How to build culture and drive employee engagement for a remote workforce

Terri Brown, director at Logical Truth, shares seven strategies to keep employees connected.

Building culture and driving engagement is a tough task even when employees come together in a shared workspace, where there’s opportunity to connect and create a sense of community.

But take away the water cooler and you make the job of building a unified culture and sense of shared identity that much more challenging.

While many employees enjoy the freedom that working from home brings, a significant number report feeling less engaged than before. A 2021 Ipsos survey on remote working noted that 18- to 25-year-olds in particular find remote working less productive, experience more distractions and interruptions and feel less motivated.

But the reality is that hybrid working and remote workforces are here to stay and we need to gear up to meet the needs of our employees and ensure that we’re able to build a #brandforce even at arm’s length.

Here are seven proven strategies to help you help your employees feel connected to the mother ship:

1. Respect boundaries
The reality is that when we work from home we never leave the office. It’s easy for boundaries to blur and for work to creep into areas of our lives that were previously out of bounds.

We need to be respectful of boundaries, particularly time, and offer employees the flexibility they need to balance the demands of work and personal life by managing schedules, projects and expectations.

Failing to support employees in creating healthy boundaries between work life and personal life may result in mental or emotional stress and, in the long-term, burnout.

2. Reward and recognise
Working on your own at home can start to feel like shouting into the void. It’s easy to start to feel disconnected from colleagues and lose sight of the bigger picture and how you contribute towards it, and when that happens, morale, motivation and mojo go out of the window.

Reward and recognition are key components in driving employee engagement and ensuring that staff feel seen and appreciated.

By recognising employees you’ll continue to get more of the behaviour you’re looking for as well as demonstrating to employees the progress they’re making.

Using a structured reward and recognition programme is a great way to maintain morale, but don’t underestimate the impact of spontaneous recognition, particularly when it’s public.

3. Wellness
Employee wellness is a buzzword that we hear being bandied about more and more, but it’s more than just a passing fad. According to an Aflac report 70 percent of employees with access to a wellness programme report higher levels of job satisfaction.

And having more satisfied employees has some pretty beneficial knock-on effects – including lower employee attrition, higher customer satisfaction and higher business profitability.

Wellness, both physical and mental, is particularly critical for remote workers, especially in the context of Covid-19. The Martec Group’s research indicates that prior to Covid-19, 62 percent of employees reported positive mental health. This number has dropped to just 28 percent as the pandemic continues.

Offering services like coaching, trauma counselling or debt counselling recognises the psychological needs of employees, and the upside of seeing employees holistically is greater engagement. By supporting the wellbeing of your employees you’re looking after the health of your organisation.

4. Keep employees in the loop
The office grapevine, or organic communication, is pretty powerful. We stay in touch with what’s happening through watercooler conversations or chats in the passage or across desks.

Take that away and it’s easy for employees to start to feel out of touch with what’s happening in the business. And while we still find ourselves in plenty of online meetings, these tend to be transactional in nature rather than strategic or big picture.

Take the time to connect with staff and share news about your organisation and team goals, objectives and performance so that employees can see how they’re contributing and have a sense of progress, as well as an opportunity to ask questions and check-in.

Tech can really empower you by providing platforms that make connecting with remote workers intuitive, experiential and human.

5. Let’s talk tech
In a work-from-home and hybrid working world, technology is your BFF. Simple technology tools can free you up to meet virtually, dialogue meaningfully, brainstorm collaboratively, lead visibly, share information instantly, and grow, develop and train your employees from anywhere to anywhere in real time.

Whatever you were able to do in person, there’s a solution that lets you do it virtually (except maybe shake hands – but Covid-19 has pretty much kiboshed that anyway).

There’s a plethora of employee engagement technology available to connect with, collaborate, innovate and learn, and by doing these things you send a powerful message to employees – you matter, we want to invest in you and grow your role. In turn this drives engagement, culture and values alignment, as well as strategic enablement.

6. Visible leadership
One of the most significant challenges of a hybrid or work from home set-up is that leadership can easily become invisible to the majority of employees. With leaders doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to driving strategy, culture and values alignment, it’s imperative that leadership remains front and centre in the organisation.

Leadership is a key lever in driving employee engagement and it’s important for leaders to have a strong presence in the business and for them to visibly demonstrate care, empathy for employees and confidence in the business.

Employees will take their cue from their leaders. But it goes beyond presence. Accessibility is also critical – employees need to feel that their leadership is listening to them, tuned into the organisation and responsive to the needs of employees.

7. Connect beyond work
We’re social beings and a sense of community is important to all of us. While we can find ourselves in meetings with colleagues from sun-up to sun-down, it’s important to connect beyond the job at hand – to create a virtual watercooler through interactions like virtual get togethers, quiz evenings, or even just check-ins before meetings.

Offering spaces where employees can co-work creates places to connect and collaborate – or just escape when shouting kids and barking dogs become too much of a distraction.

By creating time and space to link up you provide an opportunity to strengthen culture, ideate, innovate, collaborate and mentor.