With so many professionals now working in a remote format or seeking remote work, face-to-face communication has seen a substantial decline, and technology is being used to bridge that gap.
For as much of a saving grace video conferencing software and instant messenger programs have been in 2020, using technology to communicate is not without its shortcomings. When it comes to communication, technology creates (emotional) distance. This often can make communication between team members feel rigid and calculated --ultimately making it more challenging to build warm, positive, and productive working relationships between colleagues.
If this component of remote employee communication is not acknowledged when building a communication strategy for the new normal, team cohesion, employee morale and productivity will suffer because of it. Fortunately, there are communication techniques you as a leader can implement to protect your team when day-to-day operations are conducted over the unfeeling medium of 0s and 1s.
What Does Employee Engagement Mean for a Remote Team?
If your team has fully pivoted to a remote work setup, you know that the days of stopping by someone’s desk to see how their weekend went are a thing of the past. Furthermore, the “watercooler” conversations needed to build relationships between team members may also be on the decline because the physical space to casually converse is no longer there. In short, any communication that isn’t “strictly business” while on company time is at risk of seeming disruptive, and employees will avoid it entirely. And the result? A team of professionals on "Isolation Island".
Despite these differences, how employee engagement is defined and measured has not changed. How involved your employees are in communication, performance, and strategic brainstorming all can be used to measure team cohesion and an overall positive work environment.
Getting Over the Technology Hurdle
A large part of company culture is a consequence of the micro-interactions that occur when a team works in an office. When a team pivots to a remote work environment, it’s not so much that culture changes, as much as it is large aspects of onsite culture are lost.
Maintaining an engaging environment requires acknowledgment and proactivity. As a leader, it is important to lead by example and encourage social interactions that strengthen working relationships. In instances where social outreach for the sake of social outreach cannot be achieved, injecting levity into team meetings may be an alternative solution. Examples include:
- Sharing good news
- One personal and one professional win from the past week
- Sharing gratitude for another team member
- Small team-building exercises
- Adding a video element to your huddle so everyone can see each other’s faces (but be conscious of videoconference fatigue)
All of these things can go a long way in building camaraderie among your remote workers.
Making a Communication Strategy Feel Organic
Implementing an employee engagement process is hard work, and the measurable effects may take some time to see. When first implementing a new strategy, intentional interpersonal outreach with your team may feel awkward or inauthentic –especially if this is not something well-established within your company’s culture.
Some activities that can help bridge the gap while also bolstering positive engagement are things like an employee reward system, frequent feedback from leaders, intentional efforts from leaders to demonstrate respect and emotional support, and/or positive relationships with coworkers.
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Acclimating Your New Remote Hires
If you are hiring new employees who will work from home, it is important to acclimate them to the social aspects of their new work environment and set the precedent for company culture as quickly as possible; taking a proactive approach is key. Ideally, this process will begin during candidate interviews through a discussion of corporate values and by having a candidate interview with multiple members of your team.
Demonstrating that effective communication and strong working relationships are top corporate values is key to ensuring your new hire will begin their first day of remote work embodying these them.
Assigning a mentor to your new hire can also be a great way to encourage engagement and show, through action, forethought has been put into making resources easily accessible to your new remote hires.
Getting the Buy-in From Senior Team Members
Encouraging more senior members of your team to adjust to a more intentional format of communication may be challenging if developed working habits need to be unlearned first. In these instances, it is important to reiterate the “why” behind the change and that their tenure puts them in a position of authority; new team members will look to them to lead by example; assign group projects for them lead, seek out their opinion on matters, etc.
Employee engagement is important for organizations to create a successful working environment. The distance created by technology inherently creates a communication challenge that leaders must actively work to overcome. Timely feedback, employee recognition, team-building exercises, and adding levity to day-to-day interactions with your team can help overcome the inherent challenges that come with the communication and cohesion of your remote team.