In the face of an indefinite lockdown, over half of Britain’s businesses have had to embrace remote working. Along with the various technical and logistical difficulties that this transition has thrown up, mass remote working also presents a variety of challenges around employee mental health, motivation, and productivity.
These challenges all stem from the fact that it’s much harder to satisfy our psychological and social needs via a screen and telephone. Since humans are social by nature, we often need to feel that we are part of a community to stay motivated. Normally, an office provides a great backdrop for social interaction, positive reinforcement, and feeling part of a wider team, which has led to many businesses becoming reliant on their “office culture” for employee engagement.
Going remote necessarily forces businesses to change how they communicate and engage with their teams. It’s not possible to engage employees remotely through the traditional, informal, and uncodified avenues of spontaneous conversations, friendly facial expressions, or positive body language. So, what can businesses do to engage their employees remotely during the crisis?
Codify your employee engagement
What are the things you particularly value among your own team? Until now, you may not have taken the time to think about what it is that your team wants to reward and encourage among yourselves. If you have a good office culture and a tight-knit team that gets on well when together, there may have been no need to think about what it was the business wanted to celebrate.
However, mass remote working dramatically upends your normal arrangements. Without the chance for team-mates to see each other in person every day, you should consider making it clear to your team what qualities and values you would like to see on display. Then, make sure to reach out in writing whenever people in the team succeed in displaying those qualities and values. People respond extremely well to positive reinforcement and clear boundaries, which means that this is both a great way to keep a team’s morale up and encourage teammates to act in a way that benefits the whole team.
Take time to celebrate wins, large and small
A major part of engagement comes from employees feeling recognised for their contributions. Many of us only make a conscious effort to recognise big victories in the office – think of the completion of a major project, securing a large client, or winning an award. What we don’t often consciously do is go out of our way to recognise the smaller wins among our teams, such as doing a great job in “mundane” day-to-day tasks or completing pieces of work as part of a broader project. Since remote workers aren’t able to have spontaneous “water cooler” conversations about their work, this can lead to them easily feeling disenchanted and isolated.
This makes celebrating wins of all sizes among teams something that can greatly help with morale. Pointing out successes of all sizes reminds colleagues that they and their work matters to the team, improves their confidence, and helps them feel closer to everyone else.
Build inter-team relationships
Even in the best of times, it’s easy for teams in large and small organisations to become siloed and isolate themselves from everyone else. This can be a problem – just as an individual team member can feel unengaged, so too can an entire team. The result is the same in both cases, except the low morale among an entire team can grind an entire organisation down.
This is doubly true when everyone is working remotely, as it increases the odds that the only contact that employees have with their organisation is among their own team. To stop this, you should take the time to reach out to other teams and engage with them and celebrate their contributions. This is especially the case when another team’s good work affects your team, but even if it has little immediate relevance celebrating these successes helps teams remember they’re part of a larger body and builds organisation-wide solidarity.
Behind all of the above tips is a general principle, which is key to making remote engagement truly possible: make engaging your team something you consciously devote time to thinking about and doing.
*This article was originally published on Bdaily.