How can your team build and maintain social bonds in a time of social distancing? Find out below.
An employee is considered “engaged” if he or she is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and has a positive attitude towards the organization. This leads them to take positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.
On the other hand, a disengaged employee may range from someone doing the bare minimum at work to an employee who is actively damaging the company’s work output and reputation.
When employees are engaged, they are more likely to invest in the work they do which leads to a higher quality of work produced. In a study of companies with over 500 employees, researchers found that 71% of managers felt that employee engagement was one of the most important factors in overall company success.
Engagement rises when employees have strong relationships with their co-workers. In fact, according to research conducted by Gallup, employees who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged. But because the majority of workers are now working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become a challenge for many to build and maintain social bonds at work, and companies are finding it difficult to keep employee engagement levels up.
What can team leaders do to build remote workforce engagement? Here are some ways:
- Make time for small talk. Back when everyone was at a physical office, there were plenty of opportunities for idle talk, whether it’s chatting in the pantry during a coffee break or eating lunch together at the corner restaurant. As a leader, continue to provide opportunities for some socializing during remote working hours by reminding yourself that not all conversations have to be about work. Don’t be afraid to drop the occasional off-topic email, Slack message, or funny meme, and remember to acknowledge employees’ birthdays or other special occasions during regular team meetings.
- Organize occasional face-to-face gatherings. Even though most work can be done virtually, it does not mean that it should be done so all the time. Plan an in-person get-together once or twice a quarter in a setting where COVID-19 safety protocols are followed. This can be as simple as an outdoor restaurant so people can share a meal to a whole-day company retreat in a nature setting.
- Provide clear direction. Engagement does not mean that everyone on the team has to be besties with one another; it’s also about making sure that everyone feels that they are still part of a team and not feeling isolated. What do they do next? Who can they turn to? Not being able to answer these questions can leave a remote employee completely disengaged.
So just like you’d take a new employee through an onboarding process, make sure that a remote employee knows about the tips, tools, and processes that will help them succeed.
Who can they contact if they need help?
What is the official work schedule and working hours?
What sort of output should be expected from them?
- Give and encourage feedback during online meetings. During physical gatherings, you can get insight on whether or not a team member is engaged through non-verbal cues like facial expressions. Maintaining the same connection can be difficult during virtual meetings if you have to deal with connectivity issues or if there are just too many people on a call. So make sure to help remote employees stay engaged by reducing distracting noise during video-conferencing sessions, stopping to gain their feedback whenever possible, as well as mentioning them when they say something laudable.
In addition, help remote workers align more seamlessly by providing the meeting agenda ahead of time so that those with technical issues can still follow along.
- Offer rewards. The best way to motivate people, whether working on-site or remotely, is rewarding them for efforts and positive behaviors. Some things you can do apart from the standard congratulatory email:
- Gift them with non-work related classes they can access for free or at a reduced cost. By giving them an opportunity to take part in a wide variety of options such as exercise or cooking you are even supporting their mental and physical wellbeing.
- Give out movie or music gift cards so employees can choose options online from the comfort of their home.
- If you have company swag, mail them to an employee for a job well done or as a simple token of appreciation.
By creating and encouraging meaningful connections with your remote workforce, you motivate and inspire them to become advocates of your organization and make them happier, healthier, and more productive team members.
— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation