When was the last time you were with your colleagues in person?
Unfortunately for many, it’s been a year or more.
And remote working, while once a novelty, is now the new norm.
With no signs of this pesky COVID pandemic easing, it’s wearing employees and their teams down. Everyone needs a break, and also needs new ways to connect.
The challenge of working remotely
The past year has been one giant test for every company’s financials, resilience, and especially employee morale. For the first time ever, many employees are navigating a new working reality from their kitchen table, all while juggling a myriad of personal challenges and the “extra” that has come along with the COVID pandemic.
Recent research by BCG shows that 40% of companies now expect that their employees will continue working remotely in some way in the future. Remote or virtual working is here to stay.
While this can be wonderful for those who love to work in their pajamas and avoid long commute times, this extended time away from the office has also led to a feeling of disconnectedness.
A feeling of being disconnected from a team often happens through online or remote working, especially for people who aren’t used to it. Not being connected to people at work has the potential to lead to a significant decrease in productivity.
For people who are responsible for maintaining company culture regardless of where team is located, building employee engagement not just a task. It’s a mandate. Engaging your team through effective online communication and relationship building is now mission critical to the growth and success of your organization.
Why is employee engagement so important?
While employee engagement is often flouted in the top strategic objectives of Fortune 500 companies and startups alike, it can be difficult to decide how much time, effort, and energy to devote to it.
Measuring employee engagement can be difficult, and approaches vary.
But research unanimously shows that it is too important to ignore. According to Gallup, those teams that score top in engagement are 17% more productive. They realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and 59% less turnover. For your company, cost reductions and increased productivity that come through focusing on engagement can equate to millions of dollars each year.
Research from MIT also showed that engagement and communication among team members is the single most important indicator for team success and productivity. Surprising to many, engagement and communication are even more important than intelligence, personality, skills, and content.
What this means is that even if your corporate hiring team brings in top talent, when the members of your team aren’t engaged, you’re leaving a lot on the table.
While we typically focus on hiring the smartest people, giving employees the latest tools to do their jobs, and managing for high performance, we should be giving equal attention to that ‘other half’: engagement and communication. We need to be investing time and energy in creating teams with members who communicate frequently (formally and informally), talk as well as listen, feel socially connected to their colleagues, and regularly engage with people outside of their direct team. If not, we’re not realizing our company’s potential.
That’s a lot of responsibility for those in charge of ‘building employee engagement’. How can you improve employee engagement when it’s not driven by skill, intelligence, work, or personality AND your employees are working remotely? Unlike before when a happy hour or a team offsite would give everyone a much needed morale boost, right now we need to think a little more outside the box.
Some ideas for bringing remote teams together
Contrary to what a standard web search may tell you, there’s no step-by-step recipe for drumming up engaged remote employees overnight. That said, remote working does not have to be any less engaging. It just requires commitment from leadership, some creativity, a little remote team building, and of course, really good communication.
Here are a few tried and tested ideas to get you started…
- Schedule regular team check ins: Research shows that one of the easiest ways to create a culture or performance and engagement is to set up regular check ins with your team. A check in could be a simple morning ‘hello’, weekly manager office hours, or a regular team pulse check or feedback session. The key is creating a regular opportunity for team members to have two-way discussions without any set work agenda.
- Host a virtual team break: You can host an online happy hour, coffee break, or even lunch together. Go one step further and encourage your team members to get away from their home desk and call in from somewhere else in their house or even while out on a walk.
- Create a space for connecting spontaneously: While it might not appeal to everyone, consider setting up a ‘virtual water cooler’ discussion board/channel where employees can share talk about the weather, vent, share memes, or whatever they feel like. It’s the act of sharing that counts, not the content!
- Offer opportunities to upskill: Depending on your team members’ interests, opportunities to upskill are rarely turned down. It could simply be signing them up for an online industry conference or giving them a yearly subscription to a Masterclasses type website. What 2020 taught us is that there are many educational events and opportunities on offer for remote workers. So take some time to get familiar with sites like Masterclass.com or Udemy, and see how you might help your team upskill by giving them access to these tools.
- Value your employees: Recognizing and celebrating your employees boosts employee engagement, improves productivity, reduces turnover. Employees want to know they’re doing a good job, so whether it’s a personal note, a shout out in your next team meeting, or even receiving a box of chocolates, a little effort can go a long way!
Consider rewarding your team with a virtual online team building event
While we were all used to the odd team bonding exercise pre-pandemic (whether we liked them or not!), there has been a recent trend towards hosting virtual team building events for remote teams. They’re what you do when your team needs a break, an injection of energy, or even a pat on the back. Plus, they’re often easier to organize, shorter to run, and cheaper than their in-person equivalent!
You can think of a virtual team event like a regular team building exercise. They’re designed to get a mixture of employees from different levels together in the same space (albeit online), doing the same easy and fun team activity, without the pressure of work or an agenda.
Online events also great for
- improving internal communication
- encouraging creativity
- breaking down barriers
- strengthening relationships
- just having fun!
These are all essential ingredients for building effective teams.
Choosing the right event for your remote team
With a myriad of virtual team building events available, it can be hard to choose the right one for your team. Many are too complicated to organize. Online cooking team events often require participants to buy ingredients in advance. Other online get-togethers often include activities that are too obscure or difficult. Some are tough to schedule. To keep things simple, it’s best to choose activities that anyone can do (even family members and roommates). You want to keep the activities of your event fun and engaging.
You want to focus on the kinds of remote team events that employees will remember and talk about, whether work remains virtual or we all head back to being in offices together.
While we know there is a lot more to employee engagement than simply entertaining your team members for an hour or two, adding virtual events into your social playbook can be a great way to give your team a much needed break, especially now.
Even just a single fun event on the calendar can go a long way in helping your employees feel a little more connected to their team, a little more valued, and hopefully a little more engaged!
We’ve posted this helpful information from things we’ve learned hosting team events over the past several years. Making chocolate brigadeiros together is a great corporate event.
Even before COVID, we had made virtual events possible with tinyB. In our new online work and collaboration world, companies and teams are loving these online chocolate events. They find it to be a great alternative where team members can bring their family to the get-together, since it’s usually being done right in their kitchen as a shared experience via video. Learn more about our chocolate virtual team building events.
and consider giving your team a break from their work from home routine. It’s a fun chocolate experience, anyone can participate, and there are no shopping lists and no cooking required.
Other Interesting Reads
|How to foster employee engagement when your team is remote (Harvard Business School)
|Five tips from Harvard Business School on engaging remote employees.
|What’s Wrong with the Way We Work (New Yorker)
|A historical account of how Americans have come to work more hours than their counterparts in peer nations, but is it too much? Should we be reassessing our relationship with our jobs?
|The surprising science behind successful remote meetings (MIT Sloan Management Review)
|Hosting productive meetings with a remote team doesn’t have to be a burden. Consider some of these tried and tested strategies for making the most of your virtual team meetings.
|Why the first five minutes of a meeting shape its outcome (Strategy and Business)
|Getting the right people in the room on time with a clear sense of purpose can create more active and productive remote meetings.