The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way companies operate; many have had to create remote working policies that tested their capacity to adapt quickly. Business owners had to respond quickly to a remote work surge in 2020 by providing flexible working hours and appropriate tools to their teams, starting with reliable enterprise audio and video communication tools.
While it isn't easy to keep a weary team engaged and productive when working from home in such uncertain times, there are ways to maintain a good team dynamic. With a few adjustments to leadership style and the way you collaborate with your team, you can be there for everyone and keep your employees motivated and focused to support better distance management. [To learn about the best video conferencing service, read our full review of Zoom.]
How to keep remote employees engaged
1. Don't try to control everything.
As a manager, you have a key role in leading your team members to embrace the changes brought on by the coronavirus while remaining motivated and committed to their work.
Everything starts with you. Look at yourself and the way you do things to make the necessary changes to become a better leader. Focus on providing solutions rather than concentrating on issues. Use a positive, forward-thinking approach to show a more understanding, effective and flexible solution to any challenges your company might face. This will help you build positive relationships with your team. Such an attitude fosters creativity and encourages transparency and inclusion, which, in turn, supports motivation and productivity.
2. Focus on your employees' well-being.
To work with engaged and motivated people, you need to show your employees that you care about them and their well-being at work. The first thing you need to do is let them know that you are available if they need any help dealing with this unusual situation.
They may not talk to you, but knowing you can provide support could make them more comfortable. Also, you should be ready to give your team members the freedom and flexibility they need to better deal with these uncertain times. Finally, try to facilitate informal socializing and connection between employees and encourage teamwork.
3. Reward good work.
Be sure your team knows how grateful you are for the work they do. Always think about showing gratitude to your team members for all their effort, with genuine compliments and recognition. You can also offer them a day off or a voucher to use in their favorite shop to thank them.
Another way to show appreciation is to acknowledge their input and feedback on important projects and tasks. Your employees will feel valued if they can participate in the decision-making process by using their skills for the company's benefit. [Read related article: Showing Employee Appreciation During Extreme Circumstances]
4. Keep up the good parts of office life.
Working remotely really shouldn't be all that different from working in the office, especially with today's available technology.
"Talk with your team members individually and listen to them, meet regularly as a team, create friendly competitions around business goals, and organize social and team building events," said Bridget Chebo, remote work expert and director of customer success at remote staffing and management company We Are Working.
Chebo added that at the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was obsessed with video calls. "I saw this firsthand with my clients. But as time wore on, they felt less anxious about seeing faces and became more comfortable with alternate ways to stay in touch. For those of us who have been working at home since long before the COVID-19 [pandemic], not much else has changed other than seeing more companies offering lots of new tools and features for remote collaboration."
5. Acknowledge your team's diverse needs.
Dick Grove, founder and CEO of INK inc PR, said that, based on the speed at which so many companies shifted to a remote work model, there was an assumption that workers would easily adapt and didn't need any specific strategies to help with that change.
"While the work requirements may have been the same, by not acknowledging the environment workers were in and any individual issues they may have been dealing with, productivity will naturally take a hit," Grove said. "The reality is that not everyone is cut out to work from home. Some need the personal interaction that comes from colleagues. So acknowledging that there's no one-size-fits-all component, employers can take the step to make the transition to day-to-day work as seamless as possible."
Grove suggested setting up weekly events such as virtual lunches or happy hours, or creating an online space where employees can share their interests, hobbies, thoughts and other personal goings-on that can take the place of the proverbial water cooler.
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6. Provide an efficient virtual working environment.
For your team to remain engaged, motivated and productive at work, they should know they can rely on a structured virtual workplace with all the things they need. From communication to task management, provide professional and comprehensive tools your team can use to collaborate and communicate efficiently.
The rise of remote work due to the coronavirus pushed many companies to start using conference call services, but turning to just any solution is not ideal, as you need to find the right one for your business size and requirements.
From all of the advanced conference call tools for business on the market, try to choose one that also provides collaborative tools, as well as screen-sharing and instant-messaging options, as communication isn't just about work; it is also for team cohesion. Selecting the right conference call option is essential to ensure your business communications are reliable, stable and cost-effective. If you need help choosing, check out our roundup of the best conference call services, or keep reading to learn about choosing the right communication tools.
Choosing the right tools for remote work
Making sure your team has the right communication tools is critical to keep your remote employees engaged. Start by making a list of everything you need, considering the following elements:
One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a business phone system, video conferencing service or conference call service is security. Pick a system with extensive security features to ensure maximum protection and privacy for your virtual meetings.
There is nothing worse than poor audio and video quality when you're in the middle of an important meeting. Being able to hear and see each other perfectly is essential for effective meetings, so be sure you're using a reliable service with high-quality audio and video.
Number of participants accepted
The number of participants allowed in a single call or meeting is an important feature to consider, based on the size of your business. Do not consider just your current needs, but also what you might require as your business grows, so that you are not constrained by your software when adding new team members.
Call management options
It is important to know how you can manage your calls. For a conference call, can you host the call yourself? Do you have to run an operator-assisted call? Are you able to manage the technical side of the meeting? Can the participants add feedback and comments? What about recording? Recording capabilities, as well as automatic transcriptions of your calls, are great features for those who need them, especially when it comes to compliance and regulations.
Ease of use
You want to choose a simple, user-friendly and effective communication service that everyone in your team will find easy to connect with online and use for meetings. Give the platforms on your short list a test run with your team. That way, you will be able to try out the software and pick one that gets high marks for its ease of use and simplicity.
To be sure your staff is on board to use your communication tools, you must provide flexible, customized options. You also need systems that can grow with your business. Consider possible future needs to reach an employee on the phone on the other side of the world and team members using their smartphones.
Customer service availability
Long wait times to reach customer service are a nightmare. Top-rated brands usually have top-notch customer service, so make sure you can quickly and easily reach the conference calling provider you're thinking about using if you need support. Find out how you can reach the support team, and test how quickly they can provide an answer to your issue.
Remote work outlook
"Remote work will never go back to normal," said Nuno Gomes, founder of workflow management SaaS company Withprocess. "Remote work has been around for a long time, but it has only become more common over the past few years. This is because people are becoming more comfortable working from home."
Gomes said that remote work makes it easier to get things done while maintaining social distancing. It's also a lot more cost-effective for businesses to allow employees to work from home.
"Many companies are now offering remote work options to their employees," Gomes said. "The best way to ensure that remote work is successful is to make sure that the technology is in place to support it."
Chebo added that remote work is the new normal for the vast majority of jobs that do not have to be done in person. "Even companies that are resistant for certain roles to be 100% remote will be forced to offer hybrid arrangements in order to attract and retain the best talent."
Grove agreed and said a hybrid model for many industries will continue moving forward.
"The number of tools that have come to fruition over the past couple of years has made it more practical than ever and can benefit both workers and businesses when implemented properly," Grove said. "While there [are] certainly both upsides and downsides to both in-house and remote work, for both employers and employees, it's not a genie that will be put back in the bottle following the pandemic being considered behind us."
We've covered some remote management tips to apply when you want your team to stay motivated when working from home during these uncertain times, but there are many things you can do to improve engagement and productivity. As a manager, it is up to you to adopt your own leadership style.
Moazzam Kamran contributed to the writing and research in this article.