The first phase of remote working encouraged by the COVID-19 outbreak was about survival.
Do employees have workstations set up at home that will allow them to be productive? Are existing communication channels effective in connecting the team?
Now that the novelty of the sudden change is wearing off, companies need to restart meetings and brainstorming sessions that were postponed. So, how do you engage remote employees in exercises that require collaboration and participation?
Take a deep breath
A two-year study by Stanford University found that remote workers are 13.5% more engaged than their counterparts in a centralized office. This means that even though your organization might have been forced into remote working by COVID-19, it could be an exercise that leads to higher engagement and productivity levels.
Time Magazine has coined the current situation companies find themselves in as the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” That’s also an incredibly helpful frame to view the next few weeks (likely months) when it comes to engaging remote employees—as an experiment.
Some initiatives will thrive, where others will receive a little less than a lukewarm response, and that’s OK.
Science supports that a remote workforce is a more engaged one, and this is your chance to develop strategies to see those numbers.
Tools can help
With instant messaging, video calling and documents that allow multiple collaborators in real-time, you’ll find your team more connected and active than ever. Yes, we’re going to say it, this is the digital age and the old whiteboard is on its way out the door with the fax machine.
Since the start of February, the collaborative software tool Slack saw an increase of 7,000 paying customers. That’s a growth rate of 40% more than it usually receives over an entire quarter. Similarly, Microsoft reported 44 million people using their Teams software, the highest number of people using the tool in a single day. Only four months ago, they celebrated 20 million as a milestone victory. (You can read more about Microsoft and Slack’s growth and coping strategies here.)
Although Microsoft 365 and Slack require paid subscriptions, there are many free alternatives such as Skype or Google Hangouts that can keep you connected and allow for collaborative environments. For whatever software needs you may have, be it workflows or videoconferencing services, here’s a list of free tools to get your business online and performing.
In addition to Slack and Teams, you can also broadcast your message to SMS or email, depending on the urgency to ensure your message gets delivered.
In an online news briefing Jared Spataro, head of Microsoft 365, said: “This is an inflection point, and we’re going to look back and realize this is where it all changed … We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did.”
Don’t be left behind because you want to wait out the crisis and see what happens. Innovate and experiment, all the tools you need are at your fingertips!
Embrace new learning
Over the last week, thought leadership content around remote working and engaging remote employees has shot through the roof. Organizations, news media, business leaders and professionals are all stepping forward with a wealth of knowledge around remote working best practices.
This is the ideal opportunity to research what some of the brightest minds are saying.
Webinars have become one of the most popular ways to share knowledge. Talking about collaboration, webinars are also a fantastic way to bring in some face-to-face interaction while you and your employees engage via the comment section.
These digital events come in all shapes and sizes. For example, there are formal presentations such as Gallup’s “Called to Coach” webcast series, particularly the episode on tactics for managers to keep their remote employees engaged. Then there’s email automation service Bananatag’s weekly LinkedIn Live discussions that create a much more social space. The first of these offered a fun and insightful look at the communication from self-isolation.
Social distancing brings digital intimacy. This unprecedented situation is a chance to connect and engage your workforce like never before. Don’t waste it.
Carla Lynn is the content strategist for IC Thrive. A version of this post originally ran on the IC Thrive blog.