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The Ultimate Guide to Remote Employee Engagement

Best practices for engaging remote employees

by Aimie Ye, SEO Manager @ GoCo

Remote Employee Engagement Stats

In the HR realm, employee engagement is often a top priority along with productivity, finance management, and recruiting. But what does high employee engagement look like in today’s world? Why does it matter? Who plays a role in engagement? Does engagement look different for each generation? And finally, how has the pandemic affected employee engagement?

These questions are top-of-mind for HR professionals, especially as we begin to navigate the “new normal” and post-COVID recovery. Before we dive into the ins and outs of employee engagement, here are a few important stats to know:

  • A 2020 study measuring anxiety and job engagement showed that the effects of the pandemic, along with remote work, increased feelings of anxiety and increased the focus on mortality, which in turn caused lower employee engagement and productivity levels
  • The stock market correlates with fluctuations in employee engagement within the US in the past year
  • According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of employees are engaged at work
  • 22% of remote employees have trouble unplugging and maintaining work-life balance
  • Since COVID-19 hit, 53% of employees reported feeling more emotionally exhausted
  • Millennials are the least engaged generation in the workforce, at only 29% actively engaged, while they are expected to take up 75% of the workforce by 2025

Though 71% of business executives state that employee engagement is crucial to a company’s success, the reality in the stats is that the majority of employees, both remote and in-person, feel unengaged — and this has only been exacerbated by the circumstances of the pandemic.

And, as the stats above show, generational differences impact employee engagement as well. For instance, even though Millennials make up the large majority of the workforce, they are the least engaged generation. This, among many other issues, is driving the push for better overall employee engagement in the workforce.

With the large scale shift to remote work here to stay, HR plays a key role in remote employee engagement. This guide covers everything from basic definitions to engagement automation tips so that you can not only keep employees happy, but also spend more time on higher value HR tasks.

What is Remote Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is exactly what it sounds like — the degree to which employees engage, feel passionate about, feel valued, and are committed to their organization. More specifically, remote employee engagement refers to the extent in which remote employees/off-site employees feel engaged with the team, their work, and the business. With work-from-home here to stay, remote workers often feel less engaged and connected with the company, which can negatively impact overall productivity levels and business performance.

There’s no exact science to measuring employee engagement, as it looks different for different companies, different industries, and different people. However, a good way to gauge engagement levels remotely is by simply communicating with employees on their work, their passion levels, their career goals, and any concerns they may have in the workplace.

Remote employees who are engaged tend to:

  • Seek and provide useful feedback. Engaged employees foster open communication with not only managers, but also their peers. They are extremely interested in staying informed on projects, and keeping others informed along the way.
  • Look at the big picture. Highly engaged employees not only focus on daily tasks, but also constantly think about how their work ties into the grand scheme of things.
  • Exceed expectations. Oftentimes employees that are truly engaged will go above and beyond the goals that are set for them, and even when a project does not go as planned, they tend to have a game plan for analyzing and improving on future tasks.
  • See a future at the company. When your remote employees feel engaged, they communicate long-term career goals with you, refer friends for positions at your company, and stay longer at the company.


Roles Involved in Remote Employee Engagement

HR is often tasked with employee engagement as a whole, but it’s important to understand that each and every member of the organization plays a different role in keeping a remote workforce engaged.

The Role of Human Resources in Remote Employee Engagement:

HR plays a role in every step of remote employee engagement, from creating and putting an engagement strategy into action, to using tools to track progress and personally reaching out to employees to gauge the success of initiatives.

HR is responsible for:

  • Identifying remote tools, software, strategies, and methods for employee engagement
  • Holding leadership and team members accountable for initiatives
  • Listening to employee feedback, measuring engagement over time, and intervening when engagement problems arise
  • Developing employees and discussing career progression paths virtually

The Role of Senior Leadership in Remote Employee Engagement:

Leadership sets an example for the entire organization’s culture, tone, and attitude towards remote employee engagement. If employees understand how important remote engagement is to senior leaders, they’re more likely to follow suit or speak up if they don’tt feel heard.

