Six ways to engage virtual employees
As 2020 approaches, everyone is talking about the Future of Work. While further changes are expected due to artificial intelligence (AI), many of the changes are here today. So how do you keep and grow your culture when people are working differently than they have in the past?
CultureIQ research shows that 57% of employees work regularly with colleagues in different locations. In addition, 60% said they had to coordinate with at least ten people to complete their work. As the war for talent continues, organizations will continue to hire great people wherever they are. This means that these numbers will likely continue to increase.
When people are in one location, creating and maintaining a healthy culture that drives the business forward is already challenging. When employees are diverse, distributed and work in a matrixed environment, it can be daunting. However, keeping everyone working together and on the same page is an important part of employee engagement and company success.
Here are some best practices and things to consider as you try to extend your culture beyond your physical locations:
Keep the Communications Field Level
Often meetings are a mix of people in conference rooms and those who are dialed in. When it comes to debate and discussion, the room can have an advantage. To ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute, either have everyone dial-in or ask remote employees to go first occasionally.
Create meeting etiquette where sidebar conversations are discouraged. This can be confusing and distracting when employees are dialing in and picking up all voices equally. After a few meetings of being unable to hear pertinent information or contribute, you may find that your remote employees are disengaged in the meeting which only further increases the feeling of being out of sync with the rest of the team.
Create Manager Training on Managing Virtual Teams
Let’s face it. There are managers who run great meetings no matter where they are. And then there are those who struggle. Therefore, it is a good idea to include information and training on how to get the most from virtual meetings. The good news is that this will help managers ensure even further inclusion—even when everyone is in the room.
Challenge your managers to be the advocate for their employees who are not in the office. That way they can give you feedback on how programs might be altered to benefit their virtual team members.
For instance, if you have a gym or exercise program for onsite employees, is there a way to encourage remote employees to participate in wellness efforts? We’ve seen companies use group exercise programs like Peloton to create an exercise community of workers around the world.
Move the Water Cooler Online
Often the way we connect with colleagues is by talking about things that are not work-related-- pets, outside interests and the best weekend binge watches. When you are out of the office, you can miss those personal connections. Consider moving these types of interactions online.
At CultureIQ, we have Slack channels that are specifically for topics of interest outside of work. Employees all over the world share photos of their pets, favorite recipes and why it is a bad idea to marry a ghost (don’t ask!).
Celebrate in Creative Ways
Like interpersonal connections, shared experiences—no matter how small—forge relationships. Remote employees often miss out on informal celebrations like when someone brings in doughnuts to share. As part of your manager training, create the mantra so that managers ask themselves “How can I include everyone?”
While you may not be able to FedEx the ad hoc sweets, you still want to look for ways to let virtual employees know that you are thinking of them. Consider sending a gift card so that remote employees don’t feel left out of Monday bagels or Friday ice cream celebrations.
If you regularly celebrate birthdays or work anniversaries as a group, don’t forget theirs. We love sending Baked by Melissa cupcakes to our remote employees when they have celebrations. As they say, it is often the thought that counts.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of Face-to-Face
Incorporate video into meetings—even the informal ones so that people can see one another and start to build personal relationships. Also, ensure that there is adequate budget for remote employees to visit their colleagues—especially when they are working on a large or intricate project and see if these can be coordinated around large company celebrations like holiday parties. The cost of travel is small compared to having an employee who isn’t fully engaged or leaves because they don’t feel like they are part of the team, the company or the culture.
Infuse Your Values into Everything
Your values determine how people treat one another and behave when there are no explicit rules. Often remote employees receive most of their communication in writing which can lack emotional context. If your actions are consistent with your values, then it is easier to know how to interpret written messages and how to respond. Not only is this a good practice to keep remote employees in the fold, it helps perpetuate the kind of culture you want rather than leaving it to chance.
Your culture is built by every interaction that you have with employees. Often virtual employees miss the daily activities and engagements that build relationships and affinity for co-workers and the company.
Encourage employees, managers and your team to always be asking how you can include remote workers in programs and interactions. While you may not always be able to create the exact experience, most employees will appreciate the effort. Plus, you’ll be building relationships that are proven to increase engagement and tenure of employees. We’d love to hear your ideas! Please share them with us @CultureIQ.