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6 Great Hacks to Build Engagement in Your Online Team

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6 Great Hacks to Build Engagement in Your Online Team

We live in an increasingly globalized world, and it’s changing the way we work. Where businesses used to be confined to hiring from their local area, they now have access to talent from Australia to Zambia and virtually anywhere in between.

Entire projects, entire teams, or entire companies, may operate through telecommuting and work entirely online. Eliminating travel time, letting people work in a comfortable home environment, and even letting them choose their own hours can delight staff, and allow them to achieve a work-life balance.

However, there’s one major problem that remote workers face: isolation.

If your employees are scattered all over the world, they’re likely to be lacking in social interaction. In a good workplace environment, your coworkers are more than just fellow employees; you’re a “team”. Workers who feel a sense of belonging and engagement are much more likely to love what they do, and to work harder. While many office workers dream of working from home, many telecommuters miss the feeling of connection that they get from being in an office.

You may have heard of a psychological theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

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    Maslow theorizes that socializing with others is a fundamental human need. Self-esteem and self-actualization are also closely linked with human contact; the serotonin rush that comes with being told that you’re doing a good job is much more meaningful when there’s a face attached to that feedback.

    In short, keep people hunched over a computer alone for months or even years on end, and they’re not going to be happy campers.

    So, what can we do about it?

    1. Build a Community

    Make your remote staff feel like part of your company’s community, and ensure that they get to know each other and the non-remote staff.

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    By building up company culture, and proactively involving remote workers, you can help them to feel like they’re part of something bigger. Put staff profiles up on your company’s intranet, and include remote workers in the profiles. You could even consider using a service like Yammer to encourage team communication.

    2. Blog

    Many companies that hire freelance or remote workers use the company blog to keep remote workers interested and engaged.

    They’ll publish profiles of workers on their blog, articles published by those workers, pictures from the cities that they live, and so on. It’s a great way to encourage your remote workers to put faces to their teammates’ names and get to know each other as people!

    3. Facebook Groups

    Start a Facebook chat group for the team, where people can bounce ideas off each other, and also get to know each other. Many project managers only use e-mail to communicate with their team, and in an entirely top-down way.

    The result of that strategy is that the team members mean nothing more than a name and an e-mail address to each other. If you create a Facebook group, your team members may even send each other friend requests; nothing builds team engagement like seeing pictures of each other’s cats/children/lunch.

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    4. Recognize your remote workers’ achievements

    Lack of recognition can be a major drawback to working from home: remote workers frequently complain of being passed over for promotions because nobody in the office knows who are or what they do.

    Business News Daily suggests creating a system of virtual badges or rewards. One way to implement this to create profiles on the intranet for all staff, remote or otherwise, that show what badges/rewards they have achieved.

    5. Give remote workers opportunities for growth – and encourage them to come into the office!

    Let them know what room for growth there is in your company for remote workers, and also what potential there is to become an on-site worker in the future. Training opportunities that can be completed online are an ideal way to allow these workers to still make progress in their career while maintaining a telecommuting lifestyle, but also make sure that they are aware of training opportunities within the office if they live nearby.

    If they’re doing the same task every day, and there are other telecommuting tasks that they could be doing, let them mix it up a bit so that they can reduce boredom and learn new skills.

    Are there some tasks that are only being done on-site at present, that could be done by your telecommuting staff? Great managers and great companies are committed to nurturing their staff’s potential; this can be a bit more tricky with remote workers, but being a bit creative can really pay off in terms of engagement and staff retention. Who doesn’t want committed, highly skilled staff who love their work?

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    Also, if your staff is mostly located within the local area, you could offer part-telecommuting jobs. A 2014 Gallup poll found that staff who telecommuted less than 20% of the time were more engaged that the average on-site worker, but “active disengagement” with one’s company increased as this percentage increased, to the extent that staff working entirely from home “are nearly twice as likely to be actively disengaged (23%) compared with those who telecommute less than 20% of the time (12% actively disengaged)”.

    So if you want happier workers, part-time telecommuting is a great way to achieve that, but if you can, bring them into the office at least sometimes. Isolated, miserable workers are a high price to pay, and face-time at the office is a great remedy.

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      6. Socialize!

      You probably already have a strategy for engaging your on-site team, such as pizza nights, etc. Make sure that your remote staff are aware of these events and feel welcome. If your remote workers are simply too remote for this to be practical, you can still work on other ways that they can get to know each other. For example, having video meetings is a great way to brainstorm new ideas and make valuable new connections.

      You could dedicate an initial meeting to introducing each other, and playing the usual games that you’d use in an office to promote collaborative teamwork. In future meetings, try to encourage staff to talk about subjects other than just the task at hand: if your team members know each other as people, they’ll naturally be more engaged with the team and with their work.

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      Building a team who love their work and who feel engaged with their fellow team members can sometimes be a challenge even when they’re sitting in the same office, but much more so when they rarely or never get any face-time with each other. However, taking the time to create a strategy for engaging your remote workers is a win-win; telecommuters who work in an environment that support their need for interaction and engagement will be happier, healthier, and far more productive.

      Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

      More by this author

      Lara Silbert

      Freelance content writer & University of Western Australia postgraduate student

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      Published on September 21, 2021

      How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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      How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

      The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

      In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

      1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

      Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

      But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

      Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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      Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

      Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

      While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

      Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

      2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

      At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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      Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

      Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

      Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

      McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

      From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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      3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

      An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

      McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

      Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

      Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

      Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

      So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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      The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

      If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

      Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

      Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

      Reference

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