Connecting teams across time zones: 9 ways to enrich the remote employee experience
This year, 13% of employees are fully remote, and 28% work in hybrid arrangements (1). Still, and more importantly, an incredible 98% of team members want the option to work remotely at least some of the time (2). Remote work has clearly had a massive impact on what employees expect from companies, but it’s also changing the way dispersed teams interact, and not always for the better. While remote work offers more flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance, it has also been linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout (3).
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can offer remote work setups and a positive employee experience (EX), providing the flexibility staff want and the team cohesion your organization needs.
To help you provide a more motivating and empowering work environment for your people, we are sharing nine expert strategies you can use to enhance the remote employee experience.
What is the remote employee experience?
The remote employee experience comprises the unique interactions, perceptions, and connections a team member has while they’re working in an online setting. When considering the remote EX, employers need to think about how technology can better support and engage remote employees.
“Whether remote work has a positive or negative impact depends on the degree to which organizations integrate it into their culture and strategy,” says Andrew Gobran, People Operations Generalist at Doist. “If remote work is treated as an auxiliary perk offered to create the perception of flexibility, then it’ll inevitably have a negative impact because the lived experience of the employees will lack flexibility. If remote work is paired with a willingness to question the status quo and leverage the best of what the arrangement has to offer while mitigating its challenges, then the impact is likely to be positive.”
The impact of remote work on the employee experience
According to research from Forbes Advisor, the ability to choose working hours is the top and most expected benefit of a remote work arrangement. “The simple awareness of remote work being an option that offers greater flexibility has raised the bar for what a quality EX looks like,” says Andrew Gobran.
Gallup research also shows that 35% of employees feel more productive when working remotely, and 65% say they want to work remotely all the time. On top of that, 71% of respondents in a Pew Research Center survey agreed that remote work allows for better work-life balance.
However, remote employees themselves are keenly aware of the arrangement’s pitfalls. In the same Pew survey, 53% of team members said remote work made it harder for them to feel connected with their coworkers. Forbes Advisor also discovered that 69% of remote staff feel burned out due to an over-reliance on digital communication tools.
It’s clear, then, that most companies still haven’t figured out how to recreate in-office levels of connection and interaction in a remote setting. As Remote’s Director of People Enablement Amanda Day emphasizes, “For companies with remote workers, the ability to navigate challenges and emerge stronger lies in fostering a remote-first work culture.”
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Adapting your EX strategy to remote work
Remote work gives teams more freedom in terms of when and where they work, which is why people operations experts like Andrew Gobran are encouraging companies to lean into those advantages rather than trying to recreate the on-site experience online.
“Many organizations make the mistake of trying to replicate their office culture remotely, which is often ineffective because the needs and context are different,” he says. “Instead, leverage the strengths and benefits of remote work as part of your employee experience strategy. Remote work enables a great degree of flexibility and autonomy, among many other benefits, so integrating these into your strategy will enhance your overall EX.”
Additionally, Gobran points out, don’t forget to ask remote team members how you can make their lives easier directly, either via surveys or other feedback channels. “Actively involve your remote team members in shaping the employee experience. That way, you get the double benefit of getting more insight into what they want and need and receiving support to actually implement some of those improvements.”
9 ways to improve the remote employee experience
Enhancing the remote employee experience requires a strategic approach that combines effective communication, thoughtfully crafted policies, and people-first initiatives. Consider these nine valuable ways to create a positive and engaging remote work environment.
1. Provide opportunities for online learning & development
Employees today desire learning opportunities that are connected with their career goals — and are more motivated to move on to another role if they don’t find them in their current positions. According to the 2023 LinkedIn Workplace Learning report, a desire to learn and grow is one of the top five reasons people look for new jobs. 2022 research from SHRM also found that 70% of employees prefer self-paced, online training to other formats. That’s great news for organizations that want to accommodate all team members, especially those who work remotely.
With the right tools and processes in place, it’s possible to offer a variety of synchronous and asynchronous development opportunities, such as:
- Individual development plans — In online 1:1 meetings, team leads can collaborate with their direct reports on personalized development plans that align with their career goals and your company’s competency frameworks.
- Create an online resource library — Curate a database of videos, articles, books, and courses team members can access anytime.
- Offer self-paced training courses — With a tool like Leapsome’s Learning module, you can tailor interactive training paths based on the skills employees need and want to build the most.
