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A Guide to Engaging Remote Employees

Techniques and tools to help employees everywhere feel engaged, while they’re working from home or in a remote location.

Apr 2020

A Guide to Engaging Remote Employees

At ScreenCloud we’ve always had a distributed workforce which means that some of the team work from home, some work from the office, and others do a combination of both. Even before COVID-19, how to keep our remote employees engaged, motivated and included was always front of mind.

Now, due to the worldwide pandemic of the coronavirus, these are challenges almost all organizations are faced with. Below, we’ve updated our best practices for how to keep remote workers engaged and motivated.

How to keep remote workers engaged

1. Create a remote-first accountability framework

One of the topics we see organizations struggling with is how to motivate remote employees. Without the accountability of an office and team members, there’s a worry that employees won’t feel engaged enough to do their best work.

Firstly, rest assured that many employees will continue to feel motivated whether or not they are inside the office. According to some studies, working from home actually sees employees logging more hours than less. 

Working day hours report during COVID-19

A study by NordVPN looks at hours worked before and after the COVID-19 outbreak.

The lack of commute and inability to “switch off” at the end of the day is seeing an increase in working hours, of anywhere up to an additional three hours per day.

One way you can help to maintain motivation is to switch to a ROWE virtual work environment.

ROWE stands for “Results Only Work Environment” and is a HR strategy co-created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler. This practice is used by companies such as GAP, and has been trialed by organizations such as Best Buy. It champions the theory that by delegating work to employees and helping them to take on the responsibility of delivering that work, it removes the need to set, and police, strict working hours.

When employees are remote working, it’s near impossible for an organization to track when they’re clocking in and out and nor should they. Rather than trying to enforce strict “online” hours, companies should focus more on engaging employees and helping them to achieve milestones and goals.

For ROWE to work, there are five key principles but it is perhaps the first two which are most important in this current climate:

1. Employees must understand what they are responsible for

2. Employees must understand what the measurement for success is

Aligning employees on their key objectives while working remotely, and being clear on what success looks like, could help you to turn motivation around.

This might be implemented during a daily or weekly “stand up”, a meeting of around 10-15 minutes where priorities and progress are discussed and agreed upon.

2. Help remote workers to stay connected

Remote working can be extremely isolating for employees. Even in the best case scenario when remote work isn’t an enforced setting, but an employee choice, there are down sides.

A study by Buffer found that some of the biggest challenges of working remotely are loneliness (21%), communication (21%) and staying motivated (14%).

Study by Buffer on remote work challenges

Combating loneliness can be hard, how can you keep in touch with every single remote employee without it becoming a drain on limited resources?

First, consider your one-to-one relationships. Can you implement a daily check-in with your employees? If you don’t have the time to do this manually, you could implement a software tool like 15Five which lets employees rank how they’re feeling out of five on a weekly basis.

If scores fall below three, this is a great opportunity to get in touch and schedule a one-to-one. 

At ScreenCloud we’ve also introduced lots of remote employee engagement activities to help our remote team members to feel connected during the current situation. These are easier to manage as they work on a one-to-many basis and employees can choose the activity that suits them.

This includes fun, fully-remote, activities such as:

Virtual lunches

We encourage our team to spend time having virtual lunches with their colleagues to enjoy general conversation which isn’t just work-orientated. On recent virtual lunches we’ve been talking about books we’re reading, or Netflix shows we’ve been enjoying. Some of the team have also extended this to virtual Friday drinks (novelty Zoom background optional).

Corona-fit sessions

Another fun activity while we’re all working remotely, is weekly “corona-fit” sessions where people in our team lead a Yoga or Circuits class over Zoom. This is great for helping the team to stay fit, and to keep them connected.

Share day-to-day moments

One thing missing from virtual offices is insight into people’s lives outside of work. We’ve been using Engage app which lets our team submit photos with captions to a screen stream. This is then viewable on our company TV channel (more on this later) and we’ve also synched it so that the photos people share go into our #team-random channel on Slack.

Engage app team moments

This helps everyone to feel connected, sharing photos from their day, without this taking up real estate in other communication channels. Photos we love to share are moments from our daily walks, special meals we’ve cooked and of course, pets of ScreenCloud! The more kooky the caption, the better. 

