With numbers of employees working from home at an all-time high, connecting with your remote workers has become a critical issue that can’t be ignored. While there are many positives to remote working, it doesn’t work for everyone. Employee engagement is one of the first areas to suffer a knock-back.
And it doesn’t seem as though remote working is likely to go away any time soon. It is looking more likely to be a permanent fixture in the UK business world. A survey by the Institute of Directors suggests that almost 75% of companies plan on maintaining the increase in remote workers. Many have already cut back on office space. It’s clear that homeworking is here to stay.
The drawbacks to working from home are becoming increasingly apparent as times goes by. Long hours, virtual meetings and struggles to maintain a decent work-life balance have started to take their toll on employee morale. Research by the Martec Group revealed that mental health and job motivation have taken a serious downturn, with job satisfaction falling to just 32%. So how can we reverse this downwards trend in employee engagement and motivation?
In this blog, we take a look at the key drivers of employee engagement and apply them to the remote working scenario. We consider how to engage employees when they are no longer officed-based and whether our current channels of communication need adapting to this new version of normal.
The Challenges of Remote Working
First, we have to ask why is employee engagement important? In crisis situations, with the business focused on staying afloat, it is not surprising that employee engagement often finds itself at the bottom of the priority list. However, this is a serious oversight. Without engaged employees, a company will quickly see lower morale, a decrease in productivity and ultimately, a downturn in profits.
When you throw remote working into the mix, it becomes even more essential to understand what drives employee engagement and why it matters. The lack of face-to-face contact makes it harder to monitor and maintain engagement levels, and daily interaction becomes much more of a challenge.
One of the key barriers to employee engagement is the lack of direct supervision that comes with homeworking. This can leave employees feeling unsupported and less confident in their abilities. Newer employees can struggle due to lack of information or guidance, while others may drop their productivity levels without close supervision.
Developing and maintaining a workplace culture is also hard from a distance. One of the crucial employee engagement best practices is to implement a solid company ethos, but this is harder to achieve without social conversation and face-to-face interaction. Without feedback, it is also hard to monitor whether the company culture is being transmitted and understood.
Finally, there’s the issue of isolation. This is not to be underestimated. We are social creatures by nature and it’s hard to satisfy our psychological need for human interaction over a screen. Without those daily conversations and informal chats between colleagues, both morale and mental health can take a serious nosedive, and work engagement will soon follow suit.
The Top Employee Engagement Drivers
It’s clear that remote working is presenting a new challenge for the internal communications. What’s needed is a fresh look at our employee engagement strategy to ensure that it is robust and flexible enough to cope with these fresh demands. Here, we take a look at the drivers of employee engagement and consider how they should be fine-tuned to best meet the demands of your remote employees, as well as those who are still office-based.
The physical and mental health of employees needs to be one of your top priorities
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” The concept of wellness has become popular in business circles in recent years, but it is far more than merely a buzzword; focusing on wellness can have an impressive influence on the engagement of your employees.
Wellness is especially relevant for remote workers, especially emotional wellness. Mental health is a serious issue and can have extremely negative impact on engagement levels. Employee engagement statistics back this up. The Martec Group research shows that before Covid-19, 62% of employees reported positive mental health. This number has dipped to just 28% as the pandemic continues. If mental health and morale are left unchecked, this will quickly lead to disengagement with both the role and the company as whole.
By focusing on wellness, you are taking the chance to see your employees holistically. Employees who are content and satisfied outside the office environment will be more inclined to bring their ‘best selves’ to the business. Research shows that sickness taken due to mental health costs the UK economy over £8 billion per year, and so investing in wellness and employee wellbeing carries significant benefits for both business and worker. It is important to ensure that attention to wellness is more than merely lip service. It needs to be a core aspect of your working culture to help drive engagement.
#2 Learning and Performance
Make sure learning opportunities are still available and innovation is encouraged
Offering chances for growth, development and education are top employee engagement drivers. Employees need to receive the appropriate training to allow them to do their job with confidence. Uncertainty and confusion will inevitably lead to reduced performance. By offering your staff relevant, up-to-date training, you are showing them that you see them as an investment. This, in turn, will boost their feeling of value to the company, giving them an incentive to remain motivated and engaged.
Make sure these critical employee engagement initiatives are still available to all employees, especially your remote workers. By encouraging continued training and development, you’ll reassure employees that their roles are continuing to move forward. In fact, this is an ideal opportunity for homeworkers to add to their skills base. Qualifications drive employee engagement. They show that you are making a commitment to a long-term investment in a team member - a great way to demonstrate appreciation, and foster commitment.
Innovation is also connected to learning and performance. When employees have a solid base to work from they are more likely to take risks and voice opinions and ideas. An employee app is a simple way to introduce a culture of ideas and innovation. Tailor-made modules make it easy to post business challenges, capture ideas and encourage peer-to-peer discussion. It’s the perfect way to keep remote workers fully engaged and connected to their role and the wider company goals.
#3 Rewards and Benefits
Continue to offer incentives and benefits by carefully monitoring progress
Rewards and benefits are key features of the employer/employee relationship and are a great way to help staff feel seen and valued. When given an incentive to work hard, employees are likely to find doing so more appealing. Research shows that those employees who are happy with their benefits and rewards offered by their workplace are up to a fifth more engaged than those who are less satisfied. A clearly defined system of rewards and benefits is a great way to improve employee engagement.
With managers no longer working from a nearby desk or office, it’s harder to implement rewards in the usual manner. However, it’s essential that remote workers don’t feel their efforts go unseen and unappreciated. By regularly monitoring and reporting on progress, it’s possible to keep reward schemes on track.
