COVID-19: 4 ways to engage remote workers

Jun 08, 2020

Most organizations are currently navigating the challenges of engaging remote employees. These employees report feeling disconnected from their jobs and society, uncertainty and discomfort with work, restlessness and diminished work-life balance. Many workers find themselves working alone for the first time, which exacerbates feelings of loneliness and detachment, and inhibits motivation.

Moreover, modern technology provides constant accessibility to internet and mobile devices, which can blur the line between work and home boundaries. Leaders should consider the following strategies to support and engage newly remote workers:

1. Segment work and home

Despite its pervasiveness, workplace spillover has negative health and organizational outcomes that can be challenging to counteract. Research has shown that creating mental boundaries between work and home allows people to detach from work, which is essential for sufficient recovery and better sleep, and in turn, allows them to feel refreshed and engaged for work the next day.

Leaders should encourage remote workers to set work hours and turn off work-related communication after a specified time. Additionally, leaders should encourage employees to engage in mastery activities, such as taking a non-work-related online course or learning an instrument to promote work detachment and self-efficacy. Employees’ subsequent reduced stress and clearer minds can result in higher engagement and productivity

2. Encourage microbreaks

Short, voluntary breaks between tasks decrease fatigue and increase energy during working. Leaders should suggest that employees take a few minutes after completing a task to go for a walk, make a cup of coffee or check in on their kids to enhance engagement and subsequent productivity.

3. Leverage technology to establish virtual collaboration.

Leaders should leverage project management tools to create project plans and task lists to provide clarity, optimize productivity and to encourage team members to stay on task and meet deadlines. Additionally, leaders should schedule time to meet with their teams virtually (via web-conferencing applications like Webex or Zoom) to share life updates and unwind. Consider participating in a virtual team exercise or yoga class (regular exercise, mediation and sleep are known to decrease stress). This strategy allows employees to feel connected and sets a routine, which increases their sense of supervisor support and work engagement.

4. Engage in creative work-family management

The top-down approach allows leaders to set standards to help employees adjust to new working conditions. Leaders should consider asking team members to identify days they are unavailable due to personal commitments, such as child care responsibilities. Additionally, leaders should look to reduce employees’ logistical burdens by streamlining processes, including establishing email and meeting guidelines to define clear expectations for how to share and track work.

RSM contributors

  • Jennifer Busse