Employee Engagement

New research: Encourage employees and build remote team morale

Last week we had the opportunity to co-host a webinar with Torch and sit down for a conversation with the amazing Dr. Paul White, the co-author of "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace." Dr. White shared hot-off-the-press research insights gathered from studying employees who have transitioned to remote work environments as a result of Shelter-in-Place orders and COVID-19. Based on these findings, he shared his best recommendations for recognizing and encouraging remote employees more effectively, which we’ve outlined below along with our webinar video recording. 

For more HR webinars, continue to stay in touch via our Resources page, and continue showing those who’ve gone above and beyond that their hard work is valued with our free employee appreciation note builder.

An overview of remote work. 

It’s no secret that remote work has been on the rise. Research shows that remote work has grown 91% in the past ten years. And, as a result of COVID-19, tens of millions of workers in the U.S. joined the ranks of the remote workforce in the past few months as well. While many of us were slowly preparing for and crafting our flexible work plans and employee benefits, COVID-19 really forced those plans into action sooner than we anticipated, putting us all on a wild ride (ready, or not). However, there are several important factors that distinguish the standard remote work situation compared to the more unexpected environment that we’ve found ourselves in today:

  1. We’re not only working remote, we’re working specifically from home
  2. New remote work employees were forced to work remotely. They didn’t choose to do so.
  3. There are significant stressors, including health concerns, financial difficulties, social isolation, and new responsibilities that come from integrating home and work-life

These factors create a different dynamic with remote work and require leaders to adjust their approach to recognition and appreciation. 

What research tells us about the current state of remote work. 

Dr. White recently conducted research to gauge how employees are feeling within today’s cultural context of instability and unpredictability. The overarching theme? Employees are experiencing incredibly high levels of stress. Let’s take a look at some of the key concerns that are driving this anxiety. 

Concerns about the health of their families and themselves.

COVID-19 has caused people to worry about not only their own health, but the health of their loved ones as well. Below are some of the specific concerns that people from Dr. White’s study reported having: 

  • “Keeping my parents safe and healthy.”
  • “The health and well-being of my family.”
  • “Not getting sick.”

Work-life balance and family relationships.

As a result of being forced to work from home, people are also finding themselves taking on more responsibilities (such as childcare and homeschooling) that are challenging to balance with the existing demands of work. Remote employees also reported having a tough time navigating family relationships. There are additional stressors that the employees within Dr. White’s study are experiencing: 

  • “Balancing working from home with family needs.”
  • “Concerns for my mother in a retirement home.”
  • “Balancing work with a 1st grader at home.”

Remote work challenges.

Of course, suddenly moving to a remote work situation raises problems that people didn’t have adequate time to prepare for. This can include everything from having the right work set up at home to adjusting to a world of constant video calls versus in-person interactions. Employees shared some of the specific concerns they’re struggling with most at their new “workplaces”: 

  • “Keeping focused on work.”
  • “Working by phone versus physically meeting clients.”
  • “Technology needs for my team.”

Family issues.

COVID-19 has forced many employees to deal with unique family issues for the first time.  Below are some of the specific concerns that people from Dr. White’s study reported having with their families: 

  • “Being patient with my mother who is temporarily living with me.”
  • “Trying to support my daughter’s online schooling while working from home.”
  • “Challenges managing my two teenagers who want to get together with friends.”

3 tips to encourage remote workers. 

The results of this research indicate that leaders need to be even more aware of and responsive to the needs of their employees during these times. This is where encouragement can play a significant role. You may be wondering what the difference between appreciation and encouragement is.

Both actions have the same goal in mind, which is to support an individual, and are also achieved with the same types of actions, which are documented in Dr. White’s 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. The key difference is that appreciation is about recognizing past behaviors, achievements, and accomplishments. Whereas encouragement is focused on the present and the future. Given the current circumstances, Dr. White recommends that company leaders focus more on encouragement to align with the needs of this moment. Here’s how: 

1. Provide tools for anxiety management.

Anxiety is significant and ever-present - even as we’re writing this our world is on fire, with energy, passion, frustration and anger filling our streets as communities gather to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Compounded with COVID-19, fears around health and social distancing as our cities and offices slowly reopen, your employees are carrying an incredible emotional weight on their shoulders.

Giving team members tools to understand and manage their anxiety can be hugely helpful - empowering them to focus on getting through life one day at a time instead of anticipating and attempting to navigate a still very uncertain future. Offering one-on-one coaching and mentorship sessions are great ways to provide an invaluable safe space for your employees.

2. Care personally.

Personalized recognition is more important now—encourage your remote employees so they feel seen and valued. Whether it’s taking the time to talk to your team about what’s going on with them personally (at home, stressors, social support) or giving them a truly memorable experience of their choice as a reward, there are many ways to demonstrate that you care personally. Dr. White also offers a Virtual Appreciation and Work Training for those who need additional support. 

3. Support positive personal habits.

As a company leader, it’s also important to support the positive personal health habits of your employees. So whether it’s encouraging your team to take mental health days (something we do at Blueboard), allowing people to work flexible hours that make the most sense for them (to accommodate new family responsibilities like homeschooling), or hosting fun virtual exercise sessions on Zoom, there are many things you can do to make sure you encourage employees to take care of themselves during this time. 

We need to lead by example, taking our own personal health days and respecting the time to be offline. And to ensure we’re being our best selves, putting our own oxygen mask on first, to ensure we’re strong enough to support our greater company and teams. 

Even when most of us are remote, there are still many opportunities to support and encourage your remote employees during these challenging times. If you’re interested in rewarding your team with memorable, personalized experiences to inspire their passions or try something new, we’d love to connect 1:1 with you (just request a meeting online here). 

Stay tuned for more valuable webinars and upcoming events here on our Resources page.

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