It is important to note that if such a system is implemented, then it needs to be clear, consistent, and transparent. A rewards system which is unreliable, unclear, or perceived to be unfair will have the opposite impact, fostering mistrust and a ‘why bother’ attitude in employees. It also needs to be relevant; think about what would improve the lives of your employees and use these features to build the system. Done well, reward schemes can be one of the key drivers of employee engagement.
Create social spaces where employees can meet, chat and share knowledge
Collaborative working is a crucial factor when it comes to understanding what drives employee engagement. Remember that in most cases, the workers on the ground will have a better day-to-day knowledge and understanding of what their role involves, and the potential impact of any changes or adaptations. This can give them a unique insight into how best to implement changes that will work.
Collaboration has been hit hard by the switch to remote working. It’s no longer possible to enjoy a quick brainstorm across the desks or schedule an impromptu meeting. However, just because physical interaction isn’t possible, don’t let collaboration fall by the wayside. Accessible employee engagement software will allow everyone to contribute – effortlessly. Conversation modules allow employees to meet, chat and share their knowledge and ideas.
Accountability is a major point to consider when it comes to collaboration; there is no sense in asking for feedback and assistance if the results are merely ignored. Employees need the tools, space, and trust to collaborate effectively. This will inspire them to remain engaged and continue to come up with new ideas and concepts. Having more of a stake in the business will boost loyalty, drive engagement and help them to feel that they are part of a complete team.
#5 Strategic communication
Ensure everyone is kept in the loop with reliable channels and instant notifications
Strategic communication is one of the top employee engagement drivers. It allows workers at all levels to see the bigger picture, offering them greater motivation to work as part of the wider team; they can see the desired end goal, and feel part of the narrative of the business. It’s a crucial element of any employee engagement model.
Strategic narrative relies primarily on strong communication and keeping employees in the loop. This is especially relevant for remote workers who won’t have access to some of the usual channels. Any news or updates should be readily communicated and should be made public knowledge as soon as possible to help boost engagement. Employees need to feel that they are an active part of an evolving story, rather than come across out-of-date information months later.
How to manage this effectively for a dispersed workforce? You need to be able to connect with staff wherever they are; at home, at the office or on the move. An employee engagement app will help bridge this gap. It removes barriers by allowing employees to use their own devices and will circulate messages across the company flawlessly. Make sure your app offers instant notifications. These are a must-have in times of crisis, ensuring everyone gets the same message at the same time.
Provide visible leadership to steer the company through change and disruption
For employee engagement to be facilitated throughout the organisation, it is imperative that those at the top show strong, dynamic and engaging leadership. The impact of leadership on employee engagement is well documented, and this can be a real game-changer when considering how to drive engagement. It’s at the heart of every employee engagement theory.
In times of crisis and change, leaders really need to step up their game. It’s essential for all employees, especially those working from home, to have a visible leadership figure to turn to. Listening is also key. A strong employee listening strategy, offering a two-way internal communication channel, will help you to deliver on mutual goals and measurable targets.
A poor leader will never garner the respect of those in their care. In turn, these workers will become demotivated and frustrated, both of which will have a negative impact on their overall work engagement. Strong leaders create strong teams - both key ingredients in the recipe of effective engagement.
#7 Employee Voice
Open up free-flowing feedback channels, giving employees a chance to be heard
For employees to feel engaged, they need a voice. However, once an employee is working away from the main office, it’s easy for them to feel silenced and ignored. One of the most important drivers of employee engagement is the creation of free-flowing feedback channels. Once you give back that all-important employee voice, you’ll find engagement levels quickly begin to rise.
For many business leaders, it may have been several years since you worked ‘on the floor,’ completing the same role as many of your team members. This can result in a disconnect; many of your amazing employee engagement ideas could fall flat or be unworkable in practice. This in turn can result in disengagement; the workers feel they have no voice, and they are not being listened to, so become disillusioned and unmotivated.
The best way to implement effective feedback channels is through employee engagement software. It will allow you to create regular polls and surveys, as well as providing social spaces for comments and ideas. By allowing your employees to speak, you can get the best from them and make practical, helpful changes which have the potential to revolutionise your business for the better.
Create a positive culture of recognition and celebrate success publicly
For many workers, a sense of powerlessness can lead to lack of engagement. Recognition is a simple change you can make, which can have a real impact on the engagement levels of your workforce. A simple acknowledgement can make a significant difference to the mood, attitude, and motivation of your staff, helping them feel valued and appreciated in their role.
It is clearly harder to acknowledge great work when your employee is based at their kitchen table rather than the other side of your desk. However, just because your employees are physically present, it doesn’t mean that recognition should be side-lined. It’s still possible to send an email acknowledging extra effort, remembering to copy in the team for that all-important public approval.
An employee app will make it even simpler to recognise success. In-built modules allow for both manager-led recognition and peer-to-peer appreciation. It will allow you to celebrate successes over social spaces, and include teams, departments or the entire company if required. Take the time to voice your appreciation when things go well. This sort of investment and recognition inspires confidence; a great ingredient when you are looking to drive employee engagement.
Finally… Don’t Forget to Measure Your Results
A key aspect of employee engagement having a system which allows you to measure engagement levels. Set out your drivers of employee engagement, and then monitor them closely. This is crucial in understanding which concepts and ideas are working, and where changes need to be made or tweaked. Measuring progress also allows you to prove to employees that you are actively seeking to improve, and are responding in a dynamic, flexible way.
A team with disengaged workers will be fractured, less than productive, and results in every member performing to less than their full potential. This is bad news for business. Engaged employees are a key business asset. At the core, the more engaged the team member, the more they will see themselves as a smaller part of a wider, collective whole. This is at the centre of engagement. Only by working as one team, towards a common goal, can a business really thrive and evolve.