Leadership & Future of Work

Creating a work environment that encourages employee engagement. Here's how.

Post by
Diyanah Afendy
Creating a work environment that encourages employee engagement. Here's how.

Flexible work is here to stay, as leaders begin to understand the advantages it provides their organisations. That’s not to say remote working isn’t without its challenges. With distributed teams and reduced co-located interactions, engagement is more important than ever, as it affects the organisation’s overall health, culture and values.

We’ve talked about how we can turn common remote work challenges into opportunities to cultivate a healthy, effective company culture. It is important to note though, that employee engagement and team culture go hand in hand. So, if your team’s Slack channels have gone silent, and your Trello checklists seem to be gathering dust, engagement levels could be slipping and it’s time you do something about it.

In fact, according to a report by Gallup:

  • Highly engaged teams saw a 23 percent increase in profitability;
  • and an 18 percent increase in sales productivity compared to disengaged teams.

So, how can you ensure a connected and collaborative team, even if they’re across different timezones? Because let’s face it: engagement doesn’t just happen on its own. There isn’t a straightforward solution, but it definitely involves more than the occasional virtual happy hour or your weekly Friday Trivia sessions. In addition to creating these shared experiences and organic interactions within your team, here are five different tactics you can keep in mind to foster employee engagement.

1. Acknowledge your team’s efforts. Often.

For leaders who want their teams to thrive, and organisations that want to create cultures of engagement, loyalty, and high performance, it’s important to understand that acknowledging your team’s efforts go a long way. Don’t underestimate it.  A small shoutout over Slack is impactful enough to inspire great work and retain your top talents. In fact, 69% of employees would work harder if they felt like their work was better recognised.

In saying that, feedback is valuable even when critical. What matters most is the delivery of the message either way. As aptly explained by Naval Ravikant, AngelList Founder and Chairman.

If you have a criticism of someone, then don’t criticise the person, criticise the general approach or criticise that class of activities. If you have to praise somebody, then always try and find the person who is the best example of what you’re praising and then that praise that person, specifically. That way people’s egos and identities, which we all have, don’t work against you, they work for you.”

Acknowledging and giving positive feedback is motivating, and exciting – everyone wants their good work to be applauded. However, leaders should also learn to show appreciation for their team. The point isn’t their accomplishments. It’s their worth as a colleague and human being.

Not sure what types of rewards and recognition would motivate your employees? Ask them. Not only will it prove that you value their insights and opinions, but it will help you better understand the kinds of benefits and perks that get them excited.

2. Don’t undermine your one-on-one sessions.

Weekly one-on-one updates with your direct reports are great, but having effective and encouraging meetings are even better. By building a more trusting, less transactional, relationship, it encourages open communication, honest feedback, and effective collaboration.

If you were to listen in on our one-on-one sessions here at Remote Social, you’ll notice that we usually ask open-ended questions such as:

  • What are your top priorities for the week?
  • How are you feeling with your workload?
  • How can I help?

Such conversations will help address any concerns or challenges your employees may be experiencing. Nonverbal cues are an essential part of communication, so meeting via video chat or in person is much better than having a call. It also alleviates any awkwardness between leaders and team members.

Ben Horowitz accurately describes one-on-one meetings as the:

“free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.”

3. Establish a clear line between employees and the bigger picture.

Leaders should strive to make employees feel connected to their work by demonstrating clear visibility of the broader organisation goals. Without an idea of the bigger picture, employees may start to feel like they’re running on a hamster wheel, which may affect their overall performance.

By setting expectations and definitive targets, team members will naturally feel more motivated to achieve them. Here are some ways leaders can connect the dots between employee and 'the big picture’:

  • sharing customer/client reviews or stories with the team, so that they can understand who their work is ultimately benefitting and serving
  • Initiate more cross-functional projects, to provide team members with more visibility across different areas of the organisation. This encourages collaboration between teams and offers employees a peek at how their puzzle piece fits into the bigger picture.

As leaders, you’ll have to start taking the time to translate your complex language of strategy into a common language of execution. Your teams will feel more confident in making better decisions like owners, and the results will speak for themselves. It also creates focused thinking, helping everyone build a shared understanding of the larger systems that determine the effectiveness of their individual actions.

4. Prioritise mental health.

When employees are feeling stressed or burnt out, it greatly impacts their motivation and overall wellbeing. Check in with your team members, either through a direct message or a one-on-one call over coffee (or happy hour, no judgement).

If you notice someone working more hours than usual to finish up a project, acknowledge their efforts but also remind them to have their well-deserved rest. You shouldn’t shy away from prioritising your own mental health too, because actions speak louder than words. There are many ways to manage your mental health while working remotely, and as leaders, there is a responsibility to point employees in the right direction.

Remember: employee engagement can’t happen without your employees. This sounds like a “duh” statement, but so many organisations often make the mistake of pushing their teams over to the finish line without ever taking a step back and asking how they’re coping.

5. Consistency is key.

Employee engagement can’t be something you only think about when everything is fine and dandy, and it also shouldn’t be a priority only when your company is in crisis.

As leaders of remote and hybrid teams, it needs to be a constant point of focus within your team. Employee engagement becomes especially important when dealing with disruptions (*coughs* like COVID-19) as it makes your team more resilient to such challenges.

No matter the situation or hurdles your team is dealing with, you should always prioritise your team’s engagement and trial different ways to keep everyone connected. Virtual get-togethers, frequent check-ins, and other surprises like company swag (I still remember when I first received my Remote Social tee!) can foster a sense of togetherness and keep engagement strong – even when working remotely.

Bottomline: High employee-engagement levels translate to reduced turnover, greater productivity, and fist-bump-worthy #teamculture.