7 No-Brainer Ways to Keep Your Remote Workers Happy

7 Proven Strategies to Keep Remote Employees Engaged

Remote working is more popular and practical for professionals than ever before. It is now possible for hundreds of millions of employees across a wide range of sectors, with developers and software engineers more likely than most to be working remotely.

Numerous studies have shown how prevalent remote working now is. With 43 percent of US workers spending at least some of their working week outside the office, this is the present and future of work.

Also known as teleworking, or telecommuting, employees can work from home, coffee shops, libraries, and even co-working space, with thousands of these shared offices appearing around the world, from Bali to Baltimore. For this reason, remote workers are known to be more productive.

Not only that, but when companies let a percentage of their staff — or even in some cases, all of them (there are already over 600 companies that are completely remote)  work elsewhere, the cost of maintaining office space drops dramatically.

Since 31% of the company started working from home, Health insurer Aetna saved $78 million annually when they downsized office space. American Express and dozens of other companies have found similar savings, with an increase in staff productivity and happiness.

However, as is the case with employees wherever they are, as an employer, you need to make sure they are looked after. Out of sight and off-site does not mean out of mind.

Remote workers worry

A Harvard Business Review study found that remote workers — when there is an office they’re not in every day, “worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.

When working remotely, it has been found that common workplace challenges can take longer to solve. In many cases, several days (84 percent), and in some cases, even weeks (47 percent) to resolve a problem that often would be taken care of in a matter of minutes or hours. All of this places extra stress and worry on remote workers.

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Even when everyone works remotely, as is the case with some startups, agencies and web development companies, some employees and freelancers will have anxiety that members of the team are talking about them and undermining them behind their back.

The report also found that “Remote employees report larger, negative impacts of these challenges than their onsite colleagues on results, including productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress and retention.

As an employer, your job is to manage staff, making sure your team and other managers can do what they need to achieve shared goals. Whether that is driving forward sales and marketing, or managing development projects and implementing technology solutions.

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Maintaining positivity and keeping workers happy and engaged is one of the core challenges and competencies of modern managers, owners and co-founders. In this article, we cover practical strategies and ways you can ensure remote workers are happy and productive.

7 ways to keep remote employees engaged

#1: Communicate

One of the most effective strategies for managing remote employees is communication. Open, honest, transparent and whenever possible, real-time communication. When managing remote or virtual employees, it is important to remember that they’re not just someone at the end of an email or Slack exchange, they’re a valued member of the team.

Not being in the office does not mean someone simply sits around and watches TV all day. If you trusted someone enough to hire them, trust them to get on with the job. In most cases, the majority of the time, remote workers are more productive and can get more done in the average working day compared to staff in the office.

A key part of keeping them happy and engaged is in many cases, communicating somewhat more than you would with one of the team in the office. It is important to those working remotely that they know what is going on (big picture, short-term, long-term, this week, today) and understand various dynamics.

Even so far, whenever appropriate, keeping them up-to-date with office politics and gossip. When a team member is cut off from the backchannels of internal communications it can seriously impact how they feel and how connected they are to everyone and the company.

Remote employees should be looked after. Out of sight and off-site does not mean out of mind.

Communication should include everything from email and messaging to phone calls; sometimes spontaneous, depending on time zones of course, and others in a more structured way. It could equally negatively impact someone’s productivity when a remote employer is constantly interrupted, so be as mindful of that as you would be in the office.

But at the same time, neglecting your remote workers is the quickest way to lose them to another company. Look after them. Managing remote employees means communicating with them honestly and openly.

#2: Provide feedback

Keeping remote workers engaged means maintaining consistent and constant communication with them, wherever they are.

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As part of this, managers should make an effort to ensure this communication isn’t only when there is a problem. Praise and feedback is an essential component of working with those who aren’t in the office. Feedback is a necessary part of every workplace.

Employees are able to deliver more effectively when they’ve been guided the right way.

Using the right online collaboration tools makes this easier. For example, if you are working on a project jointly, Google Docs, Slides and Spreadsheets is invaluable and either free or low-cost, depending on the type of Google account you have. There are tools for almost everything, usually cloud-based and most can be used across a wide range of devices.

This way, you can work with remote staff, and provide real-time feedback and communicate on a project, which also serves to keep them happier, more engaged and play a substantive part on joint project and tasks.

