By Jeff Herzog, President, FPC National
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more companies than ever before are allowing their employees to work from home in compliance with government directives to help flatten the curve and protect the vulnerable.
However, as more employers encourage people to work from home, they’re quickly finding out that while there are many positives that come with remote work, like saving time and money on commutes and encouraging better work-life balance, it is not without its fair share of challenges. Because they’re not in the office with their team, remote workers often feel less engaged and connected to their company, which can hurt collaboration, productivity and performance.
Just recently we assembled a panel of senior HR, Finance and Operations experts from across Corporate America to get a better understanding of the new challenges COVID-19 is presenting in the employment market.
We asked our panel 5 key questions related to the impact of COVID-19 and in this final video our panelists reveal some of the things their companies have been doing to keep employees engaged and help new team members to integrate in this new remote working environment.
Our thanks go to our expert panel members for their time and for sharing their insights so openly:
Jenn Ryan – SVP Operations – Xometry
Douglas Krieger – Director Global Sourcing – Herbalife
Julie Bank – SVP Human Resources – Brighton Health Plan Solutions
John Rorick – VP, Client Services – AgileOne
Steve Lagnado – CFO – Insider Inc
Overall, here are some of the key messages that have been emerging from our early experiences of moving to a remote working world:
- Keep people updated
As with all things in business and relationships, transparent and consistent communication is key when it comes to managing a fully remote team. Regular communication is vital for establishing and maintaining engagement with any employee, especially one who works remotely. By keeping your employees informed and in the loop at all times, you’re sending a message not only that they’re part of a larger organization, but also that the organization has a vested interest in the relationship.
However, keeping in touch with remote employees can be challenging. That’s why it’s important that employers put in extra effort, add more opportunities – and are intentional about making communication with off-site workers a policy initiative. You’ll want to ensure that you have multiple ways to reach employees. Scheduling regular calls and videos, setting up communication and collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, Trello and Google Hangouts, and conducting periodic virtual one on one or all-company meetings are some of the ways employers and team leaders can communicate with remote workers to help everyone stay on the same page.
“First and foremost it’s about communication. Now more than ever. Communication has always been a big thing. Are you transparent as a leader? Are you able to get people the right information when they need it? And with so much unknown, everyone’s looking around saying, well who am I going to get my answers from?” says Douglas Krieger, Director of Global Sourcing at Herbalife. “I think that’s the most important thing, one of the things that we’ve done. And the reason for that is we work and we work hard and we got a lot of really good stuff done. We’ve taken time throughout this entire process to just connect with each other as people, and I think that’s been to me the enlightening thing of saying we have to find that time.”
- Let workers control their schedules
Many workers might not enjoy the freedom and autonomy afforded them by remote work if their employers still require them to work regular office hours. If your company is letting people work remotely, then you will find that you can make your remote workers happier and more productive if you allow them to set their own schedules.
It’s imperative to understand that there is likely to be a vast difference between the working environment at your employees’ homes and the company’s office. While the office is more controlled, at home there may be more distractions which may disrupt the flow of work and cause them to take more frequent breaks for example.
Douglas Krieger, Director Global Sourcing of Herbalife offers this advice on keeping your remote employees engaged. “We’re all working outside of normal hours. Some are starting later, some are ending later. Some are just working throughout. It’s a hodgepodge of what’s going on. So, it’s OK to have that time to eat, it’s OK to have those times to exercise… How are we making the teams feel important? Part of it is saying, look, if you need an hour to go work out, take it. We’re asking them to take it. We’re requiring them to take it almost because it’s important, not just for them and their physical health but for their mental well being as well.”
You can make exceptions for this when it comes to deadlines and teleconferences. All the same, you won’t maximize your employees’ well-being from working remotely if you still require them to clock in every day or be closely monitored. In short, giving people more control over their time and more leeway to perform in their role will result in happier and more engaged workers.
- Create bonding opportunities for employees
It’s easy for remote employees to feel isolated from the larger group which is why your management efforts should be directed towards keeping staff connected, happy and satisfied. One way to do this is to make sure team members have a chance to talk together in various online channels, like instant messaging and video conferencing tools. Not only do team-building activities foster healthy work relationships and higher productivity, they can also be beneficial to employee retention and overall employee satisfaction. When the whole team is working, a voice or video conferencing call can go a long way to encourage group collaboration.
As a manager, you can plan out occasional fun virtual hangouts or get-togethers to make sure all workers feel included and a part of the organization’s culture. Conversations surrounding work can be stressful and tense, which is why these sessions should be focused on non-work-related chats to keep employees engaged and excited to be part of the team. Your virtual hangouts can include open Q&A sessions, team “meet and greets”, as well as spontaneous one-on-one coffee chats.
“We’ve done sessions where it’s just, we take an hour and we put the entire team on a meeting and we have everybody talk about a fun factor or two about themselves.” says Douglas Krieger, the Director of Global Sourcing at Herbalife, while talking about some of the fun activities his team did as a part of their team bonding sessions. “Doing those things just created a real big togetherness within the team. That was not about doing work. We weren’t discussing the latest spreadsheet. We weren’t discussing the latest strategy. We’re doing plenty of those things, but that to me, has been one of the key things just in keeping close.”
- Recognize and appreciate remote employees
It has been proven that remote workers can be just as productive – and in some cases even more productive – than office based employees. However, they don’t always receive recognition for that work. Recognition and appreciation for the work your remote employees do is one of the most direct ways of showing that you care about them.
Make it a point to recognize remote workers for the contributions they make to your organization. Even the simplest show of appreciation, be it an individualized gift or a team call to recognize their efforts can have a tremendous impact. When you celebrate your employees, they feel valued and cared about. When you recognize and appreciate your remote workers for their efforts, you make other members of the organization aware of the valuable contributions of those employees and also empower the rest of the team to do the same.
- Establish and build trust
Trust needs to be woven into your company culture so that you can always be there for your entire team, no matter where they are. One of the ways managers can build trust amongst their remote team members is in being transparent with them.
“I think that it’s OK to say we don’t know and we don’t have all the answers. We literally had that on a slide at our last town hall because they need to know and trust that we’re giving them the information that we have and we don’t know it all… We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to keep you safe and we’re going to do right by you. I think that’s important.” Says Julie Bank, the Senior VP Human Resources at Brighton Health Plan Solutions.
In essence, the last thing you want is for your employees to feel like you don’t have their best interests at heart or that they can’t trust the organization to take care of them. These are challenging times and more than ever, it is important that employers create a working environment that fosters trust between them and their remote workers. Be transparent with your employees, make it clear that you are available for one-on-one meetings, and really listen and take action when an employee confides in you.
If your team is working remotely, highly probable over the coming months, you should ensure you’re doing everything possible to make your team members feel engaged, valued and connected. When your remote employees feel disconnected, it can be difficult to keep them engaged and maintain a strong company culture. Collaboration, morale, and productivity can all take a hit. When duly implemented, the tips outlined above can help you motivate your remote employees to achieve a higher level of engagement. We hope you find them helpful.