Employee engagement: The key to getting it right in a remote world

Joyous’ CPO highlights the subtle differences in fostering engagement virtually

Employee engagement: The key to getting it right in a remote world

In a world of remote work, HR leaders have been forced to rewrite the rulebook.

While a recent BCG report revealed that many employers plan to bring a chunk of their workforce back into the office next year, it’s clear that remote working in some capacity is here to stay.

Employee demand for flexibility shows it’s no longer a perk, but a necessity, and if employers don’t keep up, they risk losing staff.

But hybrid and remote working arrangements bring their own challenges.

So how can HR leaders keep their workforce engaged while working from home?

Katie Williams, CPO at employee feedback software Joyous, spoke to HRD about fostering engagement from afar.

“The behaviours and interactions that happen naturally when you’re physically together don’t happen virtually, so employers need to be much more deliberate about engagement and really spend time on it,” she said.

“Leaders and HR teams need to be insistent that those things we traditionally don’t notice are done deliberately and space is created for them.”

She outlined four driving factors that determine employee engagement;

  • Building a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Creating a sense of belonging
  • Recognising the importance of wellbeing
  • Enabling staff to be successful.

Day to day interactions in the office create a sense of belonging, so that is one area people leaders need to ensure they are mimicking for a remote workforce.

Read more: Hybrid working: Report reveals disconnect between employers and staff

Williams said a lack of time is commonly cited as the reason for failing to create those interactions but she said in a physical working environment, they would happen subconsciously.

Now people leaders must carve out time for those conversations and if they fail to do so, an employee’s sense of belonging begins to diminish.

One simple tip is to encourage managers to begin one on one meetings with their staff by asking: How are you and what can I do to support you?

“Those very simple questions during regular one on ones work brilliantly,” she said. “People start to get that sense of belonging, safety and being recognised by their line manager.”

Williams also recommends that employees and managers spend more time together in a virtual way, increasing the frequency of both one on one and team meetings.

“Whether it’s weekly or fortnightly team meetings, the agenda should not be limited to work but also include things like a check-in with staff, public recognition, shared problem-solving and brainstorming,” she said.

Focusing purely on tasks is a big no-no for virtual meetings and could quickly lead to a drop in engagement and productivity.

Another important factor to consider for fostering engagement in a remote world centres on how employers set goals for their staff.

Read more: Deloitte Australia’s head of talent insight talks reward and recognition in a remote world

Williams said timeframes should be much shorter for remote workers and their goals should be outlined in clear, concrete terms.

“When you’re working together physically leaders and people will shape each other’s work without even realising,” she explained.

“Those things don’t happen virtually, so it becomes critical to keep that accountability, connection and engagement.

“It’s important to be really crisp on what are you going to be delivering in the next week or two weeks, asking what does that look like and what do you require to make that happen?”

Without that, an employee’s sense of personal accountability will drop and then in time, productivity will slump too.

While remote working does pose new challenges for HR leaders, the core drivers of engagement haven’t changed.

Success drives engagement in a virtuous circle, meaning the more engaged a workforce is, the more motivated they feel to reach their goals and produce discretionary effort.

In a virtual world or a physical one, employee engagement continues to be a make-or-break factor for workplaces across New Zealand.

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