Keep Your Employees Engaged & Aligned While Working Anywhere

Shannon Lind
Shannon Lind

remote employee participating in yoga class

Over the past decade, rapid digital transformation has enabled organizations to reimagine the employee experience. And yet, it took a pandemic to truly accelerate improvements to employee experience programs around the world and transform the way most people work day to day.

A year ago, most companies had co-located employees in large cities and their workforce was comprised of local talent that commuted to the office every day. Then the global pandemic hit, and everything changed. Flexible work models replaced traditional ones as people were forced to work from home, and work became an exercise, not a place.

While many of us are used to well-equipped offices—and whether we were ready or not—COVID-19 has transitioned many companies to enable remote work at scale.

Why Invest in Recognition & Remote Employee Experience Programs?

According to Forrester, remote work will settle at 3x pre-pandemic levels, forever changing how leadership will need to interact with their employees. To put this another way, in 2019 there was about 7% of U.S. workers working primarily from home—post pandemic that number will be closer to 21%.

Your people have likely gone from a highly social and buzz filled environment, whether co-located or on the road, and being constantly around leadership or other peers, to a work from home situation. Which is why it’s crucial to keep engagement and motivation up, and recognize them in their new vastly different work from home environment.

Studies consistently show a sense of belonging and recognition boosts employee morale and production. “Engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and do more work, and highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity,” according to Gallup. Engaged workers are also more likely to stick around with their employers. In high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24%–59% less turnover. And when the cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to twice their annual salary, this amount adds up to a substantial return on investment.

But how can leadership keep employees, who were abruptly transitioned out of the office and have been working from home since March—and likely through a big portion of 2021—engaged in the work, connected to their team and connected to the brand?

We’ve learned a lot in 2020, and the changes have just begun. Here are our top recommendations for what we’ve seen work and what we think companies should consider in 2021 and beyond as a more flexible outlook on work location continues to shape the workforce.

Infuse Remote Workforce Engagement Best Practices

You’re employees are going through a lot right now. That’s why it’s critical to make sure they feel taken care of and to help keep motivation up. People are craving interaction and connectedness to the community now more than ever. It’s important for leadership to provide creative ways for them to connect socially and informally, even if it’s not directly related to work topics.

  • Provide opportunities to bond through community outreach, virtual group events like yoga or speaker series, posting photo challenges and creating employee resource groups
  • Hold virtual events or create a virtual break room where employees can go to get social interaction with other peers, enjoy camaraderie and some fun.
  • Give them a meaningful gift, communication or recognition so unique and personal they’ll want to share it on social media, and as a bonus, earning you free advertising for your brand

It’s important to set clear expectations for the work from home environment from the start. Provide materials that explain your culture and goals using authentic stories and language to instill a sense of connectedness. Communicate the near and long-term goals you are all working toward as an organization, and provide insight into how you will evaluate performance toward those goals and how different roles contribute to the shared purpose.

Provide Recognition Reward Opportunities

Recognition reinforces positive behaviors you seek to continue. It also communicates a culture of appreciation, which helps increase morale, productivity and, in turn, decreases turnover. In today’s work from anywhere (WFA) environment, it’s even more important to connect your people and leadership.

  • Consider a peer-to-peer and leadership-to-employee recognition program that ties your values back to the behaviors you want to reinforce and your organization
  • Celebrate milestones, whether it’s a birthday, work anniversary or sales achievement with a celebration kit, gift, personal note and call from leadership
  • Encourage personal outreaches for connectedness (something as easy as publically acknowledging and thanking an employee on a group call can do wonders)
  • Create a mentorship program and pair up newer or struggling roles with experts (this creates social interaction as well as an opportunity to learn and grow—two birds!)
  • Offer a timely, alternative award experiences for cancelled incentive trips (don’t wait to recognize winners until a delayed incentive trip takes place), and include multiple touch points through a themed communication campaign and gifting experience to properly thank and reward them

Globally, only about 25% of employees strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week (note, “the last week”). Employee engagement requires consistent, frequent action from managers and leaders. However, if organizations could move the percentage on this from 25% to 60%, they could see a 28% improvement in quality and a 31% reduction in absenteeism, according to Gallup.

Surprise & Delight With a Strategic Communications Campaign

Now that employees aren’t in a centralized location, frequent communications (and in varied methods) are essential. Develop messaging around building pride and personal identity with the brand to help foster stronger emotional connections. By proactively and strategically guiding the culture with intentional communication touchpoints, you’ll be able to meaningfully align, motivate and engage your people—no matter where they’re working. After all, a cohesive culture depends on communication, not workplace location.

You can have fun sending surprise and delight communications that may elicit a little social media love and employee engagement. These are just a few of the ones trending.

  • Direct Mail: In the virtual world, it’s always exciting to get a tangible piece of mail. Plus, if it’s for an incentive, spousal/partner engagement in seeing the award offering is always an added bonus
  • Connectedness Kits: Send something that connects your employees back to their company, like a fun package with goodies, upbeat messaging, key business reminders, and call to action to keep engagement going beyond the physical gift
  • Digital Assets: Create a new desktop background with value-centric messaging out or having the CEO record a video message to send everyone on your team

Engage Employees With High Frequency & Quick Hit Earning Opportunities

Running incentive opportunities shouldn’t be overlooked if working to engage and motivate your people. And remember, incentives can be based on metrics beyond just sales. Consider rewarding the completion of steps to sale, customer satisfaction rating, adhering to standards, customer referrals, Net Promoter Score, training completion and more.

With every month feeling like its own year in 2020, consider using a short-term earning structure during this time when business needs may shift quickly. Here are a few tactics you can consider.

  • Create goals that incent people to produce incrementally versus simply rewarding based on completion
  • Include both leadership and non-leadership roles in incentives
  • Give managers an on-the-spot budget to recognize outstanding performances as they see them at the local level
  • Create a sense of community with team based earning structures where they’re all working toward a common goal

Work Will Happen Anywhere

As work has gone virtual, location has become less critical to career success and opportunities than ever before. But keeping up engagement and morale remains vital—co-located or remote. According to the a study conducted by the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr), if given the chance, 95% of 2,500 knowledge workers polled who are currently employed say they would work from home 2.4 days per week, on average. CEOs expect almost one-third of employees to be working remotely in January 2022.

By implementing some of these ideas, you will have engaged, connected, and invested people, which will shine through in their customer interactions. These ideas used in tandem will maximize sales performance and build a culture of recognition.

Teams with strong connections receive customer rankings 5%–10% higher than those of impersonal groups. That camaraderie translates to greater profitability and more productivity. Download our ebook, Fostering Human Connections in the Workplace, and start creating meaningful interaction that will connect your employees to your overall mission and values.

Fostering Human Connections in the Workplace

Shannon Lind

Shannon Lind

With over 18 years’ experience in the marketing, incentive and events industry, Shannon works with a variety of industries and top companies to help them develop better strategies to drive business results. She enjoys consulting with companies to uncover the best incentive and recognition programs to motivate their people.