#3: Recognize achievements

Compared to team members in the office, it is not as easy to spontaneously praise them in front of other staff. In an office, a manager can say well done, or even give an employee a gift while doing so in front of other colleagues. This sort of praise is a valuable motivational strategy. Everyone feels good as a result and other team members  those who are motivated  want to achieve the same level of reward and praise.

But when you’ve got team members who aren’t in the office, this isn’t as easy to do. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to implement an employee rewards scheme. For your remote team members, make sure praise and thanks are given privately and publicly, in group ‘all hands’ or ‘Town Hall’ style meetings. This way, your remote team members feel included and recognized.

Making sure remote staff are recognized and rewarded is vitally important. Gallup found thatemployees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.

#4: Watch out for scapegoating

Scapegoating those who aren’t in the office, in-person and able to defend themselves from accusations is very damaging.

Scapegoating erodes trust, productivity, and morale. It can break teams. It can even encourage staff and managers to leave, taking valuable skills and expertise to another company or a competitor. It is a real worry for remote workers and unfortunately, this does happen a lot.

Although the consequences are rarely immediate, remote workers often start looking elsewhere than find themselves the constant victims of scapegoating.

As a manager, you need to watch for it and avoid automatically assigning blame to those who aren’t able to fight back against rumors straight away.

According to one survey: “41% of remote workers said their colleagues bad-mouthed them behind their backs, compared with 31% of on-site employees. And 35% of remote employees said colleagues lobbied against them, compared with 26% of on-site workers.

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As one founder writing in the Harvard Business Review found: “When I learned that members of my remote team in San Francisco were being scapegoated by people at headquarters, I found it very difficult to undo — because word spreads fast in an organization.” Morale and trust suffered as a result, as it would in any organization.

#5: Don’t neglect remote communication

When managers and senior managers get busy, it can be easy to see communicating with remote workers as a ‘nice-to-have,’ but not essential. Sometimes making them an out of sight, out of mind issue. Something that can be done when things aren’t as busy, when the fire has been put out, when there isn’t a situation that needs urgently dealing with.

Too often neglecting remote communication makes members of your remote team feel left out in the cold. It is enough of a motivation to make them look for new opportunities.  

Don’t neglect them. Either they can provide practical help, or a perspective on a problem that those in the office can’t see. But neglecting them is, in the long-term, one of the quickest ways to forgetting to maintain contact on a regular basis, or only contacting them when there is a problem or project you want remote team members to work on.

Too easily and quickly does that sort of habit lead to remote team members feeling left out in the cold, which is enough of a motivation to make them want to start looking for new opportunities.

#6: Lay out clear advancement routes

Remote workers might feel left out of advancement routes and continuous personal development opportunities (CPD).

Make sure, before you hire remote staff, or before you start to let staff work remotely, that they know there are ways to advance. Clear routes from the job they are recruited for to move up and progress; this way, ambitious team members can see that beyond the daily grind they can advance and progress with your company.

#7: Measure performance

Performance and outputs should be measured and measurable in every role and function. Remote workers, in particular, worry about what senior managers think of them. They worry that they seem not to be productive, whereas often, the opposite is true.

To keep remote workers engaged, you should set clear structures, guidance for tasks and goals to aim for.

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As a manager, it helps to alleviate any worries about remote productivity when you can clearly see how productive your remote team members are. You don’t want to wrap them in red tape and regulations, but make sure, using the right productivity tools that there are ways you can monitor productivity, outputs and the time spent on projects and tasks.

Over to you

How to engage remote employees is a 7-step process, the one that is continual. Just as they are always aiming to do their best and provide productive work and outputs for your company, as a manager you need to keep them happy and engaged. To recap, here are the steps we recommend you take:

  1. Communicate. Honestly, open and often;
  2. Provide timely and productive feedback;
  3. Make sure to publicly recognize accomplishments and input;
  4. Be mindful of scapegoating and find the facts before assigning blame;
  5. Keep in contact, even when things get busy in the office;
  6. Give remote workers clear routes to advance;
  7. Measure performance, outputs and ROI.

Hopefully, the tips listed above will set you on the road to success. If you want to dive deeper into the building blocks of top-notch remote staff management, check out our guide to running a remote development team.

Inside you’ll find a treasure trove of practical business advice from the world-renowned startups’ CEOs and CTOs. Enjoy!

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Mary Atamaniuk

Mary Atamaniuk is a content writer at YouTeam — a curated b2b tech talent marketplace that matches businesses with dedicated development teams from pre-vetted software outsourcing agencies.

Mary's areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.

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