Senior leaders are responsible for:

  • Exhibiting a passionate and enthusiastic attitude toward remote employee engagement
  • Training department managers and mid-level leaders on engagement strategies
  • Communicating new approaches in engagement initiatives
  • Updating the organization on progress and gaps where engagement can be improved
  • Supporting HR in establishing engagement strategies

The Role of Managers in Remote Employee Engagement:

Managers have similar responsibilities in comparison to senior leaders, with the exception of one key difference — employee relationships. Because department managers and mid-level leaders work daily with team members, they serve as a trustworthy advisor, often with the “inside scoop”.

Managers are responsible for:

  • Creating and developing trusting connections with members of their team
  • Recognizing and rewarding employees for good performance
  • Collaborating with team members to establish personal and team goals
  • Supporting employees as they progress professionally within the organization
  • Listening to employee pain points and communicating with leadership or HR

The Role of Employees in Remote Engagement:

To improve employee engagement in a remote setting, it’s important to go straight to the source. Employees aren’t only your most valuable asset, but they also provide valuable insights on what’s working and what isn’t working within your initiatives.

Employees are responsible for:

  • Providing feedback on the current remote engagement strategy
  • Bringing forward areas they struggle in and ideas on how to improve these pain points
  • Meet with other employees to brainstorm and discuss their thoughts
  • Asking for feedback and support on their career development goals
  • Update managers with progress towards personal goals

The Importance of Remote Employee Engagement

Now that we know employee engagement is a true team effort, let’s cover why it’s important to dedicate time and resources to these initiatives.

Engaged employees are healthier

A Gallup survey shows that highly engaged employees are less likely to be obese, struggle with chronic diseases, and more likely to live a healthier lifestyle (exercise and food). This is because workplaces with strong engagement initiatives in place typically respect employee health needs, including:

  • Flexible schedules for frequent breaks and exercise
  • Company fitness initiatives and challenges
  • Reminders for physical check-ups and telehealth options

Engaged employees are less likely to leave

When employees are not engaged, challenged, or utilizing their strengths in their roles, they are more likely to leave their current role. Engaged remote employees see a future at their company, and feel their personal needs are being met or heard.

With Millennials occupying the majority of the workforce, retention is even more crucial. This is because 6 in 10 Millennials are open to new job opportunities at any given time, and 21% of Millennials have changed jobs within the past year, which is a whopping 3x the number of non-Millennials surveyed. If engaged, though, millennials that align with your company culture will stay even longer than other generations. They’re also 59x more likely to recommend your organization to peers — so the satisfaction of Millennials will actually help build brand awareness and market your company.

Engaged employees are more present

Highly engaged workplaces see nearly 41% less absenteeism within their workforce — likely because employees that understand and support the company mission are excited to come to work every day. This doesn’t mean that highly engaged employees don’t need breaks, but rather that employees with patterns of absenteeism may be struggling in their role.

Engaged employees are more productive and innovative

Even with a people-first strategy, productivity is still a key metric that companies use to measure success. Employee engagement is a crucial piece of productivity, and research even shows that highly engaged employees are 17% more productive than their colleagues.

Additionally, Millennial workers, the largest generation in the US workforce, are the most tech-savvy workers in organizations. Thus, every organization and engagement program should feel the pressure to engage this specific generation (among all of the others) in order to ensure maximum workplace productivity.

Engaged employees not only ask questions and reach out when they need support in projects, but they also provide innovative solutions and ideas for the business.

Engaged employees see higher sales numbers

Because satisfied employees are more productive and offer stronger customer service, there is a direct correlation with company sales. Organizations that are highly engaged record nearly 20% more sales than organizations with unengaged team members. So, investing time and money in your employees to make sure they feel connected, appreciated, and engaged, will literally pay off in the long run.

How to Engage Employees by Generation

To fully empathize and understand your employees’ needs, it’s extremely important to recognize that employees of different generations may need different things. With up to 5 generations working alongside each other, let’s talk about the unique generational needs that HR needs to be well versed on.

