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7 ways to keep your remote team engaged

We are shaping the future of work, and employee engagement is especially important in a remote work environment.

7 ways to keep your remote team engaged
[Nattakorn / Adobe Stock]

I’ve worked remotely for nearly a decade, but my current role is the first time that my entire team is fully remote. It’s well-known that one of the pitfalls of remote work can be reduced engagement, and according to recent research, engaged employees are 52% more likely to stay at their jobs.

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While I’ve kept turnover low on my team, my job at Qumu has illuminated just how vital employee engagement and connections are. It’s understandable that employees perhaps aren’t as engaged in their new work environments given the stress of the last two years. We’ve all juggled kids, caretaking, or new pets, among other challenges. Coupled with the Great Resignation, leaders also face added anxiety as we start the new year. Workplaces are scrambling to keep good talent as employees leave for greener pastures, with leaders left wondering how to keep employees happy.

While it’s clear that engagement is paramount for employee satisfaction and retention in a remote work environment, understanding how to keep people engaged is often fuzzy. Ahead are seven steps for increasing employee engagement, regardless of where and how your employees work.

1. ADOPT SERVICE-FIRST LEADERSHIP

First and foremost, the picture of a good leader lies within their calendar. If your time is spent mainly in meetings with other managers or not in meetings at all, chances are something’s off. To keep your team engaged, center your day around them. Focus on the individuals first and what your team needs and structure your day from there. I always make sure to put my team’s needs ahead of my own.

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2. MAKE TIME FOR SMALL TALK

I build in five minutes for small talk at the start of every call. I don’t say so outwardly, but I account for it in the agenda. It allows team members to get to know each other in small bursts and even form new friendships. These small moments often lead to offline conversations and brainstorms, where deeper engagement occurs.

As a leader, I want to hear about what’s important to my team, whose kids started tennis, what they did over the weekend, and anything else. Of course, there’s always time for business, but those seemingly small moments are what I go out of my way to make time for. It’s not just about having your employees engaged with you but also ensuring that they’re connected and invested in each other.

3. MEET IN PERSON

My staff and I work remotely full-time, but we find ways to (safely) get together in person. We’re productive when we’re together but are more focused on getting to know each other. The work ideas will flow, along with the agendas.

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I also have a firm “no laptops” rule for in-person meetings. We convene infrequently, so electronic devices end up being a barrier to communication and connection. Focusing on the fun is essential for creativity, collaboration, and comradery. The time spent in-person also helps build overall company culture. That’s hard to measure initially, but it’s easy to see the lasting impact.

4. PAY ATTENTION TO SMALL CUES

There are little signs every manager can look for that speak volumes about how engaged and connected employees are. Are your employees as active on Slack as they were last month? Are they turning off their cameras more frequently? Some concerning behaviors are universal, like missing deadlines or not responding to emails in a timely fashion. As leaders, it’s vital to go that extra step out of compassion to find the root cause for any reduced engagement.

If you do notice a marked change in one of your reports, it’s important not to shame them. Start with the mindset of giving them the benefit of the doubt; ask if they’re having problems at home or work. While I watch out for changes, I also don’t automatically assume problems are tied to work. We all have lives, and events at home will inevitably impact a person’s behavior sometimes.

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5. PICK UP THE PHONE

Video is a great tool in a remote workplace—I use it every day. If I’m leading a big team meeting, I’ll send a quick “pre-watch” video instead of a written pre-brief, or I’ll lead presentations via live video.

However, for one-on-one conversations, I prefer phone calls. It’s casual and a different way (these days, at least) to connect with someone. I also never ask them where they’re taking our meeting because I want my team to feel empowered to work in places they thrive. If there is background noise, don’t ask where they are, because it makes people uneasy, and good work can happen anywhere.

6. STRATEGICALLY USE “CAMERA-ON” TIME

I break meetings down by priority now. When I send an internal calendar invitation, and it’s labeled “priority,” the attendees know it’s a meeting where cameras should stay on. There are some meetings where I only require cameras to be on for the first 10 minutes or where cameras can stay off entirely. These are just a couple of examples of how you can give team members an understanding of the level of engagement expected in each meeting.

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7. CREATE AN OPEN-DOOR POLICY

Finally, your employees are likely to communicate more if you create a welcoming environment. Establishing an open-door policy in a remote setting entails having more frequent one-on-one conversations and using tools like Slack to check in, oftentimes about non-work items. My direct reports know they can come to me anytime and chat.

I’ve created a safe, open space in part through sharing with my team bits about my personal life. Having two-way transparency establishes a system of trust that’s naturally built, even if you’ve never met in person.

We are shaping the future of work, and employee engagement is especially important in a remote work environment, where personal connections are more important. Consistent, open communication in various formats (phone, video, Slack) will help you ensure that your personal and professional work relationships thrive and that your organization succeeds.

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Rose Bentley is the Chief Operating Officer at Qumu Corporation, overseeing the company’s global operations and implementation of its strategic growth plan. 
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