3. Enable your workforce with the tools they need to stay connected

It’s important to give remote workers all of the tools they need to be productive and to feel connected. Unlike in the office, employees aren’t able to shout if they have a technical issue, so giving more consideration to the tools required for different types of communication is key.

As well as your regular infrastructure systems, like tools for HR or Payroll, you’ll also need to consider ones that replace in-person forms of communication.

For many companies, this will include finding digital tools to replace different meeting variations, some of which might include:

  • In-person meetings, usually 1-2-1s or as a small group
  • Larger meetings, like brainstorming or cross-department meetings
  • All-company meetings, like All Hands 

As well as formal meetings, there’s also micro-meetings that usually take place within offices such as:

  • The ability to quickly ask a coworker a question or where a file is located
  • Water-cooler chat
  • In-office phone networks that allow you to dial an extension quickly

Lastly, many organizations will need to replace on-premise systems with cloud-based tools to cover areas like:

  • Where files are stored and located
  • How employees can collaborate on documents or in meetings

Check out our full guide to tools for effective internal communication to see how you can use digital tools in order to replace some of these in-person activities and setups. 

4. Reduce the “noise” of online communication channels

One of the biggest problems with remote work is that employees can often feel torn between missing out on what’s going on, or that there’s so much information they feel overwhelmed by it. 

This is a key time to consider how you share information effectively throughout the company and how you use tools or guidelines, to ensure information doesn’t become siloed between teams or departments.

Some of the methods you might use to reduce the amount of noise employees are exposed to include:

Supply quick recorded or written meeting summaries

If, like us at ScreenCloud, you’ve resorted to Zoom meetings to replace in-person ones, you’ll likely have noticed the “Record” feature that lets you record a live session so that others can catch up on it later. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day and probably not enough to “catch up” on every Zoom recording sent.

One way we’ve been combating this is by recording a very short meeting summary at the end (under two minutes) to send to absent colleagues, rather than the full back and forth of the meeting. This makes it much easier for employees to catch up on what they might have missed, without drowning in recordings.

You might also nominate someone to provide a quick written summary instead. 

Empower remote workers to switch off

In a usual scenario, working from home means quiet time to focus away from office distractions and coworkers. This is usually one of the true benefits of working remotely, but we should remember that right now we aren’t just “working remotely”, we’re working within enforced remote work settings. 

Following the shift, employees might spend all day reading Slack, email and intranet messages without actually having any time to create or get into deep work.

At this point it’s important that employees are given permission to “switch off” when they need to focus, or to take a break.

This might mean muting specific channels, setting a Slack status to “Do Not Disturb” or creating periods where meetings can’t be scheduled, so that everyone can get on.

Basecamp, who have always worked fully remote, have some great tips on why “Always online” statuses don’t work for teams who need to be able to focus.

Create one source of truth

Of course, one of the methods we fully recommend for engaging remote workers is setting up a remote company TV channel with “one source of truth” for important news and updates. Even with the best intentions, a lot of information that remote workers could benefit from is siloed in systems and requires effort to consume. 

At ScreenCloud, we use our own digital signage tool to create “ScreenCloud TV”. This is one channel, with carefully curated content designed to keep every employee on the pulse of what’s happening in the company.

ScreenCloud TV company TV channel

So how do we set this up?

The benefit of ScreenCloud is that it works on pretty much any TV. This means that an employee who already has a TV in their home, can plug in a cheap Amazon Fire TV Stick and be running ScreenCloud in minutes. You could also use an iPad, old desktop computer or tablet to run the channel.

Recently, we developed an Embeddable Channels feature so that employees could open the company TV channel in their browser, or so that it cpuld be embedded within an intranet. 

For example, here are the home office setups of four of our remote workers and their screens playing the company TV channel:

Company TV Channel playing at home

As you can see, some remote workers are set up in their living area, using their regular TV screen, others have a separate screen in their home office or are using an old PC screen to help them view the same live feed. 

Time to focus on engaging the remote workforce

Now more than ever, it’s key to put in place a toolkit for keeping your remote workforce engaged, connected and motivated. We hope this blog has given you some ideas to get started. Let us know how you get on - you can email hello@screencloud.com with any questions or feedback. 

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