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Face-to-face interaction has been the norm throughout history. This way of communication brims with non-verbal cues that are easy to miss in a remote work environment, no matter how often colleagues communicate.

Yet, things have changed. To some extent, remote work is here to stay, and this new paradigm makes building engagement more important than ever.

In this article, we begin with a brief overview of engagement and how it gets affected by remote work, and then we dive into five practical ideas to help you build engagement at your workplace.

What is engagement, and why does it matter?

Employee engagement relates to the level of emotional commitment employees have to their organization, as well as to what motivates them. In other words: how much and why they care.

When employees care about their company's growth beyond paychecks and promotions, they're intrinsically motivated. With this sense of belonging comes a superior drive for success and more commitment to the employer.

These employees tend to go the extra mile not because they have to but because they want to. According to Gallup, companies among the top 25% in employee engagement report, on average, a boost of 17% in productivity, 10% in customer ratings, and 21% in profitability.

How does remote work impact engagement?

Before examining how (and if) "the new normal" of remote work influences employee engagement, it's crucial to understand that workplace relationships foster engagement. These connections must be established upon constructive feedback that helps team members feel treasured and connected to their colleagues and organization.

Looking back at moments that make us feel valued at work, those are often personal interactions or feedback — who wouldn't get motivated by a "great job" from their manager after a presentation? It's easy to see how remote work can pose a challenge to engagement and motivation. After all, many opportunities for interaction and feedback are missed.

Typing out praise or arranging a time to talk isn't yet ingrained in office culture. As a result, staying connected with other remote workers doesn't come naturally for most of us. Consequently, we're less likely to engage with our direct reports and peers when working from home. This creates a loop of disengagement, isolation, and increased churn, but you can stop it by investing in the right strategies.

5 ways to engage remote employees

1. Overcommunicate

Nobody wants to be a nagging manager or colleague. Still, a little more effort to communicate can go a long way for the remote workforce, especially when it comes to work-related feedback.

When we're forced to use email or other messaging and collaboration tools to communicate and are sometimes in different time zones, asking "small" questions may seem bothersome or unnecessary. What's more, we might think it's inappropriate to give praise or feedback through these channels. The catch is that, in the absence of water cooler conversations, these brief interactions make a huge difference in productivity and morale.

As a manager, you can help your team overcome this hurdle by kicking off a culture of giving and requesting team feedback. Start right after your next meeting with a simple request from your colleagues via email, instant messaging, or via Leapsome's Instant Feedback feature.

You'll soon find that people become more comfortable with giving and receiving praise and constructive feedback. Morale will be boosted, and nothing will go unsaid. And don't worry — this will only support your communication culture. Just don't fall into the trap of conflating active communication with micromanaging.

2. Set clear expectations

Speaking of micromanaging: instead of monitoring remote employees' productivity, focus on clearly communicating where you want to go as a team and how each individual is expected to contribute.

As an employee, knowing what you should be doing —and how that's a strategic component to reach team goals — makes it much easier to stay focused and productive. This strategy proves even more effective when all team members are included in the planning phase. If you don't already use goals and objectives, consider a team meeting to establish some. Leapsome's Goals & OKRs feature can help you prioritize steps to achieve your objectives and keep an eye on progress.

Make sure you set an overarching goal and break down the steps to achieve it. You can also make one person responsible for each part for extra accountability. Make sure to ask people for input on deadlines as well. E.g., "here's what's required — how long would this take you?" or "Is this a realistic deadline?"

Now everyone knows what they're doing, why they're doing it, and how to get there. All you need to do as a manager is check in to offer support during the process. An efficient way to do this is to schedule regular 1:1s and team meetings, which we also make easier through our platform.

3. Have an accountability partner

No matter how focused and motivated someone is, they may still get off track, but that's unlikely to happen if a colleague reminds you to stick to your priorities. That's what an accountability partner in the workplace can do — and you can do just the same for them.

Set up regular check-ins with a manager or peer who's aware of what you are working on and discuss your progress, hurdles, and roadblocks to help you move forward. Besides, having an accountability partner means there's someone there cheering you on in your growth and celebrating your success.

4. Celebrate wins (big & small)

Many workers who preferred to work in the office don't have a choice now. Additionally, more flexibility to work from anywhere seems to be here to stay. Many companies will allow employees to work from home more often; others have already transitioned to a remote-first model. For those companies, the fully remote system will stay in place even after we beat COVID-19.

Even so, it's natural to feel disengaged and even lonely when working on your own. That's why companies need to adapt their culture and promote ways to celebrate victories and support a positive attitude.

As a manager, you can encourage, motivate, and engage people by highlighting their triumphs — no matter how small. By doing so, you'll empower your colleagues to do the same for each other. We all seek validation to some extent, and a little recognition goes a long way to make us feel valued, proud of our work, and eager to improve.

5. Catch up with your colleagues via video

Instant messaging, email, and voice calls are great for professional discussions. Still, they don't give us insight into how our colleagues are doing nor allow for developing closer relationships and a more compassionate company culture.

Implementing video calls through Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other video conferencing software allows us to pick up on body language and facial expressions. What's more, background elements often spark conversation. Perhaps you and your colleagues have similar interests in cinema, music, and visual arts, and you may not know it until you see the posters on their wall.

As we've mentioned, engagement stems from relationships. With that in mind, we must build and maintain close relationships with our team. Add video to internal calls to make sure you get to look at each other's faces from time to time — it doesn't even have to be work-related!

At Leapsome, we practice what we preach

Besides showing our colleagues (and not just those who work directly with us) that we appreciate and support their work and celebrate wins via our Instant Feedback & Praise features, we schedule regular coffee dates with colleagues across different teams.

These interactions help us get to know one another, and it's great to see a friendly face in times of isolation. Our coffee (or tea) dates have also made things much easier for those who've joined the company after COVID-19.

More resources to support your remote team

To learn more about how you can boost engagement at your workplace, talk to one of our product specialists.

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