The New Normal: How to engage remote workers

"HR teams see a wide range of challenges day-to-day"

The New Normal: How to engage remote workers

Replicating the engagement of an in-person workforce is something many organizations are grappling with in the current climate. Employees used to working in an office are accustomed to face-to-face communication like the spontaneous conversations they strike up at the water cooler, grabbing coffee in the break room or riding the elevator to their floor.

"HR teams see a wide range of challenges day-to-day,” says Ellie Powers, director of product at Slack Technologies. “One such challenge, made even more difficult as many teams work remotely, is keeping employees engaged.”

According to Slack’s recent survey of nearly 3,000 knowledge workers, newly remote workers are more likely to find communication and coordination especially problematic — they are more than twice as likely as experienced remote workers to cite the volume of communications to coordinate with others” as a challenge.

Those working at home for the first time also reported feeling they can’t easily get in touch with colleagues to get information they need to do their jobs, and that their company is not structured in a way to help them communicate efficiently.

Collaboration tools that easily and intuitively facilitate communication can make all the difference — a statement born out by the discrepancy between newly remote workers and veterans, as the former are nearly twice as likely as experienced work-from-home employees to report their sense of belonging has taken a hit. This suggests that there are practices and tools that can strengthen work relationships remotely,” the survey found.

According to the survey, collaboration tools “can have a significant impact on remote workersfeelings of connection.” For example, 27% of non-Slack users say loneliness is a workplace challenge, compared with 18% of those who use Slack. Slack users are also nearly twice as likely as non-Slack users to report their sense of belonging improved while working from home.

“Given the challenges around communication, connection and productivity, adopting new technology to support these areas is one of the most strategic investments a business leader can make,” the survey suggests.

Areas such as productivity, focus, morale and communication are positively impacted through the use of channel-based messaging platforms. Technology such as Slack’s, which in March was given its most sweeping update since launch, aims to help people work together as easily online as they do in person.

“It’s designed to support the way people naturally work together,” says Powers. “As a result, teams can more easily leverage their collective expertise.”

Powers says Slack’s channels can serve as the team’s home base, like a virtual office, “because they allow everyone to see the same conversations and stay up to date with the latest files and decisions.”

“The information, conversations and software teams use to get work done are all in one place — making it faster and easier to get things done,” she says.

Channels are also a great way to encourage engagement and transparency — from personal interest channels, where employees can discuss their favourite movies or share parenting tips, to announcement channels and even executive AMA channels.

“Teams can really get creative here and tap into their distinct company culture,” Powers adds.

One example is Shopify. The e-commerce company uses Slack to help bring its “people-first” culture to life using the platform’s custom bots. The Simple Poll bot helps Shopify get employeesthoughts before planning events, for example, and the Unicorn bot pings a channel whenever anyone receives kudos.

Slack also offers features like emojis, video conferencing integrations and custom statuses to help keep employees engaged and make up for lost face time. The company’s online guide for working remotely says it’s important to create moments for face time, “whether thats a regularly scheduled video call with your immediate team or asking a colleague youve been messaging to hop on a call to hash things out faster.”

“Much like the way youd walk up to a colleagues desk, you can do the same in Slack with a quick call,” the guide says. “If your team already has a service for video and voice (Slack integrates with nearly all of them), you can easily connect it with Slack to bring all of your communication into one place.”

For Powers, the ability to add apps is one of her favourite things about the Slack platform. There are over 2,000 available in its App Directory to expand the capabilities of your workspace.

“One app I love is Donut, which introduces people who don’t know each other well on teams of all sizes via direct messages, and encourages them to meet over a (virtual) coffee,” she says. “This is great for team bonding, and can be especially useful for fostering community in the current remote work environment."

The survey notes technology solutions “work best when linked with policies and practices that support remote work,” including giving remote workers autonomy, cultivating trust within and between teams and clearly defining goals and expectations.

71% of respondents surveyed expected to continue working from home in the near future, which means “what started as a short-term crisis response appears to have long-term policy implications.” Powers says the way the various parts of Slack work together make it a powerful tool for a department like HR to meet the various challenges they face, especially some of the novel ones emerging from the new way of work. 

“Slack is a place where teams not only get work done,” she says. “But also build connections and culture.”

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