I hope your #newnormal is going well! Lately, I’ve found myself in discussions with business leaders and HR professionals regarding the desire to return to a pre-pandemic culture and drum up excitement for the team to come back to work. However, a lot of the responses to these initiatives have been met with hesitation. What is the best path forward? Is there a clear best option? If you have found yourself asking these questions—you are not alone.
Before COVID-19, only about 17% of workers were working remotely 5+ days a week. Now that number is nearly 45%. It’s probably not surprising that recent studies have indicated that the option to work remotely, at least some of the time, is what most employees (79% according to one study) want right now. In fact, in addition to home offices, third-spaces—locations like coffee shops or coworking spaces—are of growing interest for full-time employees who have enjoyed the flexibility of remote work.
So, let’s be real. One thing we know is that the workplace of 2019 has changed. Whether these changes will persist as more teams return to the office full-time is yet to be seen. Will remote work and hybrid schedules stick around in the coming years? Will those who choose to work from home be disadvantaged—and less likely to get promoted—than their peers? Perhaps most importantly, why is it important to stay connected when working remotely, and how exactly do we stay connected… ?
Until the dust settles, HR leaders who spent the past year and a half dedicated to the success of remote work—and the millions of people who rapidly shifted to working from home—must continue to acknowledge what worked in the past, yet also take time to continue to innovate. Easy for us to say, right? Join us as we explore how to keep employees from feeling disconnected while working from home and highlight examples of fun, worthwhile activities to engage remote employees and in person employees alike.
Why are Connections so Important in the Workplace?
Employees who have meaningful work connections and are engaged in the workplace produce better business outcomes. You likely know that! If it’s helpful, feel free to let others in your company know too; check out Gallup’s “State of the American Workforce” survey. What may not be as obvious is why a reported 51% of employees mention they are not engaged— definitely something we should look further on how to combat this. Let’s dive into the importance of connection in the workplace and how it can impact your company’s culture and bottom line (for my analytical folks out there).
The average person in the United States spends over 13 years of their life at work. Yet workplace loneliness was on the rise well before the pandemic began (I blame rom-coms, but I do love them). As companies define what their work environments will look like now and in the future, it’s up to you and your leaders to create changes to combat isolation. Leadership teams must be intentional about fostering collaborative, empathetic, and teamwork-driven environments.
But still, why is this so important? Whether or not your company embraces the “work family” ideology, the fact is that we see and spend a lot of time with our colleagues. Teamwork makes the dreamwork, afterall! Workplace connections—and the environment needed to make sincere friendships—are a strong predictor of success. (I recommend a cookie cake whenever possible—extra icing.) And, those connections and friendships can help keep workplace stress in check, which is better for everyone, including the C-Suite.
Okay, so you haven’t ordered a ping pong table and scheduled your trust fall yet.
That’s fine— and maybe challenging if you’re still repping the remote culture in any case. But it’s not just about your employees’ well-being. Engaged workers are much more likely to stay employed (yep, increase employee retention), leading to a reduction in costs associated with new hires, which we can all agree is a key aspect of a great culture! To add to that, highly engaged teams can see a 17% increase in productivity and a 20% increase in sales compared to disengaged teams. When it comes down to it, employee interaction in the workplace benefits you and your team.
But how does remote work affect employee engagement? Great question, and it can be answered in 4 words: another layer of complexity. Meaningful connections can still be formed—and employers can reap all the benefits associated with them—but managers and executives must make a concerted effort to provide time and tools to help employees engage. Turn on your heart light and show a little vulnerability!
How Do you Keep Teams Connected While Working Remotely?
[INSERT CLEVER CULTURE BUZZWORD HERE.] Just kidding. The short answer is, you need to make sure each person feels like a valued individual, not just an employee. This sounds simple, yet we often overlook this!
