How to build employee engagement in a world of remote working

Highly engaged employees lead to improved sales and a better customer experience

In some ways, the pandemic has been a remarkable boon to the tech sector's profits. Reuters
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The Covid-19 crisis is challenging employers and employees around the world. Last week, a couple of my colleagues joined new companies. Everything from their job interview to their onboarding meetings happened remotely. They may not meet their team members for months to come. With no end date to this crisis, onboarding and building teams remotely will become our new normal.

While a remote work setting provides a great and a cost-efficient opportunity to tap into talent from across the country – and the world – it can be challenging to build employee engagement with team members you haven’t met in person before.

But why is building employee engagement important to begin with? A report by Gallup, published in 2017, found that highly engaged businesses reported a 17 per cent increase in productivity and a 41 per cent reduction in absenteeism. The report also found that engaged employees positively impact sales and customer ratings of a business. Businesses with highly engaged employees enjoy 20 per cent higher sales and customer ratings are typically 10 per cent higher. On the other hand, disengaged employees are bad for business.

A joint study published in 2017 by The Conference Board, Deloitte, Sirota-Mercer, ROI Consulting and The Culture Works revealed that disengaged employees cost companies between $450 billion and $550bn a year.

As many of us won’t be able to attend in-person meetings, invite colleagues out for lunch or have an in-person orientation day for a while, we must get creative in the way we build and engage with our teams.

Here are three key areas employers and managers could focus on to build engagement in a remote-work world.

Onboarding and introducing company’s culture

The first week at school, university or work is one of the most challenging experiences you can go through. It’s even more difficult when you have to do that from behind a computer screen. This is why it’s essential to ensure that you have a thorough onboarding process to make sure your new hire not only feels comfortable, but also that they are familiar with the company’s culture. Create a welcoming virtual space by organising a video meeting with your team members so that they meet their new colleague, introduce their work and what they do, and learn how they can stay in touch with each other. You can assign one or more team members to provide background on your company and your culture to your new hire as well as answer any questions they may have. This is where it’s also important to ensure that your new team member has access to all documents, training manuals and other aids that will help to ease their orientation week. Scheduling regular check-ins during their first few weeks to ensure that they have questions or concerns is also important. While office parties are off-limits, you can create fun online events with games and competitions so that your employees get to know each other on a personal level.

Leadership across the board

Many of us are navigating through new remote-work territories for the first time. This means that your other team leaders may be lost, and you need to ensure that they have the necessary leadership skills to manage teams remotely and sustain their team members’ engagement. A remote-work engagement policy or guide, as well as regular check-ins with them, is important.

Analysis is key

Last but not least, analyse your employees’ engagement continuously. As we are still settling into new ways of doing business, there will be more lessons and methods to learn and apply along the way. Analyse what has worked and what hasn’t. Conduct anonymous feedback surveys to check how your team is feeling and what more could be done to help them with work, career development or mental well-being. Provide well-being checks, or counselling options for those who need it, and have a virtual open-door policy where employees can come forward with their concerns and suggestions.

With so many changes taking place around us, it’s easy to overlook employee engagement. But staying in touch, especially during these challenging times, is critical for their wellbeing and for business sustainability. Ensuring employees remain engaged now will make things easier for businesses in a more stable future.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.