Ensuring Employee Engagement for a Distributed Workforce

Gone are the days when an employee would start with a company right after high school or college and stay with it 30 or more years. Now, the median length of time people ages 25 to 34 stay at a job is just over three years, while for those 65 and older, that stay is just over a decade long.

Of course, multiple factors contribute to this change. Larger societal shifts, such as a greater opportunity for women in the workplace, have likely played a sizable role. However, one major source of job dissatisfaction and ultimate attrition can be attributed to a lack of engagement with the employer. 

“The majority of reasons why employees quit their job are under the control of the employer,” writes Susan M. Heathfield in a recent piece for thebalancecareers.com. “In fact, any element of your current workplace, your culture, and environment, the employee’s perception of his job and opportunities are all factors that the employer affects.” 

If an employer has remote workers, employee engagement can become even more difficult. But all hope is not lost for those lean, agile companies that allow flexible local work schedules or even employees who work halfway around the globe. There are things any boss can do to help ensure that their team, even a remote one, feels engaged. Below, we give our top five.

Listen

While listening well is a trait the overwhelming majority (88 percent) of employees wish their bosses had, just 60 percent of employees report that their bosses truly listen to them, according to a recent study

“The difference between waiting to talk and truly listening is deeply misunderstood in the professional world, even by bosses with the best intentions,” writes Forbes.com contributor Karyln Borysenko. “Great bosses put in that extra effort to make sure they’re making eye contact and have open body language that articulates they are open to what employees have to say. They put away their computer, knowing that if they’re taking notes on it the person talking to them will think they are checking their email. They repeat back what’s said to them to make sure their team member knows they heard it. And when they hear valid points or interesting perspectives, they keep an open mind and find ways to do things with it.” 

So put down your phone, turn away from your screen or, even better, take a short walk somewhere without attention-drawing gadgetry and really listen to your employees the next time one of them comes to you. If your employee is remote, schedule a phone call to hear out their concerns — don’t rely on far-less-personal email. Your people want to be heard, and showing that you value their concerns, thoughts, and ideas can go a long way toward keeping them engaged. 

Give feedback — and praise

It may come as a surprise, but people truly do want feedback. In fact, one study found that the majority — 65 percent — of employees wanted more of it. Frequently “the only channel[s] of feedback [employees have] are the well-known and dreaded performance reviews,” writes marketer and weekdone.com contributor Külli Koort. “More than 92 percent of performance reviews take place either semi-annually, annually or are never even scheduled in the first place.”

Try to decouple “feedback” from “performance review” so that the idea of receiving comments about work isn’t immediately at least somewhat negative. Rather than have your people associate the feedback with getting (or not getting) a raise, let your team come to think of it as a frequent, whenever-applicable chat. So if you see something in an employee’s behavior or work that needs addressing, address it right away. Don’t wait three months for their annual review and then knock them over the head with it. 

If they do something that really wows you, or even if they’ve just been a good, solid, reliable employee for a long time, let them know you’ve noticed. Praise goes a lot further than you might think; in a study, 83 percent of respondents said recognition mattered more to them than cash or gifts. 

Take a break 

Lots of companies like to boast that they work hard and play hard, but the playing part never seems to happen. Don’t let your employees work so much without respite that they burn out; that’s not good for them, you, or the company. Every few weeks or so, take a break.

It doesn’t have to be long, fancy, or over-the-top; in fact, simple, short, regular breaks where work talk is off the table are likely to be more appreciated and raise less suspicion than some annual mega-bash. Announce an impromptu lunch out (on the company, of course) at a local gastro pub. Or ask your team to join you for a quick walk down to the closest coffee shop, then pick up the tab for everyone’s cold brews. Talk to them about their lives: kids, spouses, recent trips taken or planned. Just don’t talk about work.

Have remote employees? Ask them for their favorite local eatery and then have food delivered to them at lunchtime, no strings attached and no conference call to follow. Knowing that you’re interested in them as people and want to make them happy will help keep them engaged. 

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Be transparent

There is a direct correlation between management transparency in an organization and employee happiness. People want to feel that they’re trusted; being made part of an inner circle when it comes to information “gives [employees] a sense of deeper investment in the company and helps to create a more cooperative team atmosphere, as opposed to an “us versus them” perception of the management-employee relationship,” writes Entrepreneur.com contributor Tim Eisenhauer. So take your team into your confidence about work-related matters where and whenever possible. This is particularly important for remote employees, who may already feel less a part of ‘the team’ if there is a central office elsewhere with onsite employees. Including offsite workers in regular calls or email chains about company goings-on can have a significant effect when it comes to making them feel engaged. 

Make time for face time

This is another one that’s particularly important for remote and flex-schedule team members, who may not see their colleagues every day. Make a point of seeing and sitting down with your people frequently. It doesn’t have to be daily; that isn’t feasible for someone in a busy, often-traveling C-suite position. But make it regular, and as often as possible. For those out-of-town employees, make sure they come into town or you go to them on at least a quarterly basis, or as often as is financially doable. Videoconferencing and email are excellent tools, but you have to remember that they’re supplements to, not substitutes for, in-person gatherings. 

Following these five tips can keep your employees engaged even if the vast majority of them are working from shared office spaces. Are you looking for affordable, flexible, convenient office space in DC for your remote employees? Click here to compare what it costs to run your own office with simply letting Metro Offices do the work for you.

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