5 ways to keep remote teams engaged

WeThrive Team · July 24, 2020

Practical tips to help you and your remote teams thrive

Empty chairs symbolising remote teams The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, probably forever. Furloughed staff are wondering if and when they’ll return and in what capacity and for remote teams that have been working throughout the pandemic, many have been juggling homeschooling, whilst working longer and unstructured hours.

However, homeworking does have it’s benefits in saving time and money spent on commuting and when managed well, a better life and work balance.

Some people will thrive working from home, whilst others will constantly feel distracted and unable to stop looking at emails.

The organisation needs to identify these different types of people, to enable those that are thriving in the ‘new normal’ to continue working as they are, and those that need social interaction at work, to feel satisfied and secure.

This has led to an increase in the recognition of the value of employee data. The first step to engaging remote teams, before you do anything else, is to audit and find out how your people are feeling using an employee engagement tool.

With employee data at your fingertips, you’re on the right track to engaging remote teams to keep them focused and productive.

5 ways to keep remote teams engaged

1. Good internal communication

Many organisations have rushed to introduce new communication channels, collaboration software and project management tools, such as Slack, Trello and Google Chat. These have provided good solutions to keeping in touch virtually but this has resulted in a scattering of information and dilution of official communication channels.

Communications audit

Start with an audit to understand how much information is going to each employee and how much communication is coming back too, remember, it’s a two way street between you and your teams, which leads us onto the next point.

Two-way communication

There is a tendency with organisations to do a lot of broadcasting of information to a virtual team. But this means that employees are working with information in your head – how this gets interpreted by people is dependent on what’s in their head. The problem is, we all interpret things very differently.

When you’re in a physical group, it’s easy to see when someone has not understood information, simply by the quizzical or blank look on their face.

With remote teams, it’s vital to ask people at least as much as you tell, as you’re then working with the picture in their head. Ask them what they understand of the information being shared and what they’ll do next to accomplish the task or goal in hand.

New rules of engagement

Establish communication rules that ensure information is shared in a regular and predictable way, with no-one feeling left out. Good communication doesn’t necessarily mean a daily virtual group huddle, but for some it might.

2. Building trust within a virtual office

Trust is vulnerable when people are wondering if they’ll come back to work or if they’re job is stable, so how can you help your team to trust you and feel safe?

Set work expectations carefully and as comprehensively as possible and above all, be honest. If something uncomfortable is coming, such as a change in team direction or working practices, tell people as soon as possible and don’t sugar coat it.

3. Individual experience

Listen to individual voices that can often get lost in the fog of trying to maintain organisational practices, especially in a suddenly different and unfamiliar world that we’re now in.

4. What to watch out for when you can’t see your staff

To truly excel in remote team management, you need to understand how your remote workers are feeling. It helps to imagine what it feels like in the wilderness, in the dark, as without face to face contact, remote workers are essentially working in the dark.

dark wilderness

Our senses are heightened in the dark. Imagine you are cautiously stepping through the wilderness. Think about how a remote noise, such as a crackly underfoot or small noise off in the background, makes you feel threatened and hyper-vigilant.

A homeworker can’t rely on facial expressions, body language or tone of voice to convey meaning. Without the non-verbal cues transmitted in communication, remote workers are working with ambiguous information and start filling in the blanks themselves.

If someone doesn’t immediately reply to an email, they think: ‘oh no, have I upset them, what have I done wrong?

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Remote workers often have a fear of missing out, for instance, they wonder if other workers are getting better work than them or if they’re taking part in things in the office that they can’t.

Paranoia-fuelled insecurity

A lot of remote workers become paranoid from time to time. It’s a very normal human response for an employee when their manager is out of touch to suffer with paranoia-fuelled insecurity. They somehow convince themselves that they’ve done something wrong.

In 2017, Harvard Business Review conducted a study on remote work and the effect it had on the psyche.

HBR surveyed 1,153 employees, 52% of whom worked either some or all days remotely. A recurring issue that came up was that remote workers not only felt “left out” but also anxious about what coworkers would be saying in their absence.

A weekly conference call and plenty of positive feedback and expressed gratitude can reassure remote working employees and keep them feeling good about the work and the contribution they are making to the team effectiveness.

Positive feedback is given verbally in a physical office space usually in front of other employees. Since this isn’t an option for remote teams, give feedback using video conferencing or email.

Zapier provides a good case study. They describe how they hold regular face to face online meetings every Thursday morning or afternoon (rotating every week to accommodate people in different time zones), with over 300 people.

How to overcome these issues

Remote managers

We know that remote workers are happier with remote team managers as there’s something about all being in the same boat that makes us feel OK. If you have the opportunity to get your remote teams managed by a remote team leader that’s going to be a good thing.

Reality check

Encourage your remote project team to check in with you and each other often to ensure everyone is working with the facts.  Don’t let rumours take hold and if they do, audit how it happened and improve your internal communications to ensure it can’t happen again.

5. The difference between spoken wants and actual needs

What people say they want is not always the same as what they need.  There is a negative impact on employee morale with every aspect of people’s needs disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from the security usually offered by employment to the social interaction enjoyed with group work at the office to the sense of status achieved from working in a group.

What we need:

  • Security

  • Autonomy and control

  • Friendship, fun and connection to others

  • Privacy and space

  • Status

  • Competence / self-esteem

  • Meaning

Think of these needs when listening to what your people say that want. Look underneath, remember the underlying social and emotional needs of a human being.

How WeThrive can help

WeThrive gives you everything you need to very quickly launch company-wide or specific team employee engagement surveys followed with concise actions to help managers follow-up quickly post-survey. The actions are linked to bite-size learning and training content for managers. Try it today and in two weeks you’ll be working with real data on employee needs.

Webinar: 5 ways to keep remote teams engaged