How to maintain engagement when staff are working from home

May 12, 2020

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In a constantly changing environment, being able to work remotely is a positive solution for businesses as well as employees. But with that comes the challenge of keeping your team engaged. How do you make sure they’re connected, supported and thriving when they’re not in the same room? Here’s how to keep your remote workforce plugged in and switched on.

When organised effectively, remote work can boost team engagement and productivity. What’s more, research shows Australians would work from home more if given the opportunity. A survey by McCrindle found 78 per cent would like to work from home at least some of the time and of those who already do, 55 per cent say they were more productive working from home than in an office environment.

To harness the power of virtual teams, managers must embrace two critical new ways of working.

Teams before technology

Working remotely can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Grace McCarthy, dean of Sydney Business School at the University of Wollongong, says the importance of team morale cannot be overstated when managing remote teams.

“I think it’s important for people to have a mantra that it’s teams before technology,” she says. “People are a bit hung up on technology but those age-old things like wellbeing, support and connection still apply.”

Researchers liken technology to the hardware of creating virtual trust and the actions of virtual teams as the software that builds and sustains that crucial trust. Strategies they recommend include:

  • Creating supportive policies and procedures
  • Providing appropriate technology
  • Carefully selecting and training team leaders and members
  • Clearly defining tasks, roles and accountabilities

For companies working in the online space, managers need to double their efforts to establish and maintain trust and McCarthy says this is achieved by outlining clear expectations and offering support by way of acknowledgment and recognition.

“Be confident they’re good workers. You know them and you trust them, and you trust them until there’s evidence you shouldn’t,” she says. “Keep recognising people who are doing a good job because appreciation and acknowledgement really help.”

 

Be flexible

Understanding how your team works best and adapting to these preferences is essential to peak performance in the remote working environment. This requires a certain level of flexibility in structure.

Flexibility can be well supported through techniques such as staggered meeting times or one-on-one check-ins to support a more engaged team, says Dr Libby Sander, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Bond University. 

"We have to focus on the results we want to achieve and give people the flexibility to achieve them."
- Dr Libby Sander, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Bond University

Technology allows teams to have clear communication channels and there are plenty of options to choose from. Video conferencing tools are an effective way for teams to connect with each other and for managers to keep a visual presence, Sander says.

“Some people really thrive on that social interaction and the structure of the office, so they’re going to find remote work challenging and we know at least 50 per cent of the workforce are likely to have that tendency,” she says.

“Use tools where there is a constant online presence where they can see other people and talk to them instantly like they would in the office.”

By making small improvements to the way they currently work in offices, managers can drive a connected and efficient remote working team.