Those little check-ins, talks at the water cooler, and other impromptu engagements have to be planned in a remote or hybrid work environment. As companies revise and redesign their work environments for the future, now is the time to implement little changes that can go a long way. What do you know about your team members that may not be stored in your HR system or on a tax form? Take this as your directive to go ask about hobbies, goals, favorite colors, or the first CD they ever bought. Whether your team is made up of 15, 100, or 1,000+ employees, finding a way to connect with each of your managers—and ensuring that they’re checking in with each of their team members—should be a top priority.
Now that we know that Alex from Inside Sales is a Big Sister who loves a Uptown Coffee and makes TikToks of her Cat, Theo. We need to keep the love alive—even from afar. So exactly how do you engage employees who work remotely? This list of virtual employee engagement activities ideas is a surefire way to get you started.
Understand Where You Are
Cut yourself a slice of humble pie and understand where your employees are at when it comes to engagement and culture. It’s ok to need help in these areas. Companies like 15Five and Employee Vitals (A Selflessly Company) are dedicated to helping leaders understand engagement and culture at their business to drive deeper and more meaningful results for their employees. In other words, a “digital trust fall,” if you will.
Host Virtual, Casual Hangouts
Your teams are probably already hosting virtual meetings. If you haven’t already, consider adding “virtual coffee breaks” throughout the workday, virtual happy hours, online game nights. These quick, fun, and informal meetings can break up the day and build team connections. Just make sure to be clear on if these are voluntary or mandatory meetings. Our Director of Sales just informed me of “Desk Yoga” and I am all for it! Activities like these can be done even with a hybrid workforce!
Encourage the Occasional Off-Topic Discussion
Start an “off topic” channel in Slack or Teams to give employees the space to joke around, share something interesting, or just chat about something unrelated to work. Consider introducing a weekly poll to allow team members to get to know one another. It can’t be all work all the time, and having the space to occasionally take a break can help employees stay engaged. One of our partners has a Slack Channel to discuss The Great British Bake Off. How amazing is that?!
Give Employees Space to Feel Heard
It can be hard to replicate employee interaction in the workplace virtually, but it’s possible. Managers and leadership teams should set aside dedicated time to check in with employees and gather any input or stressors they might be facing. Your employees directly impact your bottom line, so ensure they feel heard. At Selflessly, we even provide an anonymous online form for our team to give internal feedback if they do not feel comfortable speaking with someone in-person.
Value Employee Recognition
We all want to feel like the work we do is valued. With platforms like Bonusly, leadership can consistently and intentionally develop a company culture built on recognition to boost engagement, build stronger teams, and ensure employees know their work is important. Who doesn’t love a reward?!
Get Leadership Involved
Authentic employee engagement starts at the top. Engaged leaders who make an effort to get to know their team and lead by example are going to create and sustain a workplace culture dedicated to trust, engagement, and passion. The modern employee knows lip service when they hear it. If your leadership team hasn’t bought into culture initiatives, it’s time for a bigger discussion.
Start an Employee Giving Campaign
The bigger the team, the greater the diversity in thoughts, interests, and relationships. Having differences is good, similarities are great, and almost everyone can agree that giving back is important! Today’s workers want to give their time and money to causes they care about. One recent study indicated that corporate community engagement campaigns can boost employee morale and workplace culture while also improving brand perception—and this is why we started Selflessly!
As another example, your team could sign up and join Pledge 1% . They’re an international movement that encourages companies to pledge 1% of their time, product, profit, or equity to a non-profit(s) of their choice.
Giving campaigns are a great way to connect virtual and in-office workers, which makes it especially relevant as businesses define their remote work policies over the next one to two years. Empower your employees to make a difference—and support them in doing so.
Engage your Employees with Selflessly
Doing good doesn’t have to be hard. With Selflessly’s unique platform, building a socially conscious brand that allows your employees to donate their time and money to any cause they care about is easy. Our platform allows your employees to donate to or volunteer with more than 1.7 million charities and non-profits, and makes it easy for your company to institute a matching program. In addition to this, the Selflessly platform gives companies access to reporting tools to understand how their company is giving, and allows you to export these results at tax time or when it comes time to create an annual giving report. If you’re ready to build a purpose-driven brand that will excite your customers and your employees, contact us today.