Whether you’re new to the remote work concept or you’ve allowed some of your employees to telecommute for years, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt and manage in ways they never thought possible. One concern for teams is the lack of face-to-face interaction and how it can negatively affect employee engagement. While this new way of work life may remain challenging at times, these ideas for genuine interaction can help to remind remote workers that they’re a valuable part of the team.
1: Virtual coffee breaks
The breakroom or watercooler is a staple of socialization for the in-office worker. Remote team members can have a similar experience with scheduled coffee breaks for casual chit-chat and enjoyment of a beverage or snack through video conferencing. Make it more fun by suggesting a themed snack, such as ice cream or a snazzy winter drink. Be sure to check in with direct questions to those who seem shy or reluctant to participate. Remind them that they are welcome and valued.
2: Home tours
Not everyone wants to showcase their home work environment, while others have put in a lot of time and talent in creating their perfect space. Give these employees a platform for sharing, and allow them to host a home tour. Schedule 15 minutes for employees to walk through how they go about their day, including special stops on the tour for introducing the family pet or sharing their office view.
3: Show and tell
Remember this activity from your youth? Well, your remote workers may find the fond memories flooding back as they share what’s important to them now. Whether they want to reveal a family heirloom or give a quick update on a novel they are working on, the show-and-tell time doesn’t have to be just about objects. A quick story about their week can be enough to get everyone feeling connected again after a long hiatus from shared office spaces.
4: One-on-one video calls with the founders
It’s common for employees to feel disconnected or unheard in a larger company, and working from home can add another layer of distance. To help your remote employees stay engaged and get feedback on their work experiences, managers (or even company founders) can set aside just 10 minutes for a video call. Use this time to let them talk about anything they want, from work matters to life issues. Be prepared to answer any questions they may have.
5: Offer online training
Personal and professional development can help employees meet goals without adding extra stress during their time at home. You can opt to create your own training platform, with videos and courses created by your teams, or pay for access to other training platforms your employees can use at any time. From career-related skills in tech or marketing to life-balance goals, these courses can bridge the gap in learning and development. It can also foster a company culture that shares those same values.
6: Invite them to play multiplayer games
Gaming is a common interest for many employees, and it’s simply a great way to connect and let off some steam. It’s ideal to choose a game that many can play at once, from the convenience of their mobile device. While you can encourage employees to meet up and play console or PC games, not everyone has access to these gaming platforms. Consider well-known, low-cost options like the Jackbox Party Packs (they include numerous games that many people can play at once), Words With Friends, or Among Us.
7: Offer freedom in choosing schedules
There should be some flexibility in hours worked, even for customer service-oriented jobs with stricter hours. By allowing remote employees to shift their schedule by just an hour, if needed, you are helping them to overcome some of the challenges faced by many of us during the pandemic. Just be sure to decide on the plan ahead of time, so you don’t experience staffing gaps.
8: Provide special perks and benefits
Now is the perfect time to say “thanks” for a job well done with some extra goodies delivered virtually. From streaming service subscriptions to fruit boxes sent to their door, sending a gift at least once per month can help your employees feel good about working for you. Since dietary and personal tastes differ, give them a choice between two perks to keep everyone happy.
9: Encourage employee recognition
While you’re handing out gifts, be sure to give compliments, too. Craft personalized messages with positive feedback that everyone can see. Post these on the company communication channels (Slack, Teams, email, etc.), or shout them out on social media. This is a very low-cost way to improve remote employee engagement.
10: Team health challenges
It can be difficult to keep active when working from home, and a friendly wager or competition can motivate teams to excel at individual health goals. Avoid tying goals to weight loss, which can promote unhealthy behavior, and instead focus on gamifying commonly-accepted health tasks. You could award points for those who drink enough water or if they get out and walk for 20 minutes each day.
11: Lunch over meetings
Zoom meetings can overwhelm employees and take up time they may not have. By inviting your remote workforce to eat while you chat, you are saving them precious minutes and creating a more casual vibe. Lunch meetings can also unite employees when you plan them around a theme. Encourage employees to post recipes for homemade eats or give pointers on, say, the best place to order sushi as an optional engagement activity at the end of each meeting.
Considerations for remote activities
Most of these ideas for engaging remote employees will be well-received, provided you communicate early enough for employees to plan and don’t expect more hours from them to participate. It’s easy for remote teams to experience burnout when sitting for long hours in front of the screen. And if you do decide to host team-building activities outside of work hours, emphasize that participation is appreciated but not mandatory. As employees struggle to balance work and family responsibilities, you want to find ways to reduce these pressures, not add to them.