace culture.

A study exploring the 'Impact of Employee Communication on Employee Engagement Level', published in International Research Journal of Business and Management in December 2013, found that there was a significant relationship between the quality of employee communication and the level of employee engagement in an organisation. In other words, the quality of internal communication at an organisation was seen to directly affect how engaged its employees were overall.

Communication is more than just barking orders at people: good communication calls for a combination of listening skills – being able to understand and interpret information – with consistency – being able to communicate frequently and in similar ways. Consistent communication improves clarity, builds trust and understanding and enhances transparency. Ultimately, it can help to make expectations you set for your team clearer, improve focus overall and enhance productivity. If you’re finding it difficult to communicate consistently, this blog by Asana has some great ideas about how to improve your communciation practice.

A woman stood up in a boardroom meeting pointing at a flipboard

2.   Get team building right

Team building in the remote age of work needs to be more than just opening a Teams meeting room and letting employees talk about anything for an hour. At the start of the pandemic, when the novelty of remote working was still strong,  this type of team building event was probably enough to help employees feel engaged at work. As the world has moved on though, and hybrid working has become more widespread, it’s likely that employees will be bored of this approach.

Take some time and energy to try and think of some remote working team building activities that are slightly outside of the box. For example, you could:

  • Work through an activity or game together
  • Complete training collectively
  • Open a virtual hangout space, where employees can work and also socialise

The above list by no means represents the entirety of what remote team building activities are possible. The limit to these team building activities really is the extent of your imagination.

A good way to get additional buy-in from your team is to bring them into the process and crowdsource some ideas! Find out what they would like in a remote team building activity, what type of things appeal to them and what type of activities they might like to do. And then act on it.

That said, if you are having some trouble thinking of potential activities to put on, there are a great variety of resources that you can consult for some inspiration. This article by Perkbox has some great ideas for interesting remote team-building events and this blog post by ZenDesk explores some innovative approaches you could take when trying to build workplace relationships and engagement, digitally.

3. Invest in employee wellbeing

Evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of employees generally prefer remote work to office-based and hybrid work set-ups. A report by Flexjobs, cited in Forbes, found that 65% of workers report wanting to work remotely all of the time, rather than part-time.

Whilst it’s clear that remote work might be widely-liked, it’s also clear that there are some obvious challenges that are presented by working independently, especially when it comes to the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of some employees.

Isolation is known to be a contributing factor to poor mental health and remote working and it’s one of the main reasons why some employees aren’t a fan of remote work. According to a report in HR Review, around 30% of employees report feeling lonely or isolated when working remotely and this obviously has a knock-on effect on mental health, resulting in more absences, reduced productivity and an increase in long-term sickness.

Developing a strong focus on employee wellbeing is a good way that you can protect against the risk of poor mental health and also boost employee engagement in the process. Some possible ways that you could improve employee wellbeing in your organisation include:

  • Involve employees in decision-making
  • Develop a network of peer-led mental health support
  • Dedicated mental health training for managers
  • Promote good work/life balance practices

The UK mental health charity Mind has some great resources to help you think about how to improve employee wellbeing and engagement in your company, including free resources, training courses and wellbeing booklets.

A group of employees having a high five

4. Establish clear expectations and boundaries

Remote work is a fundamentally different way of working compared to the traditional office-based set-up that most of us have been used to throughout our careers. As a result, it calls for a whole new way of attitude when it comes to managing staff, both from line-manager and from a HR department perspective.

The fact that remote working is characterised by vastly different working conditions compared to office-based work means that you need to be crystal clear about what you expect in terms of workload, behaviour and communication from your team from the outset.

It also means that you need to be clear what your employees can expect from you, as their manager or HR department. Being clear about expectations from the beginning will help to improve employee engagement. After all, if everyone knows what they need to do, how they need to do it and how they will be supported, they’re likely to feel better supported overall and more able to do their jobs well.

Being clear about boundaries can also help to enhance employee engagement when working remotely too. During the pandemic, many remote workers felt the slow creep of their working lives taking over more of their general lives, due to the previous distinctions between home and office being blurred. Establishing clear boundaries on things like the hours between which you expect work to be completed, how you expect it to be completed and the hours between which employees should be replying to emails can be good methods to ensure that employees are not burning out from an out-of-kilter work/life balance.

5. Learn to trust

Ultimately, the lynch pin of remote working – the thing that defines its success – is trust. If you can trust your employees to work without you breathing down their necks, and if your employees can trust you to manage them effectively without needing their hands held to complete tasks, it’s likely that you’ll be able to make remote working a success.

Remote working implicitly relies on trust and space. Give these to your employees during remote work, and trust in the ability and skills of your employees, and you’ll likely see an increase in engagement and motivation to do a job well.

If you’re struggling with cutting the office apron strings, this LinkedIn blog by Yahya Mohamed Mao is filled with some great advice about how to cultivate trust in your team when working remotely.

Improve employee engagement when working remotely today

Employee engagement when working remotely is fundamentally tied up with a whole range of issues, from being able to trust your employees through to learning how to communicate clearly as a team when you’re not in the same location. We hope that this blog has helped you think about potential measures that you can take to improve engagement in a situation like this. Let us know how you get on.

Develop your HR career with a professional qualification that you can complete 100% online. Download your free CIPD course guide today and get started.