The Silent Generation (Born 1925-1942)

Though the large majority of The Silent Generation is retired, of the 20 million adults in this population, they still make up 1% of the workforce. To engage these team members with extensive knowledge and life experiences:

  • Prioritize face-to-face interactions
  • Host generational events where family members, grandchildren, and children can be involved
  • Value their privacy. Especially when it comes to financial discussions in the workplace, members of the Silent Generation may prefer confidentiality
  • Offer extra assistance when it comes to learning new technologies, or changing workplace habits

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

With a greater percentage of older adults (65+) participating in the workforce than ever before, Baby Boomers are an extremely valuable and important generation to engage. To better engage the Baby Boomer generation in the workforce, make sure to:

  • Create opportunities for flexibility, learning & development. If employees of this age group are given the opportunity for continuous growth and flexible work schedules, they are less likely to want to retire.
  • Take the time to help these employees understand their benefits and services.
  • Provide financial training and assistance for retirement planning.
  • Motivate with acknowledgement and recognition. Baby Boomers are likely to respond well with occupational success.
  • Give them the space to mentor. Baby Boomers feel comfortable and helpful in mentoring positions, and may want to contribute to intergenerational training.

Generation X (Born 1965-1980)

The middle child of the generations, Gen X employees are integral parts of our work teams. This workforce prioritizes autonomy, resourcefulness, and self-reliance. As an HR manager, make sure to:

  • Avoid micromanagement. With a Do-It-Yourself mentality, Gen X’s may feel discouraged and disengaged under micromanagement. Allow them the space to be creative and independent, and offer feedback constructively.
  • Provide flexibility. Encourage Gen X’s ability to multitask, whether it’s offering a family-friendly program or giving the option for remote work.
  • Open up leadership opportunities to them. Gen X currently holds more than half of the leadership positions in the world — and they value opportunities for professional development and learning. They are used to taking the lead and leading the charge in training processes and new assignments.
  • Enable autonomy with technology. Gen X, though not as connected as Millennials, can thrive greatly with the help of technology. Take the time to help Gen X with new communication platforms and applications, and they will adopt quickly.

Millennials (Born 1981-1996)

As the fastest growing generation in the current workforce, keeping Millennials engaged should be top-of-mind. Here are a few ways to specifically attract and retain Millennials in the workplace.

  • Support diversity. 69% of employees who believe their management teams are diverse think of their work environments as engaging.
  • Offer competitive salary packages. Millennials are known to shop and carefully consider job offers, more than any generation before them. In fact 92% of Millennials believe that money is the top priority in an employer.
  • Offer remote work options. Remote work options are a must for the Millennial employee.
  • Improve internal communications. Millennials communicate through a variety of digital platforms and messaging applications — so improving internal communications will in turn improve productivity.
  • Digitize. Millennials grew up in a largely digital age, which means that organizations with mostly digitized processes will appeal more to them. Adopting technology to streamline processes, whether it’s communication tools, project management tools, or HR software will keep employees engaged more so than manual processes.

Generation Z (Born 1997 or later)

As Generation Z begins to join the workforce, it’s important to note how this generation differs compared to the ones before. Make sure to:

  • Use modern technology. Similar to Millennials, Generation Z is most familiar with the digital world. To ensure that this generation is engaged, it only makes sense to incorporate more communication, collaboration, and relationship building tools. Having an interactive Org Chart allows them to learn more about the company dynamic. Using digital learning tools and videos can prove to help greatly as well.
  • Focus on diversity and inclusion. As the most ethnically diverse generation to date, Gen Z’s value diversity in many ways. Organizations should prioritize not only DEI training, but also offer activities, celebrations, and opportunities for employees to educate the team.
  • Offer frequent feedback. Because of how streamlined modern technology is, Generation Z expects frequent updates and feedback on their progress. In fact, 66% of Gen Z-ers said they needed feedback from their manager every few weeks in order to stay at their job.

