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Don’t let budget be why your remote team disengages. These inexpensive employee engagement ideas will help you improve engagement and prevent turnover.
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A meeting these days can mean looking at a screen with team members thousands of kilometers apart, perhaps without ever meeting in person.
Technological advances in the workplace have enabled greater flexibility, less commuting time, and more autonomy, making remote jobs a choice for many. A study from 2021 found that 45% of full-time U.S. employees worked from home either all or part of the time.
Along with its advantages, however, a remote job can have a negative impact. The very definition of remote means that employees are physically distant from each other and the organization, which means that people might miss out on collective activities such as lunch breaks or impromptu conversations that help teams be more cohesive – and with it, integrate everyone as part of the organization. This can result in lower performance, more turnover, and an unmotivated workforce.
Can you turn things around – without a huge budget?
Yes. You can have a happy, committed workforce by implementing some (or even better, all) of these 15 affordable tips that will engage remote teams.
Employee engagement is a measure of the enthusiasm and commitment of employees to their work and their employer. In that sense, employee engagement in a remote workplace is no different than engagement in an in-office setting. It’s critically important in both environments.
Where employee engagement differs in a remote setting is in how you achieve high levels of engagement. Some strategies from in-office settings translate well to remote environments; others, not so much. Every remote people leader who wants to prevent employee burnout and foster an engaged team needs to tailor their behaviors to make sure they’re well-suited to a remote workplace.
Employee engagement is a complex thing. It takes on many different forms and is affected by many different drivers. Sometimes it’s easiest to understand why engagement matters by looking at how disengagement impacts your organization.
It’s cliché, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
The three main impacts of a disengaged team include:
You can easily spot a disengaged team because team members constantly come and go.
Engaged employees are excited about their work and your company’s mission. Disengaged employees have checked out—they don’t really care any more. As such, they’re far more likely to be hunting for new jobs and you’re far more likely to feel the impact of high employee turnover.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
A person experiences burnout when they’re dealing with feelings of exhaustion, negativity or cynicism, and reduced effectiveness at work. Each of us feel some of these things at times. It’s the overwhelming combination of all three that’s characteristic of full-fledged employee burnout.
Disengaged employees are less productive in their jobs because they are less interested in doing things to the best of their ability. They’re unmotivated and uncommitted to helping their peers and your organization succeed. Low productivity and low engagement go hand-in-hand.
Keeping employees happy and productive doesn’t necessarily require a huge budget. Once you realize how critical engagement is, the crucial thing is to not wait until it’s too late to turn your organization into a great place to work. You can start without spending any money by focusing on cultivating a working environment that’s psychologically safe and healthy, then invest financially when key opportunities present themselves.
Here are some tactics for effectively engaging remote employees and teams that don’t require a huge budget.
Asking your team to check in daily is one of the most cost-effective and proactive things you can do to prevent burnout and keep employees engaged. Check-ins take mere seconds, yet they have powerful results, including improving mental health, inclusion, and feelings of belonging.
Start by making this small gesture a daily habit for everyone in your organization. Kona’s daily check-ins rely on a simple red/yellow/green indicator to communicate how your employees are feeling each day:
A happy green check-in where people can celebrate each other’s accomplishments, ask for pics, and build relationships.
A mildly concerning yellow check-in where team members and managers can offer help in the comments.
For example, if you see someone on your team mark themselves as red, their manager can quickly touch base with them and offer them some time off (or additional support).
By asking employees to describe how they feel and sharing their responses with their team, you’ll be consistently reinforcing how important employee wellbeing is in your organization.
A very concerning red check-in that managers get a notification about so they can assess the situation and login time off if needed.
Tools like Kona don’t take much time out of your day, and yet you’ll be constantly fostering things like trust and wellbeing, critical components to employee engagement.
When an employee tells you she’s experiencing burnout, it’s also often the moment she’s telling you she’s found another job.
Burnout is characterized by three things: feelings of exhaustion, negativity or cynicism towards work, and ineffectiveness in your role.
That’s why identifying burnout early is crucial to keeping your employees engaged. If you fail to address burnout in time, you risk long-term sick leaves, lower productivity, and expensive turnover. Research estimates that it costs as much as 33% of a worker’s annual salary to replace someone.
So how do you identify burnout before it takes root in your team or company? By training your managers to see signals of burnout and act promptly.
Daily check-ins help you quickly identify potential burnout and get ahead of it through providing support to team members who are struggling.
Employee recognition is “low cost, high impact.” Workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment, and makes employees feel valued for their work. In fact, one study on top performance motivators found that 37% of employees feel most encouraged by personal recognition.
And what’s more powerful than telling your colleague directly that they did a great job? Telling them publicly.
Here’s a real-life example of how we leverage Kona to recognize great work. Using a Slack channel called #roses—based on the roses & thorns method—anyone can submit feedback for team members. The roses are public, so team members get a company-wide spotlight when they do well.
An employee listening strategy can help you make long-term decisions that shape the company to fit your team’s ever-evolving needs.
Surveying your team regularly is a low-cost approach to measuring the level of engagement within your organization.
Google Forms, for example, is free. While limited in its design capabilities, you can easily adjust the look and feel to reflect your organization’s branding. For best results, aim at sending a survey regularly—like quarterly—so you can compare against previous results and measure the impact of your engagement efforts. Don’t just send a survey and expect employees to be instantly engaged—you’ll need to act on it, too.
