For business leaders, the increasing permanence of remote and hybrid employees presents new challenges, including sustaining employee engagement when employees are working remotely.

While it may seem daunting, the good news is that the underlying drivers of employee engagement haven’t changed. They include:

  • Clarity and connection to the company’s purpose
  • A clear understanding of roles and responsibilities
  • The tools, training, and equipment needed to do the job successfully
  • Opportunity for personal growth and development
  • Concern for employee wellbeing

However, how business leaders interact with and support employees has changed due to the pandemic. Both of these elements are further complicated by the physical measures recommended to curb the spread of the virus, and the myriad personal challenges working from home can pose for employees, ranging from managing homeschooling to sharing space to battling feelings of isolation.

Here are some ways business leaders can adapt their approach to keep remote employees engaged.

Make the company’s purpose present and visible 

As we wrote earlier, purpose in the workplace is even more important during a crisis. Your company’s purpose provides the “why” for employees, describing why the company does what it does, providing important context for strategic decisions, and creating an invisible glue that bonds people to each other and the organisation.

Making your company’s purpose a touchstone that is continually present is the first step in keeping remote employees engaged. Here are some tips to ensure your company purpose is clearly communicate to your employees:

  • Add the company purpose to the slide deck master, at the start of every presentation.
  • Assess how purposeful projects and initiatives are at inception and conclusion.
    • Ensure new projects are aligned with the purpose.
    • When projects conclude, assess the contribution to the company’s purpose as part of the retrospective.
  • Coach leaders and managers to refer back to the core purpose when setting goals and assessing results.

Your company’s purpose is an important key to creating sustainable, long-term employee engagement. Consistently putting it at the forefront of communications and embedding it into operations will help you build a strong and distinct purpose-driven culture.

Adapt work meetings for virtual environments and remote employees

If you’ve shifted employees to working from home, your company’s meeting culture bears some scrutiny. There’s more to successfully adapting to remote working than simply moving meetings to Zoom. Bad meetings are bad enough, but they’re even worse for remote teams, seeding confusion and inertia. Our advice? Shift the meeting structure to a format that really works for remote teams: one that builds energy, has a clear purpose, enables sharing of insights, and builds connections between your employees.

Below are some tips to improve virtual meetings and better engage your remote employees:

  • Energy: Get employees talking (even your introverts, who can be overlooked even more easily during a video conference) and build energy by having everyone share what they’re feeling great about at that moment. Work-related or not, these tidbits will get the team focused on each other, and create positive energy that sets the tone for your meeting and will start you off on a high-energy note.
  • Purpose: Require meetings to have a purpose, and also, identify what needs to be accomplished by the end of the meeting. This focuses the group clearly on getting to that solution, and as you practice it, you will find your team picks up real efficiency. Building clear purpose into meetings also helps shorten them and reduce meeting size – boons to efficiency and overall team morale.
  • Insight: A good exchange can unleash a torrent of ideas and information. Near the end of the meeting, ask each person to highlight a unique insight or learning they gained from the meeting. This lets you capture – in the moment – thoughts as they’re crystallising, and opens everyone to different points of view.
  • Connection: Commit to using this framework for two weeks, and you’ll see connections build: between your people and to the company’s purpose. The result: the business captures more value and builds a stronger, more agile company culture.

We call this framework the EPIC Meeting™ and you can see more detail in this downloadable guide >> Download Now

Improve communication from the leadership team

Leadership communication plays a crucial role in employee engagement. During a crisis, leaders tend to dial-up communications. As the pandemic wears on, smart leaders should make increased communication a habit, especially if they’re leading remote or hybrid teams.

In a Wall St. Journal article interviewing leaders on what they learned from the pandemic, four of the ten leaders cited increased personal outreach and communications as their primary learning. Christopher Reynolds, chief administrative officer, manufacturing corporate and resources for Toyota Motor North America, said it particularly well:

“There’s no such thing as too much communication… It’s important for me to see you, for you to see me and that you’re ok and I’m ok and we’re getting business done. There’s a value to that that actually trumps my usual ‘Do we really need to have this meeting?’”

Personal interactions are an important part of overall leadership communication, and when teams are working remotely, leaders need to be diligent about maintaining (if not increasing) their outreach, to ensure they capture the value of “unscheduled” moments – in the hall, the elevator and the cafeteria – to check-in and connect with their remote employees.

Assess if your remote employees are engaged with a survey

Plenty of pundits are saying the world of work will be forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Leaders will need to remain agile, and assess their decisions in the context of the quickly evolving new normal, not the way things used to be.

A good way to get a fix on where your business and employees stand is simply to ask them and avoid the false temptation to “wait until things get back to normal” to do an employee survey. Checking in with remote teams right now enables leaders to understand what’s working, what’s not, and where they need to focus their efforts in the business.

An employee engagement survey provides an opportunity to listen to employee voices, gather feedback, and respond authentically. It’s communication at scale and is an important tool for agile business leaders who are focusing on keeping their teams connected, engaged, and performing. We recommend starting with the basics and assessing whether employees are struggling with impediments to their jobs.

A highly engaged employee is likely to strongly agree with each of the following statements:

  • I have everything I need to do my job efficiently and well.
  • I have clear goals and objectives.
  • I understand how my performance is measured.
  • I meet with my manager consistently.
  • When I ask my manager for help, they provide constructive advice.
  • I can keep clear boundaries between the workday and my personal time.
  • I feel that my manager trusts me to do my job.
  • My workspace at home is comfortable to work in.
  • My leader provides proactive leadership for our team.
  • I have good working relationships with my colleagues.
  • Our team communicates effectively with each other.
  • The meetings I attend are efficient and are a good use of time.
  • The company measures remote employee performance fairly.
  • I have a clear understanding of the company’s strategic direction.

Using these kinds of questions in your employee engagement survey to assess where your employees stand will enable you to uncover specific impediments to their progress, such as:

  • Poor communications leaving them without the details needed for the work
  • Lack of connection with their peers
  • Whether or not the person is becoming isolated
  • A manager that is struggling to be present for remote employees
  • Potential overwork or employee burnout

Interpret the employee survey results & develop an action plan

Assess the results from your employee engagement survey, select the key areas you will tackle first, and develop the action plan for keeping remote employees engaged at work.

Here’s a simple communication plan outline we have found to be incredibly effective in connecting your team to your employee engagement plan:

Share the key findings. Sharing the key findings, especially if the feedback showed a recurring theme, will let your employees know they have been truly heard.

  • Don’t wait until you have devised your action plan. Instead, simply share the findings and then let them know what’s happening next, e.g. “Within the next 30 days, we will share our plan for addressing the opportunities for improving your feedback highlighted for us.”

Share your action plan, including the areas you’ll be focusing on, the steps you’ll be taking to make improvements, and your timelines for doing so. We recommend promising some results within 90 days. By modeling the behaviours of planning and accountability, you’ll be building trust with the team – even before you’ve started the work of effecting change.

Develop a cadence for routine updates. Advise the team of your progress and any associated outcomes.

Report the results of your action plan. Our founder, Stefan Wissenbach, likes to say “ Tell them, tell them, tell them.” When you tell them what you’re going to do, tell them what you’re doing, and then tell them what you did, you’ll be conveying – in a clear and accountable way – the value of employees’ feedback and their ability to impact their workplace. This is real and meaningful empowerment, and when you re-survey your team, chances are good you’ll find an increase in participation, enthusiasm, and engagement.

Re-assess. We recommend re-surveying employees to understand whether the actions taken have been successful, to identify the next set of improvements the organisation should undertake, and to continue to build trust and credibility with the team.