Remote Employee Engagement Trends

Though remote employee engagement follows many of the same trends as in-office employee engagement, here are a few trends that are here to stay with the shift to work-from-home.

    1. People-first company culture

Improving company culture towards a people-first approach is crucial in the coming years. When your entire workforce is scattered across the state, the country, or even the world, ensuring that your remote team members feel cared for and respected by leadership and their own peers is a path that all organizations must take to stay competitive.

    1. Increase in work-life balance

With the lines between home and office becoming blurred in a remote environment, organizations are becoming more cautious about setting boundaries and flexible policies around work-life balance. Employers will need to take on additional initiatives to encourage employees to log off when they need to, and set boundaries between their home office and their home life.

    1. Digital tools and cloud technology here to stay

In order to stay on top of remote employee engagement trends, we expect to see more and more digital tools and cloud technology to support daily functions — from HR software for HR managers to online communication tools, paper is becoming obsolete.

    1. Emphasis on DEIB

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging have become an increasingly larger focus for HR. When remote employees feel included, regardless of their background or characteristics, they tend to be more engaged with the business, and in turn positively contribute to business profitability, team morale, and retention. Within DEIB initiatives, we expect to see a larger focus on gender equality and women empowerment in the remote sphere, including issues around how to stop women from leaving the workforce, and how to better support working parents.

    1. Career growth opportunities

Understanding and facilitating career growth among remote employees will be a major focus for businesses in years to come. Career progression is positively correlated with high employee engagement — businesses that listen, support, and offer a clear path for advancement are more likely to retain Millennials, Gen Xers and Gen Zers.


Remote Employee Engagement Tactics for HR

Streamline Remote Onboarding

The COVID-19 pandemic brought major changes to the standard work setting, and many organizations don’t plan on going back into the office. Remote onboarding with an HRIS can set the stage for employee engagement by empowering new hires from day 1. Here are a few best practices that will aid in online onboarding:

    • Create an onboarding program that includes goal tracking for 30, 60, 90, and yearly plans, with video and email check-ins.
    • Provide links and cloud options for all new hire online assets, from product videos to databases and blog posts.
    • Set-up a remote orientation call with your new employees that makes it easy for employees to get squared away no matter where they are. Create a digital agenda, and send any digital documents that employees need to complete ahead of time.
    • Schedule an HR-specific virtual orientation, where employees can complete compliance, safety, PTO, benefits, and account set-up tasks. With a digital HRIS like GoCo, new hires can review and digitally sign any HR documents without being overwhelmed with loads of paper.
    • Offer self-service benefits administration to empower employees. Giving employees power to view, compare, and select all of their benefits at-a-glance makes them feel valued, and helps alleviate any pain points around navigating open enrollment. Employees know their benefits and resources are available at a click of a button, which makes them feel more valued and connected.
    • Send employees a fun welcome gift. Here at GoCo, we like to surprise our new employees with their favorite snacks (previously entered into our HRIS), fresh company swag, and even custom, hand-written notes. A personalized gift sets the precedent that you as a business care about employees at the individual level.

Remote employee engagement doesn’t begin months later — in fact, it begins before an employee even begins their first day. The impression you leave on them throughout their onboarding process gives them an idea of how to stay engaged from day 1.

For more tips to set the stage for engagement, read our remote employee onboarding checklist here.

Keep the Fun Alive Virtually

With the right tactics, it can be easy and rewarding to boost remote engagement levels with creative activities.

  • Take virtual coffee breaks with your employees. Meet via video conferencing tool with a cup of joe to chit chat with your team members. HR managers and leadership can get a general pulse of employee enthusiasm, how they’ve been feeling, and if they’re feeling blocked in any way.
  • Make the most of the remote experience. If work-from-home is here to stay, a great way to engage employees is to get up close and personal. Here are a few fun ways to break the ice remotely:
    • Home tours
    • Meet the family
    • Show-and-tell
    • Pet intros
    • Multiplayer computer games

Virtually Honor Mental Health

Strong mental health is a key component in nurturing employee engagement. With 40% of U.S. adults struggling with mental health as of June 2020, HR plays a major role in supporting employee wellbeing. Here are a few ways to support positive mental health practices for stronger engagement.

