One of the wins of remote work and developing remote teams is that developing diversity in the workplace, especially that of a startup, is easier than ever. Your employee pool can literally come from anywhere in the world, and more and more workers and companies are jumping at the possibilities. 

However, one of the challenges is remote invisibility. The same employees who struggled to engage in an office environment can feel even more isolated and invisible, and while some of the introverts who write copy in the marketing department might be ecstatic at first, humans are social creatures, and that contact is one of the things we like the most about working. 

This can be tough to overcome. But you can make your remote employees feel even more visible, more valuable, and even more engaged than they were before. Onboarding new, remote employees can be just as rewarding and engaging as it was before. 

So how does it work, and what are companies doing and can companies do to increase team engagement, even remotely. 

Zooming from the Waist Up

 Why is the loungewear industry outperforming legacy clothing labels? It’s a Zoom phenomenon for sure. Employees may only dress up from the waist up, and that only when absolutely necessary. That’s not the most important takeaway though. The important thing is video calling. 

Why not a voice call? Much of how we communicate is non-verbal, so being face to face is more important than ever. This means not only calling your employees face to face, but holding group video calls, chats, and other virtual video events is vital. 

This is especially true when onboarding remote employees. Virtual mentors, frequent check-ins, and open communication rule. And face to face, even over video, beats email and chat every single time. 

Special Slack Channels

Video is better than chat for one on one meetings, but chat is more appropriate for others. This isn’t about a certain software, but about having specific channels where your employees can engage with humor, give shout outs to other employees, and even places for management to call out employees who are doing stellar work. Things like a #you-re-awesome channel or a #shout-out channel are both good ideas. 

If you are a manager, keep these things in mind: 

  • Allow for humor, but make sure it isn’t crude or derogatory. Have rules. 
  • Don’t expect employees to give you shout outs. The channels are for them to acknowledge each other. 
  • If you give out the shout outs, spread the love around to various employees. Don’t just call out your favorites. Make sure everyone feels visible, heard, and acknowledged. 
  • Stay out of discussions if at all possible. If your team is chatting out a problem or trying to solve an issue, let them. You may have the answer, but allowing them to interact and come to solutions of their own can sometimes surprise you with the answers, and builds team spirit. 

Your Slack channels can be a great method to team build. 

Allow Unstructured Time

Another common phenomenon with remote workers is they often feel tied to their desk. Because everything is done virtually, some, especially those new to remote work, can feel like if they are not online and available, they are slacking. This can inspire fear, anxiety, stress, and can even affect the health of your team. 

This means setting reasonable expectations and boundaries. Know that your employees have lives, and just like those in an office will go chat outside, take a quick walk, or talk for a bit in the hallway, the same should be true of remote workers. You don’t want them to burn out because they feel like taking a break is taboo. 

Check on Your Team Personally

While working together in an office, it is normal for a team to get to know each other and their struggles. If someone needs a day off to take care of a sick child or parent, it is often understood because everyone knows what is happening in their lives. 

Remote work should be no different, but it is often easy to overlook that the person on the other side of the computer has a life too. From children to pets, family to home repairs, things are happening outside of work, but in many cases now they are happening where the employee is working. 

Be understanding. Know and learn how your team is doing, how they are coping with current events and events in their family and keep the lines of communication open. If the employee is new to the team, gather questions, ask, and understand where they are and where they are coming from. 

Encourage Employee Health

While the Freshman fifteen may have been the thing that made us larger in college, the COVID nineteen is making us larger in quarantine. This comes in part from staying home and lack of outdoor activity and poor isolation eating habits. But you can encourage your employees to do something about it. 

Giving out free gym memberships might seem like sending employees to certain infection, but you can host virtual workouts. Work with local trainers or choose some You Tube videos, and encourage everyone to work out together regularly. Do morning stretches via Zoom or other video methods. 

Several apps have also emerged that allow for virtual “watch parties” where groups can watch a video together, and chat and hear what others are saying. This is a great way to build encouragement. 

Even when it comes to diet, you can encourage group lunches where everyone shares what they are eating or encourage groups to share meals and activity via apps like Lose It! or if most of your employees are Apple users, sharing your activity with one another. You can do the same thing through FitBit and other activity trackers. Rather than a gym membership, these are a great perk to offer your team. 

Play Together

All work and no play can make your team a dull one. Playing together can bring great bonding moments. Online games are a great choice, but not everyone is a gamer. There are some cool alternatives. 

  • Virtual escape rooms. 
  • International Monster Hunters. 
  • Online mystery solving games. 
  • Words with Friends contests for Word Nerds.
  • Spreadsheet art collaborations. 

There are more engagement options as well. You can have virtual birthday and anniversary celebrations, offer inspirational speeches and encourage your employees to do the same, establish your own emoji nomenclature, and more. Even something as simple as sending out company swag (t-shirts and coffee mugs, or other swag) can give employee morale a boost.

The truth is this: what works for one employee may not work for another, and what works for your company may not work for another either. You will have to experiment, but you can also simply ask your employees what they want. What would make them happy and engaged? What will make them feel seen?

Your results and answers may vary but take the same creativity that led you to start your company or take your current position and apply it to team engagement and employee visibility. Remote workers don’t have to be “out of sight, out of mind.” Don’t just make them feel seen and heard. 

See them. Hear them. Be genuinely engaged yourself. Your team will be even stronger as a result.