Regardless of where they work physically or what company they work for, most employees want to do a good job at work; most of them want to understand what’s expected of them; and most of them want to know how they’re doing compared to those expectations.
That can be hard enough when the employees are all in the same basic geographic location, and it gets exponentially harder when employees are spread out, working in remote locations, field offices, or from home.
In addition to getting the work of our jobs done, leaders also need to continue to ensure that their employees are engaged, that the work the employees are doing aligns with organizational goals, and that information flows freely from leader to employee and from employee to leader. Again, this is tricky enough when we’re all in the same building; and it’s even harder when we’re separated by miles.
Here are a couple of tips we’ve found useful to keep remote employees engaged.
1 - Alignment
Since we want to make sure that there is clear and consistent alignment between the employee and the organization, it’s really important that we make time and space to document and publish (as well as talk about on a regular basis) the ways the employee’s work aligns with the organizational goals, and the way the employee’s demonstration of core values helps the organization as a whole stay true to our mission, vision, and values.
- Tip 1: Try a quick one-pager that lists the 4-5 key functions that the employee is responsible for, and for each function list what that includes, why it matters for the company, and what success looks like.
- Tip 2: At every 1:1 you have with your employees talk about how they have (or have not) demonstrated the core values you hope to see.
2 - Engagement
Lots of research shows that engaged employees perform better, but if we’re not measuring their engagement, how do we know? And the way time passes when we’re busy makes it easy to assume we had that conversation “just the other day”, when really weeks or even months may have passed between conversations. Out of sight sometimes translates to out of mind, and we can’t afford to have our employees out of mind!
- Tip 1: Schedule time in your calendar and theirs for regular, brief check-ins regarding their level of engagement. Use this time to focus on topics like communication, autonomy, mastery, purpose, enthusiasm, and relationships.
- Tip 2: Create “rules of engagement” together with each remote employee that help you know their preferred form of communication, the best times to have impromptu discussions, the best working times to protect as uninterrupted, clues that they can give you that they are feeling under-engaged, etc.
3 - Communication
Communication is the leading cause of organizational pain, and it’s even harder with remote employees! When we’re leading remote employees, we need to work extra hard to make sure that communication is flowing freely and effectively - both from you to them and from them to you, as well as between them and their colleagues and counterparts.
- Tip 1: Use some visual tool that helps communicate progress towards goals. Think of those fundraising thermometers you’ve seen that show the progress towards the goal, and let that inspire you for a way that you’ll visually track progress towards an expected outcome.
- Tip 2: Hold shorter meetings! There is no reason to have a 60 minute meeting if 30 minutes will do. And there’s no reason to have a 30 minute meeting if 15 will do. You get the idea! Protect the last 10 minutes of every hour for people to take bio breaks and just step away from your screens!
4 - Personal Connections
I can’t think of a time when I heard someone say, “I really love my job - my desk is so awesome!” or “Hey, Chris, you should check out how great it is to work here! Our printer paper and pens are the coolest.” Right?!? People don’t love their jobs for the furniture and supplies. They love their jobs for the people and the personal connections they make. Make sure that personal connections are part of the day-to-day, for all employees, including remote employees!
- Tip 1: Practice listening more. God gave us 2 ears and just 1 mouth - is that the ratio you’re using? Take some time and listen, really listen, to your employees about what’s going on in their lives. Take notes if that helps you, and find ways to work in that personal connection into your day-to-day conversations.
- Tip 2: Create opportunities for team members to connect or collaborate. If you happen to be in the same basic geographic location, set up optional in-person (socially distanced and safe) gatherings outside of work hours. If you’re not in the same place, set up optional virtual gatherings outside of work hours. Create optional task teams or committees to accomplish something for your team or department. Those who want to gather and connect will appreciate the opportunity, and those who don’t will be glad for the option not to.
How about you, what tips have you found to be most successful in connecting with your remote employees? If you are a remote employee, what have you liked best?