The transition to hybrid and remote working is here to stay. If done right, this benefits employees and employers alike. But for remote working to be a net positive, there are certainly challenges that need to be overcome.
Employee engagement isn’t a new problem and it definitely isn’t just an issue for remote working models. In fact, remote and hybrid working can increase engagement, with hybrid employees actually reporting the highest levels of engagement in some surveys.¹ However, physical distance also creates communication barriers, cultural divides and workflow challenges — all of which can damage engagement.
Here, we’re going to look at how to ensure that remote and hybrid working helps engagement, rather than hurt it. Let’s get started.
Suggested reading: If you want to learn more about the changing nature of work, check out our new eBook — Solving the Employee Experience Crisis.
Take your digital workplace seriously
Your digital workplace describes the virtual environment created by the different technologies your business uses. Although businesses often spend a lot of time procuring software solutions, they spend less time thinking about how these resources and applications are accessed, and what it’s like to use these different tools at once.
For remote workers, your digital workplace is the literal replacement of the traditional office. It needs to facilitate everything your office was built to do, from looking good to enabling teams and individuals to collaborate and share information. An office that reflects your brand and culture is a well-understood part of the physical in-office employee experience. Don’t neglect these same ideas when it comes to your digital work environment.
Fundamentally, taking the digital workplace experience seriously is the first step to providing an environment that both engages and rewards employees, and closes the gap between remote, hybrid and in-office staff.
Strategies to help: Treat your digital workplace like an office
A common mistake made with digital workplaces is a tendency towards overcomplication. As with most things, a digital workplace should be designed around a core ideal of simplicity, which will make it easier and more enjoyable to use day in, day out. Think about:
- Navigation: Just like a physical workplace, your digital workspace should be easy to navigate. Employees should be able to find tools, resources and applications effortlessly, rather than wasting time searching for hidden links on unintuitively designed pages.
- Peer-to-peer recognition: 70% of employees feel more motivated if they are thanked more often.² It’s crucial that employees don’t feel like they only exist within a professional vacuum. Your digital workplace needs to make it easy for your professional community to recognise each other’s achievements, as they would in a physical location where they see one another on a daily basis.
In a traditional office, on-premise intranets often provided an interface for accessing different tools, facilitating control over your digital workplace. For modern, cloud-based workflows, there are other options. Employee experience platforms are a leading development designed specifically to curate high-quality digital workplaces for both in-office and remote workers.
Minimise tedious access requirements
Almost 1 in 5 employees found “digging for files” to be the biggest problem facing the future of remote work, with a further 58% stating that searching for files was a “top-three” problem.³ In an era when work from anywhere is a reality, real solutions are needed. Sifting through various portals isn’t the job they were hired to do, yet an ineffectively designed workplace, either physical or digital, can result in employees wasting a significant amount of time on these tasks.
Strategies to help: Adopt a hub that simplifies access
Digital workplace solutions shouldn’t make access difficult. Quite the opposite, in fact. They should be a means of simplification. Choose a cloud-based solution that’s organised in a way that makes finding tools and files a pleasure, not something to be dreaded.
In the likely scenario that each employee needs access to a diverse array of tools, it’s vital that all those tools are organised in a single, central hub. Providing simple and central access to applications and resources is a primary goal of employee experience platforms. Look for a digital workplace solution which provides that central access point, with a dynamic search option and customisable views to allow for a personal touch to each employee’s digital workplace.
Make your culture part of how your work
Having a sense of workplace culture is important to employee engagement. Employees need to feel like they’re part of something bigger, all working towards a distinct goal as a closely-knit unit, rather than just individuals working on disconnected pieces of some abstract puzzle.
It’s not uncommon for “work culture” to depend on out-of-hours activities, like going to the pub on a Friday. In reality, work culture is, and should be, about the values and goals of your company, and how you engage with work on a day-to-day basis. In the context of remote working, figuring out how to integrate a sense of belonging and comradery into your workday is critical.
Strategies to help: Set goals and collaborate
To start with, you should define your culture. Think about high-level priorities like openness vs hierarchy and what types of outcomes are valued within your company. Ultimately, the key goals and objectives you set employees have a big impact on what they prioritise within their day.
Again, how you set up your digital workplace has a huge impact on how everyone, particularly remote employees, experience your culture on a day-to-day basis. For example, if your workplace prioritises openness, transparency and simplicity, this should be reflected in the mechanics of how employees access information. Think about trying to create a digital equivalent of an open door policy. Moreover, providing opportunities for collaboration and communication, with a clear illustration of more general aims, can help employees to feel more engaged in the overall process.
Make time for real-world contact
Where possible, it’s important to make time for real-world contact. A lot can be done through digital workplaces to enhance a sense of engagement amongst employees, but having in-person meetings every now and then can have an incredibly positive impact.
Strategies to help: Company away days
With companies that revolve around a truly remote work setup, it can be beneficial to have company away days. This could be a weekend in a nice location somewhere accessible to most employees, with fun activities and conferences. Even if this is only once a year, that can be enough to make the company feel more tangible and less like an abstract entity.
Airbnb is a great example of a company that has succeeded with this strategy and a work-from-anywhere policy. Having embraced remote working and remote teams, they’ve used collaboration sessions, off-sites, and social events — structured around their bi-annual product releases — to ensure ongoing team coordination and cohesion.
Being able to put a face and personality to the names that pop up in digital communication networks makes work a more enjoyable experience, helping employees to feel like they’re part of a human team. However, this is not a replacement for effective and simple day-to-day collaboration via your remote workplace.
Ensure positive relationships with managers
Management and senior leadership teams play a critical role in the cultivation of employee engagement, even more so in digital workplaces than in ‘traditional’ offices. Often, managers will be the only point of regular contact employees have within the company, as chance encounters and catch-ups with other colleagues in the kitchen or hallways are obviously no longer an option.
To put a number on this, a massive 74% of employees believe that leadership is the biggest influential factor on engagement.⁴ This needs to be kept in mind when considering how to approach employee management, to ensure that employees feel both engaged and valued.
Strategies to help: Managerial training
Managers should be trained and encouraged to build positive connections with the employees they manage. This might be as simple as asking someone how their week was before getting into performance reviews or other work-related topics. Critically, this training needs to occur within the specific context of remote work.
When employees only have contact with other colleagues and managers through digital media, such as video calls, it’s even more important to make sure that they feel valued and humanised, something that managers should be considerate of at all times. A good learning and development programme, partnered with simple access through a learning experience platform (LXP), has wide-ranging benefits for employee engagement. However, this is also a great tool for management, and can help managers stay on top of changing workplace trends.
Technology can help close the distance and create human connections
While remote working changes the very nature of how we connect with our colleagues, digital workplaces also provide solutions to a range of issues, including cultivating a sense of engagement and team goals. Having the right digital workplace that provides a space to build a professional community is essential to developing a happy, engaged, and valued professional community.
At Huler, we’ve set out to redefine the digital workplace. HulerHub is an employee experience platform that transforms how both remote and in-office employees engage with each other and the tools you use on a daily basis. HulerHub’s aim is to bridge the gap between technology and people, creating innovative solutions to challenges that arise in the modern workplace. If you want to learn how, get in touch and book a demo today.