Keeping remote employees motivated and engaged can sometimes be a challenging task when you don't get the value of face-to-face interaction. Managers of distributed teams say their biggest challenge is cultivating a strong company culture. This challenge applies both to companies where everyone is remote, and for those with hybrid teams (both in office and remote employees).
Here is the good news though -- remote employees are eager and excited to find creative ways to enhance the company culture and be part of the team. They care just as deeply about the vision, goals, and company growth as anyone. It's up to remote team managers to be cognizant of the unique challenges presented by working remotely and to actively work to minimize friction for their employees to help them succeed at work.
Here are some ideas we've seen really help bring teams together -- no matter where employees are working from.
As a lot of us Slack users know, #general chat is an easy way to bring everyone together. Basically it's just one shared chat group that everyone in the company is part of. The openness is great and should be encouraged, but there are so many other ways to leverage whatever chat platform you are using.
Some ideas to try are:
Finding similarities amongst your team members and cultivating that online conversation is key to having the remote team feel more involved.
Something we've also seen work well for companies with distributed teams is having the camera turned on required -- in everything from company-wide meetings to 1:1s. With the limited opportunity for face-to-face time with remote employees, screen-to-screen can really help bridge the gap.
Beyond just getting to know people better, you can more easily gauge their reactions when you see their face. If 55% of communication is body language -- you can see how half of the intent of the conversation is missed without the camera on.
When you aren't in the office with your co-workers every day, it is harder to understand what they are working on and how they are tracking toward their goals. This can lead to confusion and misconceptions of what is actually being done. Especially when the concept of being remote is new to a company or team, people tend to think, "well what is Joe doing all day if we can't see him?"
Creating a place to not only share goals and how you are tracking towards them can provide multiple benefits throughout your company. Not only is it good business practice to have shared goals for accountability and focus, but you get the benefit of understanding what everyone is working on no matter where they are in the world. Cross-company objectives should also be readily available to help them feel more part of the broader team.
A product team member might have a good idea of how they are doing, but might want to learn more about marketing. Having a common solution and shared space is critical to creating that unified accountability.
There are dozens of product management tools out there for you to leverage, but also try not to overcomplicate it. It can be as easy as opening up a shared Google Sheet with goals and targets, along with action items that people update on a daily or weekly basis. Don't let coming up with the process get in the way of the point: shared, digital accountability.
This could also be a great opportunity for people in your company looking to take on a special project and more responsibility. The list of priorities leadership is focused on seems never ending, so encourage team members both in office and remote to come together and present an idea to the company. Encourage them to be part of the solution to enhance your remote culture.
For a remote team member, seeing "office happy hour" on the company calendar is always a little defeating because they know that is a time they are missing the social connection between colleagues. Our State of Remote Work study showed that employees miss conversations and celebrations most when working remotely.
Although it is perfectly fine to have events that remote teams won't be able to participate in, trying to find unique ways to include them is also very important to keeping remote employees motivated and engaged.
If you are providing lunch for an all hands meeting, maybe send a gift card for GrubHub to your remote team so they can participate in the meeting, while also feeling like they get a similar benefit to being in the office. Recognizing them during these meetings is also important. Even if you have your shared goals like stated above, really using this time to highlight great work from remote team members that might have otherwise gone under the radar will go a long way in making them feel more part of the company.
Getting together as a team might also be something your company considers as part of their annual or quarterly meeting cadence. But don't just bring the remote team in and stop there. This really is a great opportunity when you have everyone together to really build camaraderie. Some things you should plan are:
Your focus needs to be on activities that encourage collaboration and shared work while together.
If there are big projects that need a lead or new roles that have become available, open up the option to employees both in the office and remote to "apply for" these roles -- everyone must have a fair shot. To take it a step further, you could try creating a special project that only becomes available for the remote team members.
However you approach it, creating leadership opportunities for every member of the company is a great way to keep employees engaged. It can be projects big and small. There will always be someone ready to take on the challenge.
Leveraging these tactics can help boost not only your company culture, but will enhance the environment for your distributed team. Finding time to focus on ways to keep your remote employees engaged in your company will truly make them feel part of the company vision and motivated to do the best work possible.