In the last decade, the number of Americans working from home, at least some of the time, more than doubled — accelerating after 2005. Then the pandemic thrust nearly two-thirds of all Americans into remote work. It seems unlikely we’ll revert back entirely to our pre-pandemic levels.
That means people professionals and company leaders need to rethink employee engagement.
For one, whereas workplace strategies are typically geared to increasing productivity, with remote work, you might need to think at least as much about how to get your employees to work less — even if you still hope they’ll be more efficient with that time. To do so, organizations need to a reset on how they keep employees engaged.
That’s the focus of this week’s episode of The TWIJ Show, a weekly interview series from Technical.ly focused on building better workplaces. I asked two guests for advice on engaging employees virtually: Badri Rajasekar, the founder and CEO of Jamm, a video collaboration startup, and Grant Neckermann, the vice president of talent acquisition at Syapse, a 170-person oncology real-world evidence company. Both distributed, both very remote.
- Remote tools are built for efficiency. That means that unlike in the office, you may actually need to engineer inefficiency to encourage time for staff to decompress and reduce stress.
- Talk about the weather, weekends and worries. Small talk at the start of virtual calls build rapport. Being honest about what stresses us can let us all be more honest. It’s easy to forget this in the face of the ruthless efficiency of software and video chats.
- Encourage use of PTO. Particularly when travel is disrupted, American workers are taking even less paid time off than in past years. Staff leaders and managers should be encouraging that earned time to be used.
- Welcome asynchronous work: “It matters that the work gets done, not when it gets done,” reminds Neckerman. Remote work should encourage greater flexibility. It’s OK to maintain regular working hours or meetings, and certainly to expect deadlines and client deliverables, but strive for letting the work get when teammates work best.
- Start with the basics: Do have recurring coffee meetings or happy hours or games and activities. These can be short, daily prompts or weekly or monthly activities, whatever fits your team. But do maintain regular time for staff to interact with each other on a personal level.
- Experiment with software. There’s been an explosion of tools to encourage engagement. Jamm itself is aimed at a different kind of video interaction. Try a team trivia night using Kahoot; play music together with Auxparty.com; set a series of Slackbot prompts for different keywords.
- Try a daily staff prompt. Each morning on Slack or any group chat environment, give staff a prompt to share something joyful.
- Host regular staff AMA. One longtime favorite feature at Technical.ly is a monthly AMA from a different staff member.
- Have empathy: At the end of the day, to engage employees, you need to recognize them as people with different challenges and problems and goals and motivations. Virtual environments just remove some of the human reminders of this. Don’t lose the humanity.
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