Studies show that the vast majority of survey respondents expect surveys to be anonymous. That’s understandable—even if it might not be well founded, people can have a fear of speaking out against their manager or leadership team. Let’s face it: respondents will often be more honest when they’re anonymous.
Regular 1:1 meetings are a fantastic way to collect unfiltered feedback from your team. They allow both parties to express themselves without worrying about anyone else. This ensures that every employee’s feedback style is accommodated for.
Here are some example questions you can ask to find out how engaged team members are:
In addition to discussing these points, you can also spend time reviewing the results from your anonymous surveys.
Effective 1:1s aren’t just for collecting feedback. They impact employee engagement, too. In fact, according to Gallup, employees who have regular 1:1s meetings are three times more likely to be engaged than the ones who don’t.
There are few things as discouraging as sharing feedback through 1:1s, surveys, or general meetings and seeing that feedback get buried and forgotten.
So don’t just sit on feedback.
Instead, take action and let people know. For example, imagine employee surveys showing many people asking for a gym membership. If that’s something that the company is planning to put effort (and money) into, make sure you share the progress. You could give a brief update during an all-hands meeting or the company-wide Slack channel. People will know that you take their feedback seriously when you adjust your plans accordingly.
Every company has a hiring budget, but retention budgets are rare. And yet, studies show that the average cost of losing an employee is a staggering 33% of their annual salary.
A dollar spent on employee retention has a far bigger impact than a dollar spent on hiring.
Retention budgets don’t have to be huge to make an impact. You can spend this money on things like learning and development, cultural initiatives, or sending care packages to employees who are going through hard seasons.
Employees who don’t use their PTO are more likely to experience burnout and do a worse job over time. It’s common to hear of unlimited time off at tech companies nowadays. The problem is that this can backfire, as employees end up taking less time off than if it were mandatory.
Removing the upper limit on vacation time doesn’t usually encourage more PTO; but adding a minimum PTO requirement does. Taking time off has a significant impact on employee engagement, because it allows people to recharge and regroup.
People choose remote careers because of the flexibility. Failing to deliver on that promise will tank your employee satisfaction.
Avoid the temptation to enforce a mandatory policy that requires people to be in the office or to be online during certain times for no good reason. If the green dot is all you care about, that’s all you’ll get.
This reality is what’s led to the creation of devices like the mouse jiggler—a pad that shakes your mouse so you appear online when you’re actually away from your computer.
You don’t want your employees feeling pressured to use gimmicks like this. You want actual work getting done. Wherever possible, make it easy for team members to do that work at times that are convenient for them.
Here’s the thing about trust: the more you give, the more you’ll get. If you trust your employees to do a great job while working remotely, you’ll have a higher chance of getting the outcome you’re looking for.
Engaged employees know what’s expected from them.Their managers discuss their job's explicit and implicit expectations. These frank conversations are also necessary for fostering flexibility. It helps you measure if the important work is getting done.
The best way to let people know what the company expects from them is by setting personal goals, ideally making them as specific as possible.
Here are some examples of clear performance indicators for a person working in sales:
Clear goals point your team in the right direction and help them know how they’re performing so they can make adjustments when needed.
Don’t use time tracking software or anything that spies on your employees. It’s the opposite of building trust.
If you’re interested in how time is spent, a healthier approach is to ask your team members to track the time they spend working on different projects. This will give you an overview of what’s being prioritized without destroying trust or hurting engagement.
Train your employees to get an even better job, but treat them in a way that makes them stay. Learning and development (L&D) are crucial drivers of employee engagement.
Learning and development doesn’t have to cost a lot. You can keep costs down by leveraging sites like Skillshare or Growth Mentor. For some roles, you can also find free certifications through companies like Google and Hubspot. In these situations, the only “cost” you’ll have to pay is freeing up regular time for L&D.
Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” He knew that failure is part of leading to successful new initiatives and experiments.
Fear of failure can cripple people. For companies that embrace risk—and enable individuals to stretch beyond their limits—the potential for loss becomes an opportunity for success.
While of course you don’t want people to take stupid risks, you also shouldn’t bash them for taking a calculated risk and failing. For example, say your support team is failing to report bugs in an understandable way for engineers. Instead of casting blame, you could organize a meeting using some of the worst bug reports—anonymized—as examples of what not to do. Then brainstorm ways to make them better.
This is part of the learning process, and it’s okay to make mistakes!
Lunch breaks, walks, and naps require a dedicated slot in the calendar where notifications are muted and the phone is not ringing.
Encourage your team to add their breaks to their calendar—it’s the best way to own their time and get the necessary recharge time during the week.
This can be as simple as creating a recurring event in your calendar. Making these events “out of office” events means you’ll decline new invitations automatically, protecting that time from intrusion.
Pro tip: If you’re a people leader, the best way to make this happen is to model it yourself. Set an example and encourage your team to follow it.
Despite your best efforts to keep people engaged, every organization faces turnover occasionally. In these cases, aim to figure out why by organizing exit interviews.
Ask employees to fill in a standard survey so that you can track issues and reasons for leaving over time, then have a casual conversation to gain more color into why they decided to depart.
Don’t let a small budget be the reason your employees are disengaged.
There are plenty of ideas you can turn into reality without worrying about the cost. All of these inexpensive employee engagement ideas will contribute to engaging your employees, regardless of where they work within your organization.
Connecting remote employees and ensuring they feel happy, productive, and motivated to do their best work is easy with tools like Kona. Get started for free today!