More and more businesses are embracing the joys of a remote workforce. Over 3 million people work virtually in the U.S., and the number is climbing. Teams are welcoming the flexibility and efficiency working remotely provides.
If you manage a remote team of superheroes, you have a front row seat to this transformation in work culture. You’re also likely familiar with one of the biggest challenges facing these kinds of teams: engaging and motivating remote workers that are spread out across the country (and even the world) with few opportunities for face-to-face interaction.
A unique kind of workforce requires a unique approach to team happiness. Here are five essential components of a remote employee engagement strategy to get you started.
1- Appoint a People Person
Engaging a team is hard work, not a minor bullet point to be slotted in at the end of someone’s already lengthy to-do list. Team management should be a priority for someone on your team, if not their sole responsibility.
This role might resemble a traditional human resources position, but with more of an emphasis on employee experience than hiring or compliance. This manager will oversee things like upholding company culture, fine-tuning the company’s engagement strategy, and implementing policies like the ones listed below.
Many companies even create new titles for this position like “Chief of Culture” or “Happiness Manager.” This approach to team management shakes up the business-as-usual approach to office life and prioritizes employee well-being to maintain happier, more connected virtual teams.
2- Create a Community Gathering Place
An abundance of evidence suggests that office gathering spaces, like water coolers and break rooms, have a positive effect on employee happiness and productivity. They help employees differentiate, both physically and mentally, between work and play.
Your remote employees don’t have a physical break room in which to gather. They might be working from the comfort of their home office, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need a communal space just as urgently as in-office employees do. It’s your job to provide that for them—to create a virtual water cooler.
Private Facebook Groups and Slack channels are perfect for these kinds of gathering places. Your team might also set up a simple email thread or group text (a great task for that People Person you appointed). Creating this space could mean adopting a new software solution, but often, the simplest solutions are the best for achieving team-wide buy-in—something accessible, with plenty of support for sharing videos and Friday afternoon selfies.
3- Build in Time for Small Talk
Today’s teams are becoming increasingly creative about keeping meetings as brief as possible. Strategies like stand-up meetings and the three-bounce rule all aim to maximize efficiency and minimize small talk, or eliminate it altogether.
This approach to productivity makes sense for traditional offices. However, if that weekly video conference call is your remote team’s only opportunity to hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces, small talk isn’t just a pleasantry. It’s a necessity.
Consider folding in small talk to your meeting agendas, as a way to transition into and out of official business. These kinds of exchanges forge those essential connections that keep team members motivated, flexible, and happy.
4- Send Snail Mail Surprises
Meeting up in-person isn’t always feasible for remote teams. Virtual hangouts and digital gifts are great for building bonds and showing appreciation, but for those moments when you want to show love to your team members with a real-life treat, there’s snail mail.
Set aside a budget you might use for in-office pizza or stocking the coffee maker, and use those funds to ship small surprises to your remote employees. These gifts could be a simple postcard or a goodie box filled with swag. Whatever you send, your employee will receive a tangible reminder of the real, supportive human beings cheering them on.
5- Establish Accountability Check-Ins
Even the most driven remote employees benefit from external structure and accountability measures. Help them out by scheduling regular check-ins where they can deliver progress reports, raise concerns, and receive support and encouragement.
These check-ins might take the form of weekly email reports, team-wide conference calls, or one-on-one meetings with a manager. Whatever the format, the point here is consistency: regular benchmarks your employees can work toward. Building routine can be tough for remote workers. As their manager, you can help provide some of that structure that helps them thrive.
Most conventional approaches to team-building were built with in-office—not virtual—teams in mind. Building a positive virtual workplace requires you to go back to the drawing board, take fewer things for granted, and embrace a company culture that supports and celebrates its employees no matter where in the world they reside.