  • Invite team members to a guided group meditation. Meditation is known to reduce anxiety, depression, and even physical pain, so organizing a guided group meditation class via video can aid in relaxation and empowerment techniques from the comfort of everyone’s homes.
  • Promote and remind employees of mental health benefits. Just like physical health, it’s extremely beneficial to continuously track employee mental wellbeing. HR pros should consistently promote mental health benefits and promote Employee Assistance Programs if applicable. Many health plans offer mental health support and 24/7 assistance, which can make a world of a difference for your remote team.
  • Offer reimbursement for mental health applications. Don’t forget that small things add up to make a big difference. Promoting the use of Mental Health Applications and reimbursing the costs helps show your employees that you’re constantly supporting them behind-the-scenes.
  • Create a Slack channel for team members to share experiences, or encourage them to send you a private message. This is a great way for employees to feel the support from peers, or offer personal suggestions for others.

Mental health is an often overlooked factor that plays a major role in employee engagement, and it’s more important than ever to evaluate your team’s overall efforts around mental health and breaking stigmas.

Implement Strong Tools for Easier Team Interactions

Surveys show that loneliness has become a growing concern for the remote employee experience. To continue to foster social connections and let employees know they’re being heard, implement tools for easier interactions, including:

  • Slack – Team Communication Tool
  • Asana – Project Management Tool
  • GoCo – All-in-One HR Tool
  • Zoom – Video Conferencing Tool

These platforms give employees the power to communicate freely, plan tasks accordingly, and review any documents relevant to their role.

Foster a Culture of Open Communication

Though we’ve covered a number of ways you can show support for employees, it’s equally important to listen to what employees have to say. Ask employees for feedback on their onboarding experience, their day-to-day, and consider doing so anonymously for employee privacy. Take notes on how to improve the virtual experience, and fill any gaps where employees don’t feel supported.

From these learnings, consider offering additional online training, reimbursing employees for home-office related items, streamlining HR processes, and keeping your policy handbooks up-to-date so your team is constantly in the loop. Pulse survey and employee feedback tools like OfficeVibe, TINYPulse, and 15Five can help employers build great company culture while constantly monitoring employee sentiment.

Establish Clear Performance Goals

Your team has likely faced changes in both their personal and professional lives within the past year. It’s important to acknowledge these changes, and establish realistic, attainable goals and expectations. On the personal side, make sure you understand what drives employees, and identify common themes in what your employees are saying. Modify your organizational practices for employee morale around these themes.

On the work/performance side, having a streamlined performance management process helps employees create and follow a clear process to achieve goals and greatness (no guesswork). Standardizing and automating performance review workflows can help you empower your employees with:

  • Faster, simpler administration. Make it easy for employees to understand what is asked of them, and easy to manage checklists, tasks, and permissions.
  • Major time savings. Instead of manually working through performance evaluations, your employees are able to spend more time on the actual process of improving and learning.
  • A clear performance schedule. Performance reviews often become a long, tedious process for both HR and employees, and a streamlined performance review process helps ensure timely completion and manual follow-up.

Offer Frequent Feedback and Recognition

Just as you value employee feedback when improving your engagement initiatives, your employees need feedback to feel valued and recognized. The success of your organization ties directly back to the efforts of your team members. Remember to offer positive feedback on what your employees are doing well on, and remind them of the role they play in the company’s goals. Effective employee recognition programs increase the percentage of highly engaged employees within your company.

Create a culture of employee recognition by:

  • Starting from the top. Gain leadership support on new initiatives necessary for a culture shift.
  • Empower your employees. Map out a formal employee empowerment program — regardless of whether it’s the ability to recognize employees on their own, or make full business decisions.
  • Provide regular recognition. For the little things too! While it’s important to provide valuable feedback at the performance review, it’s also important to happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis for a positive and engaged workforce.

