By 2020, over 50% of our workforce ended up working remote. This means more demand for flexible work environments and increased willingness by employees to leave their employers who don’t offer this benefit.
One of the biggest challenges employers face when it comes to having a remote workforce is cultivating a sense of belonging and inclusivity. This begs the question, how do we keep remote employees engaged? If not addressed thoughtfully, this issue can lead to lower engagement, decreased productivity and higher turnover.
We hosted a webinar to discuss this topic and share strategies around how to engage your remote employees, practices that promote a sense of belonging and inclusivity, and program ideas to recognize remote employees. Our webinar included a panel of remote work experts: Morgan Chaney, Director of Marketing and Culture Committee Lead at Blueboard; Shane Metcalf, Co-founder & Chief Culture Officer at 15Five; Karen Rubin, VP of Growth at Owl Labs; and Dan Manian, Co-founder & CEO at Donut.
Check out the full recording and recap below, and for more great HR Webinars, stay in touch via our Resources page.
Let’s recap the five top strategies our panelists recommended to better cultivate a sense of belonging and inclusion with your remote workforce:
#1 Secure leadership buy-in.
While remote work is becoming increasingly popular, you may still face skepticism from your leadership team. Here are a few tips to secure their support and buy-in:
- Make a financial case. Companies that allow remote work experience a 25% less employee turnover when compared to companies who don’t. If this statistic isn’t enough to garner support from your company leaders, calculate the Employee Lifetime Value at your organization to make the financial case that flexibility leads to retention. More on the cost benefit from reduced employee turnover here in our Recognition ROI Calculator.
- Demonstrate the impact on recruiting. Imagine that two people are starting a soccer or football team. One manager is only going to recruit from their hometown, whereas the other manager is going to recruit from around the entire world. Guess who’s going to end up with the better team? This analogy is meant to illustrate the benefits of offering remote work options from a recruiting perspective - the wider you’re willing to cast your net, the more talent you have access to.
- Hear it from the employees themselves. If your leadership team still isn’t convinced, let them hear from the employees themselves. In your next employee survey or checkpoint, ask everyone for their feedback about flexible work options. At Blueboard, we ask, “we are genuinely supported if we choose to make use of flexible working arrangements” and have them rate it on a Likert scale. It’ll be much harder for your leadership team to dismiss evidence that comes straight from the source.
#2 Eliminate the “us vs. them” mentality.
When you have a mix of remote workers and employees who go into the office every day, it’s easy to develop an “us vs. them” mentality. This can lead to tension between teams, communication problems, and overall stress in the work environment. Below are a few ideas to encourage unity at your organization:
- Over-communicate. Remote folks, unlike employees in the office, don’t have the ability to engage remote employees in casual conversations in the kitchen or bump into senior leadership at the office for a quick pow-wow. That’s why it’s so important to regularly check in with them (even more so than with in-office people) and encourage others on the team to do so as well.
- Encourage a “tribal” mindset. This concept is inspired from a book called “Tribal Leadership” by Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright, and John King. The purpose of this idea is to create such a strong company culture that it fosters the feeling that everyone is part of the same tribe vs. being on separate teams or sides.
- Start with leadership. The mentality of a company ultimately stems from leadership. If you have a CEO who encourages inclusivity, supports remote workers, and even has people on his or her own team who are distributed, this makes it clear that flexible work arrangements are embraced. Other employees will use this as an example and follow suit.
#3 Design a thoughtful employee experience.
The employee journey may look a bit different for remote employees. While it’s easy for a new hire in the office to turn to the person sitting next to them with a question, this isn’t the case for a remote new hire. Use these tips to design and create an employee experience that caters to your remote workforce:
- Be thoughtful. There are many small, but meaningful ways to inject thoughtful gestures into the employee experience - starting from the moment they’re given a job offer. For instance, at Blueboard we have the entire interview panel call the candidate together to congratulate them and create a sense of community. Or offer a thoughtful welcome package or experiential gift for employees during their onboarding process to make them feel excited about their new role. We also offer all new hires a Blueboard Ivory reward to eat our own dog food, let the new hire enjoy their downtime between jobs, and share valuable feedback on our customer experience.
- Use the right tools and programs. Technology shouldn’t be a barrier to creating human connections - it should help. Use the right tools and programs to encourage an inclusive employee journey, whether that’s done through virtual training sessions, online buddy systems like Donut cross-team connections, or mentorship programs.
- Get personal. Use the employee experience - especially during the early stages - to get to know your new hires on a personal level. Go beyond asking about their role and ask about who they are outside of work. What are their hobbies? What are their parents or grandparents like? What’s their favorite type of donut? This will create a shared sense of humanity and help your remote employees feel included.
#4 Keep lines of communication open.
Communication is important in any office or team setting, but especially so when it comes to a remote workforce. Here are a few tips to keeping lines of communication open:
- Be conscientious. Practice awareness when working with remote employees - especially during meetings. It can be really awkward for the only person on the video call to voice their opinions when people are talking over each other or having side conversations. Watch for signs that remote folks want to participate in the conversation, then give them the chance to chime in. You can also build empathy for remote workers by making sure everyone experiences what it feels like to “be on the other side” - whether that’s by asking them to take a call from a call room or from home.
- Create communication guidelines. It can also be helpful to codify communication guidelines. This can include everything from asking people to start and end meetings on time to reminding everyone to create space for remote employees to participate in meetings. Also, keep in mind that a good facilitator or ambassador can go a long way in terms of making sure everyone is adhering to these guidelines.
- Check in regularly, but don’t micromanage. What’s the difference? Checking in means you’ve granted trust to your employees and have positive intent. Micromanaging means you’re expecting employees to earn your trust and have negative intent. You should feel empowered to regularly touch base with your employees (which will help when it comes time to have tough conversations) - just make sure you’re doing it because you genuinely want what’s best for them, and not because you’re nagging.
#5 Celebrate and recognize your remote employees.
Finally, a great way to foster belonging and inclusion with your remote workforce is to celebrate them. It’s easy to unintentionally leave remote employees out of team gatherings, which can lead to them feeling very isolated. Here are a few tips to avoid this situation and keep remote employees engaged:
- Remove friction. While it may not be a big deal to send all remote employees a welcome gift when they start at your 10-person company, that will quickly become unsustainable as your team grows. Remove any friction by using a platform that lets you send gifts digitally or allow you to give virtual praise in one seamless experience. Hint, Blueboard can help!
- Create a culture of recognition. Give your employees the permission, structure, and resources to regularly appreciate and recognize each other. Whether it’s bringing in a tool where teammates can give each other kudos, or offering a budget to remote employees to treat themselves to a nice bottle of wine during the office happy hour, there are many things you can do to build a culture of recognition and appreciation.
- Personalize the recognition. Always make sure your recognition is personalized to the person or team receiving it. Not everyone enjoys a public shoutout at the all-hands meetings, so it’s important to understand their language of appreciation ahead of time - this will make the praise feel even more special and meaningful.
- Make it shareable. Unlike cash or gift cards, experiential rewards are ripe for sharing and allow employees to bring more humanity into the workplace. Creating a home for recognition stories on your shared communication channels like Slack enables teams to continue the celebrations, and get to know their teammates' passions and interests outside of the office.
For those looking for recognition ideas to engage your remote employees, we’d love for you to browse some of our experiential employee rewards here at Blueboard. To learn more about Blueboard and get in touch with our team, simply reach out via the Request Demo button above.
Stay tuned for more webinars and upcoming events here on our Resources page.