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2. Use tools that facilitate remote engagement & performance
As high-profile CEOs are claiming that in-office employees are more productive and call for them to return to work, remote team members are growing anxious that managers still evaluate performance based on in-person metrics like hours logged. While presence online may help determine how much time employees “spend” on work, it’s not an indicator of engagement, performance, or productivity. Leaders who manage remote teams must adapt to evaluating teams they can’t always monitor.
“Organizational leaders need to be training managers on the skills they need for a distributed setting. We’ve got to start focusing on results and how individual roles impact the organization,” says the CEO of LexGo and Lextech, Alex Bratton. He adds, “It’s also not just about holding employees accountable. It’s also about asking them, ‘What can we do to support you in this setting?’”
- Make it easy for employees to provide anonymous feedback — Anonymous suggestion boxes, Q&A boards, and surveys are all powerful tools that empower team members to share their perspectives without awkwardness or fear of confrontation or reprisal.
- Use software for more unbiased performance tracking — For instance, Leapsome’s Reviews module collates data from peer reviews, past feedback, goal performance, and 1:1 meeting notes for a fairer, more comprehensive evaluation process.
- Ensure that performance goals are connected to business outcomes — Implement the cascading goals framework to increase alignment between company, team, and individual goals.
3. Set clear expectations around asynchronous communication
“We keep throwing tools at things without any thought of how we’re using them,” says LexGo’s Alex Bratton. “Asynchronous tools tried to improve the lack-of-presence problem that remote work presented. The issue is that we’ve started to use async tools like chat synchronously.” Instead, he advises that organizations embrace virtual conversations above long chats and meetings to free up our time. “A five-minute conversation can prevent an eight-hour chat session,” says Bratton.
All in all, asynchronous tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are great, but being intentional about which conversations require a call vs. a message is key. You may also want to establish other communication guidelines like, for example, that formal meetings always need to be accompanied by clear goals and agendas. Once you’ve established your organization’s expectations, clearly explain them to your team. Here are some specific pointers to that end:
- Be clear about which issues and tasks demand immediate attention — “By removing the need for employees to default to immediacy, you can enable people to be more mindful about their communication and enable more intentional, deep work to take place,” says Andrew Gobran.
- Establish tool-specific processes — Team members need to know what problems are best solved by chat, email, video message, and video conference so they’re well-equipped to make the best use of everyone’s time.
- Keep meetings focused — Using Leapsome’s Meetings module means all meetings have a definite agenda and purpose and always end with clear next steps and action items.
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4. Allow for more flexible schedules
The concepts of remote work and flexibility go hand-in-hand, but what does flexibility actually entail? “The pandemic made us realize how much we want flexible work, which means flexible geography as well as flexible time,” says Alex Bratton. Different organizations respond to that need in different ways. For example, some let employees choose their own hours as long as they get their work done and attend meetings, while others allot team members a certain amount of weeks or months per year where they can work remotely in any location.
Currently, 34% of employees and 40% of employers say that flexible hours are the top benefit that remote work offers. With that in mind, there are plenty of ways companies can offer flexibility as they slowly transition from more prescriptive policies. They can include:
- Flexible start and end times, which allow employees to adjust when they begin and end work as long as they complete a certain amount of tasks or hours.
- Core hours where team members are expected to be available for meetings and collaboration.
- Seasonal arrangements that afford employees more freedom during specific times of the year, for example, around summer or winter holidays.
- Optional compressed workweeks where team members can opt for four-day workweeks (for example) as long as they complete a certain amount of hours or work in total.
5. Focus on recognition & praise
Recognition is a powerful motivator for all employees, but it’s vital for remote team members who are always at a greater risk of feeling isolated, disconnected, and disengaged. Indeed, recognizing employees in the right way is a cost-effective initiative to increase engagement, retention, and productivity. In fact, research from Gallup found that well-recognized staff members are four times more likely to be engaged, five times less likely to leave, and 73% less likely to feel burned out.
Whether you use an internal messaging platform, your company newsletter, or a tool like Leapsome’s Instant Feedback module to praise team members, ensure positive feedback is always:
- Personalized to the recipient, recounting the situation or task where they demonstrated a specific strength or skill.
- Connected to company values, reinforcing what your organizational ideals look like in action.
- Frequent and given at least once a month to keep team members feeling engaged and connected to their purpose at work.
- Equitable, ensuring you follow the same process for everyone.
