Engaging your remote employees with the right experience

With much of the world in lockdown, home working has become the new normal for a majority of businesses. As the crisis continues, the importance of ensuring your employees are engaged, productive and feel valued is moving centre stage. How can businesses adapt their engagement strategies, both for now and the post-COVID19 future?

Clearly, the same key drivers of employee engagement apply to remote employees, including clear and open communication, the right support, being well-led and feeling valued. However, the delivery of the employee experience does carry some different risks. Applied to current times, here’s how businesses can provide the right experience to engage staff for the long-term:

  • Communication and leadership

We’re in a period of tremendous uncertainty, at a global and personal level. Employees are concerned for their families, their own health and their jobs. That makes communicating effectively with them vital, focussing on demonstrating empathy and understanding. Use technology to aid communication, such as regular video calls/podcasts/webinars from leaders, and team-based online meetings/updates. Never before have online collaboration tools such as Teams, Chatter, Slack and Zoom been so vital to connecting people!

When communicating the primary focus needs to be on how employees are rather than what they are doing, with employers understanding and responding to the new pressures of home working. Employers need to be flexible and understanding as employees will need to balance work with the demands of home-schooling children, delivering essential support for family and friends and any other volunteering opportunities that staff take on. So reassure your teams and ensure you communicate clearly that you understand and are flexible about their workloads and when they are achieved. Measure outputs, not time spent at their home workspace. Provide advice, especially for new home workers, to help them put structures in place for their day, along with routines that help them juggle children and other commitments.

  • Providing the right tools and support

For some employees, this first-time experience of remote working brings challenges around having the appropriate equipment and access to systems, and ensuring IT support. Most employees won’t have a dedicated home office to use, leading to issues regarding seating and desk arrangements, with little or no health and safety compliance enforced at home.

Therefore make sure you are delivering the right support here, such as by providing advice on everything from creating their home workspace to chair design and positioning. Help and encourage people to develop new skills where they can – there are a number of online learning platforms that are offering free or discounted courses in the current situation.

  •  Focusing on health and well-being

A concern from managers might be that staff working from home would be less productive due to the distractions they face. However, in many cases the exact opposite is true – home working employees can struggle with switching off after working hours, particularly if they are interacting with others in different time zones or engrossed in their work and not ‘clock-watching’.

The emphasis needs to be on ensuring the mental and emotional health of employees, making sure they have/make time for exercise and supporting their nutrition and general well-being. Be clear to help them delineate work and home life, enabling downtime and enabling them to leave work behind. Sometimes, being given ‘permission’ to do this makes it easier. 

Encourage communication between team members to minimise loneliness, and repurpose tech for happy hours, lunch breaks, fitness sessions/workouts and other social activities. Create interactions with colleagues and between teams, replacing the water-cooler moments that people are used to. There’s a tremendous variety of initiatives driven by businesses and employees out there, from team quizzes to online games and dance parties to boost morale and energy levels.

HR teams have a big role to play here – don’t expect staff to come to you with queries but remind them proactively about Employee Assistance Programmes and healthcare/well-being benefits. Share advice and best practice on how to handle stress and anxiety during this critical period, as well as around financial matters and related support.

Moving forward in economically difficult times

Due to current circumstances, many organisations are seeking to reduce costs by cutting hours, redeploying staff, furloughing employees or launching redundancy/zero hours processes. At such a stressful time, make sure that you continue to follow best practice in ensuring employees are well communicated with, that their expectations are managed and that those people and teams affected are handled sensitively and with appropriate support.

What is clear is that how organisations respond to the crisis, and how they engage their people, will have long term consequences, both in terms of retaining talent and how they are viewed by customers. Some organisations have a reservoir of goodwill from employees that they can draw on – or top up. Others will need to adapt quickly to catch-up with staff needs. Employers will ultimately reap in the future what they sow now – those who invest and make an effort to look after their employees during these challenging times will benefit from increased motivation, loyalty and advocacy, both now and when the economy eventually recovers.

As part of its contribution to help organisations engage with their employees, Questback has made its Qubie feedback surveys free for all to use. It has also created several off the shelf survey templates and dashboards including listening to home workers, line managers and key/essential workers – sign up for these at: https://www.qubie.app/.


Karen Wisdom

Senior Consultant, Questback Professional Services

Karen has over 20 years of experience in employee engagement and EX research. She draws on her consultancy-based experience, to advise and guide clients on employee survey design, internal communications and translating insights into actionable strategy.

During her time at Questback, Karen has been working closely on employee listening programmes sharing best practice with clients including the John Lewis Partnership, Boden, The AA, as well as employee feedback projects for various NHS trusts and research agencies.

Previously, Karen was Interim Research Manager for AIA Worldwide, a creative employer branding agency, where she led the research team delivering UK and global research projects. Her former roles include running her own marketing and research consultancy business for several years, working as a Research Director with leading agency Ipsos MORI, and with ITV as Research Manager.

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