Lessons Learned about Engaging a Newly Remote Workforce

There is no “one size fits all” solution to engaging newly remote employees. Regardless, development professionals are facing the challenge of quickly adapting to the effects of the pandemic on the office. Many organizations are scrambling to shift to a fully remote or blended remote-and-live workforce. One of the greatest organizational challenges now for thriving in this turbulence is implementing effective engagement solutions that increase employee confidence and productivity.

As a Co-Chair for my employer’s Employee Engagement Committee in 2019, I had an active role in planning and facilitating several engagement events like the annual company holiday party and quarterly potlucks. When the pandemic hit in March, employees who could work from home stopped coming into the office. Other employees continue commuting to the office where they perform an essential service. In a single day, the company flipped from a traditional work setting into a suddenly blended remote and in-person environment – and participation in the company’s Employee Engagement Committee fell to zero.

Unwilling to give up on rituals that strengthen bonds between my coworkers – and being comfortable with using new technologies – I volunteered to become the leading Chairperson for the rest of 2020. The first activity to connect coworkers that I designed is the “Employee Empower Hour,” a recurring, monthly, hour-long, evening Zoom call for employees to simply catch up over casual conversation. About 5% of our 300-person workforce attended the first meeting in June, and the goal is to double attendance by July. This first event was a great learning experience and informs me of what changes I’ll make to our next meeting. Ask me what went well and what failed in the comments!

The following bullet points share a few lessons that I learned about engaging a newly remote workforce.

A Few Tips for Engaging a Newly Remote Workforce

Planning Tips

  • Schedule regular, recurring virtual events using conference software like Zoom
  • Provide options to connect (conference room in the office, individual video and/or phone-in options)
  • Open the meeting early for people who have questions about the conferencing software or who want to practice using it

Communication Tips

  • Invite someone from the leadership team, like the CEO or Human Resources Director to share appreciation and news for a few minutes
  • Send a virtual event save the date (email, snail mail, calendar invite, announcement posted to company HR portal like Paylocity, etc.)
  • Communicate frequently (using the best channels for your team like email, Slack, automated voice message, etc.)
  • Follow up with individuals, especially supervisors and managers, to get their RSVP and influence them to invite their subordinates

Facilitation Tips

  • Facilitate smooth introductions in a group call by inviting individuals to speak one at a time (I like going down the list of participants in a Zoom call)
  • Prepare a list of messages to share in chat like links or a brief summary of an important point
  • At the end, present a single PowerPoint slide with contact information and/or an important message while you speak and thank attendees for participating
  • Partner with a sponsor for gifts or a prize drawing for employees (to be mailed to them or picked up at the office)

Tips for Improving and Iterating

  • Use surveys and interviews to discover the best ways to engage your group
  • Ask for feedback frequently – and facilitate a “safe space” for others to be honest and direct
  • Use feedback to inform future plans (for example, if the people on your team all work alongside their kids from home, they may be interested in streaming a family-friendly movie together)

Even once the pandemic is over, we’ll continue practicing some of the behaviors that we’ve developed as adaptations. Altered behaviors like telecommuting may be reinforced in a post-pandemic world because of the benefit of reducing the cost of officing and traveling. (You don’t have to pay for what you don’t need!)

Telecommuting also reduces the energy cost of movement. For example, since I started telecommuting on March 13, 2020, I have reduced my carbon footprint by traveling 3,000 fewer miles and emitting 2,500 pounds fewer CO2 (because I’m not driving to commute). You can track your commute, too, using WayToGo. Or, go a step further and invite your team to track their telecommutes with you and boost your company brand on WayToGo’s leader boards.

Not only is working remotely green, but it may also make more personal energy available. According to Forbes, telecommuting “allows workers retain more of their time in the day and adjust to their personal mental and physical well-being needs that optimize productivity.” I agree – and have a cleaner apartment, more home-cooked meals, and greater quality time to spend with my husband as proof! All while getting more work done than I typically accomplish at the office. Have you recently started telecommuting? Share your experience in the comments!

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