6. Help employees with their remote office setup
While remote work doesn’t always take place at people’s homes, employees appreciate that they don’t always have to work in an office environment. A 2021 Gallup survey found that team members who prefer remote and hybrid work have two things in common — they want to avoid commute time and find these arrangements to be in better alignment with their well-being.
With that in mind, there are numerous options you can offer employees to help them assemble their remote office:
- Offer a remote office allowance — Establish an ongoing individual budget or stipend that team members can spend on work equipment and accessories.
- Provide or loan office equipment and hardware — That way, employees only use company-approved tech and supplies.
7. Make onboarding remote-friendly
The onboarding process is essential for making a great first impression on new hires. However, it gets neglected more times than not. Gallup research shows that only 12% of employees think their company is great at onboarding, even though new team members are 2.6 times more likely to be satisfied at work and 4.7 times more likely to grasp fundamental business processes after a thorough onboarding experience.
If your business currently struggles with EX at the onboarding stage, you can improve the way you onboard remote employees by:
- Prioritizing pre-boarding and first-day preparations — Make sure new hires have access to the documentation, paperwork, tech, and learning materials they need to ensure their first day goes smoothly.
- Making team introductions — Encourage other employees, team leaders, and stakeholders to contact new team members directly, giving new hires the opportunity to ask questions and make connections.
- Assigning onboarding mentors — This could be someone on a new hires’ team or in a similar role who has also recently gone through onboarding and can provide guidance.
- Scheduling remote introduction sessions with managers and cross-functional team leads — This will speed up new team members’ transitions into your culture and processes and prevent them from feeling alone and overwhelmed.
8. Invest in remote wellness initiatives
While remote employees are enjoying greater professional and personal freedom, they’re also struggling to move their bodies. New research from Upright found that the average remote worker takes just 16 steps from their bed to their workstation, and 54% of remote and hybrid employees believe their physical activity has decreased by 50% or more.
A consistent lack of movement and feeling confined to a desk can take a serious toll on someone’s physical and mental health. More organizations should consider this reality and respond with wellness benefits such as:
- Fitness and wellness stipends — Set aside a dedicated allowance that team members can use for their fitness and wellness needs, like therapy sessions, gym memberships, or fitness equipment.
- Wellness app subscriptions — Offer employees memberships to apps for guided meditation, mental health resources, and home workouts.
- Paid mental health days — Encourage team members to take days off to recharge and prioritize their well-being, no questions asked.
- Ergonomic workshops — Train employees to set up their home workstations in a way that feels comfortable and supports their musculoskeletal health.
9. Offer more virtual team bonding events
Remote work has also made it more difficult for team members to connect with their colleagues. Despite the wide array of tools we have to stay in touch with each other, four out of five employees report feeling disconnected.
Providing frequent opportunities for people to interact and talk about topics other than work can help, as long as planning more team-building events doesn’t add to anyone’s workload. That’s why we suggest these low-stress options:
- In-person offsites — Many fully remote companies offer a yearly offsite where the whole team can meet in person and spend a few days getting to know each other.
- Virtual happy hours — These are ideal for team members who prefer a more relaxed after-work gathering and want to connect with their coworkers with unstructured chats.
- One-on-one coffee chats — For instance, Slack integrations like Donut set up automatic introductions between coworkers and schedule short online meetings for them to get to know each other.
Engage & energize your remote employees with Leapsome
While employees aren’t eager to relinquish the autonomy remote work provides, they’re facing unprecedented obstacles around communication and collaboration. For organizations that prioritize their people, the solution lies in fostering a remote-first workplace. That means putting the experiences of remote and hybrid team members first and building EX strategies around them, refining their approaches as employee and business needs evolve.
Still, efforts to increase productivity and prevent burnout typically require separate tools and strategies for gathering data, planning initiatives, and measuring them for effectiveness. How, then, do HR and people ops improve remote EX and avoid burnout?
Leapsome not only makes strategizing easier with tools for collaboration, but it also allows people teams to quantify and assess the remote EX so you can make work more enjoyable.
Our Meetings and Goals modules make it easy to work collaboratively while setting clear, business-driven objectives for remote EX projects. Then, implement our Surveys and Instant Feedback modules to gain in-depth insights into the employee experience and utilize Reviews and Learning to offer more individualized development opportunities.
With Leapsome, you’ll unlock valuable team member data, design a great remote employee experience, and make your organization an unbeatable place to work.
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