4 strategies to drive engagement in remote teams:

Let’s take a moment to talk about remote working, specifically in regards to development teams. Remote working has become the norm for most in the industry over the past couple years and companies have seemingly all approached the style in a variety of ways. There has been plenty of discussion as to how to best drive employee engagement when working remotely. Here at Slash we feel our approach has shown positive results so why not share it.

Engagement survey

If you want your employees to engage with you, you must first engage with them. This is natural, is it not? Therefore, we begin with identifying the areas where you need the most work. This can be done quite simply with an engagement survey. It will allow you to discover what areas need the most attention therefore, prioritizing your engagement needs. Try to keep your survey questions to a reasonable amount; we found that around 50 questions is a good balance between not asking too many and still being able to get feedback on key points.

Ask questions about leadership, teamwork, growth and perhaps most importantly, simply how people feel about working for your company. If necessary, make the survey anonymous so people feel fully shielded from any judgement or repercussions from negative feedback. For example, after running the survey, we found that something as simple as more vocally & more often appreciating people’s work was not only necessary, but resulted in increased employee engagement. Additionally, supplying regular feedback and appraisal of their work surveyed as a highly desired thing with our employees.

So beginning with a survey or something similar can give you the right heading for the direction you want to go for maximum employee engagement for remote teams. This will springboard your organization into the following strategies…

Create a culture of connectedness

Now that we clearly understand what employees desire from the company and management when working remotely, we can make a shift in the organization to create a culture of connectedness. A culture that is relationship focused on not just clients, but internal relationships as well. As we all know, a happy employee is a more productive employee or so we hope!

People desire connection with others and want to feel included. This is very true when put into a group situation; however, not everyone is good at making that connection on their own. Inherently this is why teams have leaders and others in positions that help create a good team atmosphere and dynamic that strives to include all members. In the case of remote work, we have found that more now than ever people are subject to isolation and strongly desire to connect with their coworkers and team members. They want to chat after work, share a beer and talk about what’s new in their lives.

Therefore, creating a culture of connectedness specifically in the case of remote teams means recognizing that employees are more than just workers for the organization. They need a chance to socialize with the team in a casual setting, share fun moments, laugh and build relationships with colleagues. This will lead your organization to having stronger connections between the staff, healthier working mentality for all and a positive feeling towards the company and the work they are doing.

A final note here should be made in regards to safety. Your employees need to feel they are safe to be themselves, express their thoughts and share about their lives. Your meetings, ceremonies for developers, are best begun in a light-hearted manner with some off topic banter to warm everyone up before launching into the nitty gritty agenda. Remember your developers are people who have lives of their own; show respect and interest for them and they will want to engage more with their team and company.

Show appreciation

I think we can all agree that a hearty pat on the back or high five for a job well done is quite welcome when you’ve put in the effort. Showing appreciation seems like a natural thing, like something that automatically happens, but given the remote working environment now that your developers are experiencing it’s easy to understand how this simple thing has gone missing.

Feeling recognized and being appreciated for their efforts is something all people want when they put forth their best effort. As discussed above, within this new culture of connectedness, it’s vital to instill in your managers the importance of showing appreciation for the employees they lead. We have found that on a more regular basis seems to work well; again this is as a result of the teams working remotely.

Remember that your developers spend hours and hours in front of their PCs, working remotely with little to no in person contact. Even when they submit a report or finish a coding task, it’s electronically so there is that lack of in person interaction. Something like a simple smile and “thanks” from the manager goes a long way, and cannot be forgotten with remote working. Or for example, “Great job on how you handled the Smith client. I really appreciated how you approached the situation and delivered the solution.”

These seemingly simple gestures make a massive impact on people. When people feel cared about, they’re more inclined to go above and beyond for their employer. The more your employees excel, the more your company can succeed. At Slash we use “verbal high fives” encouraging team members to express their appreciation for specific work people or teams have accomplished. Never underestimate the value of peer appreciation.

Provide an avenue for learning

Everyone has the urge to share their skills, regardless of the skill. Developers are no different and in fact, can often be rightly proud of their tech prowess. So why not let them show off their skills? No, we’re not saying you should go around inflating everyone’s ego. What we are talking about is providing an avenue for learning, especially one that allows team members to learn from one another. This will lend to strengthening and broadening the skillset of your employees, for both theirs and the company’s benefit.

Developers bring their wide range of tech skills to the proverbial table, plus your team leaders and managers bring key business skills. All are equal, as all are focused on improving people’s abilities to improve efficiency, productivity and generally work satisfaction. Employee A is an excellent backend coder, but would like to improve their leadership skills as they are interested in potentially becoming a team/project leader in the near future.

Perhaps you are beginning to see how this sharing of skills for everyone to learn from one another melds neatly with the culture of connectedness and showing appreciation. Again, employees A and B are more likely to feel connected and appreciated when given the opportunity to share their skills with one another. Learning and updating one’s skills is an ongoing part of everyone’s career. A company that provides and fosters this environment stands to reap the benefits of it. A final note here, be sure that your company is equipped with the necessary collaborative tools. Those tools being ones for communication like Slack, project management like Jira and Trello, CRM tools, etc.

To wrap up this point of avenues for learning, we’d like to mention other opportunities you can create for employees to share their work experience. Things such as virtual co-work is a useful way to provide that learning/sharing opportunity; as well, short standup meetings for everyone to quickly share what they’re working on, and even sharing loom videos.

Driving engagement is key to ensuring you have active, involved employees who are motivated and driven in their teams. Creating that engagement is not rocket science, it just takes time and some specific attention here and there. One thing we have found very effective here at Slash is what we call engagement activities which are chances once a month for members located in the same geographic area to get together and talk about work. Sharing their experiences in person strengthens the relationships and will increase overall team engagement. It works as a good replacement for the watercooler in the office which now, as we all know, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Let the watercooler go, but don’t neglect the importance of workplace relationships and keeping your employees engaged!

Maria Agustin
Maria Agustin
People Operations
Maria Agustin is the Head of People Operations at Slash. She’s also the Co-founder of Pratisara Bumi Foundation, which runs leadership and entrepreneurship education programs in Indonesia. Originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, she’s worked in social innovation, startups and economic empowerment. In 2016, she started managing one of the top coworking spaces in Asia, and that’s when she began to focus on location-independent entrepreneur community building from around the world, the future of work culture, and people. She’s a community leader for one of the world’s well-known venture capitals, Techstars, in Asia Pacific and she has organised Startup Weekend Bali six times; as well, she is a design sprint facilitator at 1000 Startup Digital Indonesia.
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