Give employees gifts they actually want:

Especially in the age of remote work, it’s hard to think of physical items or gifts that can express recognition or appreciation for employees. For holidays or simply just because, give your employees gifts that appeal to a diverse set of interests and demonstrate genuine appreciation for your employees’ dedication. You want them to truly feel valued — and sometimes, a stress ball or a keychain just won’t do the job.

We recommend creating a customized holiday gift catalog like we did here at GoCo, which:

  • Helped us get to know our team better
  • Didn’t let the gift go to waste
  • Showed the workforce how much we truly care

The gift catalog included hand-picked items and options of all different themes to cater to our diverse team members.

Plan a virtual appreciation event:

A surefire way to ensure that your most valuable assets feel valued is to dedicate a day to appreciate them. The key to executing a successful employee appreciation event for a remote workforce is to plan ahead, and take into account any delays you may encounter. A few key components we included in our appreciation event were:

  1. A sweet treat delivered to their doors.
  2. A reimbursement offer to appreciate employees up to a certain amount. They can personalize and spend it on whatever they would find the most helpful!
  3. Create a digital yearbook or personalized messages for every team member.
  4. Send handwritten cards to your team members.

Automating Remote Employee Engagement

Now that you know some of the best practices for remote employee engagement, you may be wondering: Where do I begin? How can I manage all of these initiatives on my own? With an automated HRIS, you don’t have to take on all of the responsibilities on your own. From better feedback to leadership development, here’s how an HR software like GoCo can help automate employee engagement tasks.

  • Capture feedback and performance reviews. Automating your performance review process with workflows means that reviews are streamlined, tasks and due dates are assigned dynamically, teams are always in sync, reminders are automated, and HR can track and report on progress along the way. This makes it a lot easier to open communication and feedback channels on how to engage remote team members, while staying on task.
  • Streamline onboarding checklists. We mentioned above that remote onboarding can foster stronger employee relationships, and GoCo’s automated onboarding workflows do just that. From sending a virtual offer letter to scheduling meetings with key stakeholders, you can customize and streamline your entire process in minutes. Automated employee checklists won’t overwhelm employees, and they can easily follow along with any tasks required of them. This also mitigates the risk of human error on the employee side, and minimizes the chance of losing employee forms.
  • Simplify benefits administration. It’s no secret that navigating health plans and open enrollment can be extremely confusing, especially on paper. Using digital benefits software helps remote employees view and stay in control of all of their health insurance and plan options from the comfort of their own home. This means employees stay more engaged with what they’re being offered, and they can easily access telehealth and mental health options with a click of a button.
  • Create a workflow for any HR checklist. With HR workflow software, you can get creative with the types of data you collect and the checklists you automate. A great use case for improving employee engagement remotely is to create an employee survey workflow. HR managers can easily customize and trigger employee engagement questionnaires to improve and promote positive organizational culture.
  • Update policies and documents in seconds. Employees who don’t feel that they’re in the loop are much more likely to leave the organization. A great way to make sure every employee is up-to-speed on latest company policies is to use an HRIS for document management. HR managers can make updates to policies and documents digitally, and mass send the updates to all employees for acknowledgement. This reduces the risk of forgetting a team member or missing a paper handout.

Conclusion

If there’s one thing you’ve taken away from this guide, it’s that remote employee engagement is more than just a pat on the back or a team building exercise. For businesses and HR managers to successfully improve on remote employee engagement, the entire organization needs to be involved. From flexible work policies to supporting career growth, you can see just how important a great employee engagement program can be. With happier, more engaged employees, your business also becomes more profitable, productive, and communicative. The cherry on top is that you don’t have to manually do all of these tasks on your own.

If you’re ready to take your remote employee engagement initiative to the next level, GoCo’s all-in-one HR platform can streamline a handful of these processes, from a great first day experience to detailed performance reviews. By automating operational tasks around employee engagement with workflows, you can focus on creating that people-first and inclusive culture you desire. Take a free tour today.

See how GoCo can simplify your HR