5 ways to engage with remote employees

With many organizations spread across the U.S. and around the globe these days, staying in touch is a challenge. Here’s how to reach everyone—and prove your value.


You think you’ve got a problem reaching a scattered, non-desk workforce?

Try communicating with employees in places so remote that not everyone has constant electricity, or in locales where they have to access the internet through old-fashioned dial-up.

JoEllen Saeli-Lane, vice president of communications with the American Cancer Society, has worked with nonprofits and government agencies whose workforces are scattered about the farthest reaches of the globe.

In her Ragan Training talk, “How to Engage and Connect Non-Desk Employees,” she offers tips for making your intranet a place they will visit time and again.

Saeli-Lane has worked for CARE USA and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She shares guidance on breaking the headquarters/field divide and building intranets in globally diverse organizations.

Here are a few takeaways:

1. Put your intranet at their fingertips.

The important thing, Saeli-Lane says, is to make your intranet accessible on the device where they spend their time.

“If that’s on their cellphone, that’s where you need to meet them,” she says. “If that’s on their inbox, that’s where you need to meet them. If that’s in the breakroom, that’s where you need to meet them.”

Make sure your intranet and email application work on iPhone, tablets, Android and browsers. Research shows that 80 percent of employees are doing about 80 percent of their work on phones and other mobile devices, Saeli-Lane says.

“Making sure your intranet is accessible and functional and works really well on a mobile device is incredibly important,” she says.

2. Nudge them with email.

Everyone is sick of email overload, but a well-crafted and well-timed email can drive people to the intranet. CARE drove people to its SharePoint-built intranet, called The Village, through a Monday morning email called, “What’s new in The Village?”

It included short synopses, and it helped reduce inbox overload by packaging many one-off emails into one blast.

3. Clear their path to needed tools.

At CARE, communicators tracked the top actions that employees took on the intranet, making sure these were just a click or two away from the home page. The international and domestic per-diem rates were heavily trafficked. Yet under the old design, people had to click to a tab, then to “travel,” then to “per diem,” then scroll down to select domestic or international.

Saeli-Lane’s team timed the action. It took a full a minute to go through all that. The redesign reduced it to 15 seconds. Internal comms multiplied this figure by the number of people traveling and the number of trips they took annually. They came up with a figure to take to the bosses.

“You’re able to show the value, and say, ‘We’ve been able to save $50,000 this year,'” Saeli-Lane says.

4. Add recognition cards to the home page.

CARE added a simple web card to the home page of The Village, allowing employees to fill out a form to hail their colleagues’ achievements. The card’s acronym alluded to rice, a source of sustenance around the world: “RECOGNIZING RICE. Respect. Integrity. Care. Excellence.”

The page would scroll through a rotating list of names. Anyone could add a name, title, and the value the employee had demonstrated, for example: “Integrity. Rita ensures that tasks are followed through.”

“It was an easy way to build in peer-to-peer recognition on our intranet,” Saeli-Lane says.

5. Use forms to highlight staff members.

Ask around for interesting people in your organization, and have them fill out a form that allows you to feature them in a Q&A format.

“It’s amazing what you find when you start talking to people and asking for interesting stories across the company,” Saeli-Lane says.

Among other things, the cards asked:

  • How long have you worked at CARE?
  • In one sentence, what do you do?
  • What might your CARE colleagues be surprised to learn about you?
  • What do you love most about your job?
  • What’s the book on your nightstand?
  • What’s your favorite vacation spot?

One staffer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been captured as a boy in Rwanda and forced to fight as a child soldier. He escaped and made his way to Europe and then the United States. He got an education, was hired at CARE, and eventually returned to Africa to work in a peace-building program.

5. Watch for unused messaging spaces.

When people wait online for a town hall meeting or webinar to start, they often stare at a blank screen. CARE started putting up slides pushing information, highlighting good work or noting awards that staffers had won.

“Think about what are those unpacked areas of real estate that you aren’t using now?” Saeli-Lane says. “It could be digital signage; it could be in meetings. Think about using those as tools for recognition.”

This represents only a small part of Saeli-Lane’s session. Learn more from her and other communications experts by subscribing to Ragan Training.

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