2020 brought about an operational shift for several businesses, driving many to fully remote work for this first time. This transition presented a novel set of challenges for managers.
Whether remote work is here to stay or a stopgap measure borne out of necessity remains to be seen. But what is clear is that to ensure sustained motivation, remote work processes have to be continually tested, monitored and improved on. Motivation secured once isn’t motivation secured for good - it needs to be addressed in an ongoing way.
Motivation (or lack of) is determined in large part by an organization’s leadership - Gallup found managers influence 70% of variance in how engaged employees are. So as a manager, what can you do to secure higher levels of motivation?
Understanding the importance of employee engagement
What is employee engagement?
On a basic level, employee engagement is the degree of commitment an individual feels towards your organization. The more engaged an employee is the more committed they are to achieving Workforce Success - the success of the whole made up of the successful of each individual.
But ‘commitment’ implies a surface-level investment. True engagement goes much deeper. It’s a “psychological connect with the organization” that emerges from a “positive emotional state” and leads to “job satisfaction, commitment, sense of pride towards the organization, wanting to stay with the organization, forming emotional connect and recommending others also to work with the organization”.
What role does engagement play in employees’ motivation?
Employee engagement is a prerequisite for motivation - an employee cannot be motivated without first being engaged. Engagement is the first step in the cycle of which the ultimate outcome is greater productivity.
Even prior to Covid-19, employee engagement levels left a lot to be desired. Research by Gallup found that globally, just 15% of employees are motivated and engaged in the workplace. Disengaged employees perceive their workplace negatively, are not passionate about their work, and are not performing as well as they have the potential to - the antithesis of a motivated employee.
Even worse, those who are “actively disengaged” undo the hard work of the 15% minority that are, creating a productivity deficit.
On the other hand, successfully tapping into employee engagement has knock-on effects like boosted morale and increased productivity. And it doesn’t stop there - highly engaged teams see 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects, and 21% higher profitability.
This makes investing in employee engagement a high return endeavor worthy of a company’s time. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas to unlock engagement, and in turn, motivation, when dealing with a remote workforce:
1. Replicate in-person social interactions digitally
When working remotely, communication is more likely to be infrequent at best, and non-existent at worst. It can be tough to tear yourself away from work or designate time to connect with colleagues, especially when the structure of your day is entirely self-determined, meaning individuals’ lunch breaks are less likely to align.
Any effort to socialize must be intentional and deliberate effort made by both parties, as there are more barriers to communication when digital. Just because it’s harder doesn’t mean it should be abandoned - loneliness is rife in the workforce, and nowhere more so than amongst remote workers.
Cigna’s Loneliness Index revealed remote workers are more likely than non-remote workers to feel alone, and employees who feel isolated are twice as likely to miss more and think about quitting their job twice as often. It’s fair to say lonely workers are less engaged, and loneliness has direct implications on employee retention and absenteeism.
And when we say remote workers we must cast an eye beyond the traditional office-based employee now working from a home office. A staggering 2.7 billion employees worldwide are deskless and always have been. These employees - couriers, drivers - spend their working life operating in total isolation.
Therefore, it is important for HR Managers to ensure remote employees are able to replicate that all-important ‘human touch’ and maintain a strong company culture.
One way to do so is to host any activity digitally that promotes a sense of connection and cross-company visibility. This could entail mailing out care packages with company swag, or a motivational video message every Monday from the CEO.
2. Carve out time for personal learning
Personal learning can take on many forms - from reading a book to pursuing a side project. It may not take top spot on an employees’ daily to-do list, but by encouraging them to explore passions and channel ideas into a non-urgent project, you communicate that you care about their personal development, beyond the scope of their role. Plus, it can pay dividends in the long run in terms of innovation.
But don’t take our word for it. Allowing time for side projects are part and parcel of the learning culture at companies like Facebook, Hewlett-Packard and LinkedIn, who stand by the practice. Google has even formalized ‘side projects’ in their ‘20%’ program, which gives employees 20% of their weekly hours to work on projects unrelated to their daily role. And it’s not been in vain - Gmail was an innovation that arose from a side project.
By ‘gifting’ employees with a certain number of hours per week in which they have free rein over their work, you encourage autonomy which boosts engagement and loyalty towards your company.
3. Recognize employees for their achievements
Recognition is a high impact, low cost method to motivate employees. Motivation can be intrinsic (derived from within) or extrinsic (motivated by material rewards). By giving sincere managerial praise, you motivate employees in a more long-lasting, meaningful way.
Humans thrive on validation - employees who do not feel adequately recognized are 2 times more likely to churn. What easier way to make individuals feel valued and tap into intrinsic motivation by fostering a recognition-rich corporate culture where employees’ efforts are appreciated publicly and privately.
A little goes a long way in terms of employee recognition. The norm is a recognition sparse culture, so even an informal Slack message can make all the difference by leaving a lasting impact on employees’ morale and sense of self-worth. And high morale directly correlates to the amount of effort they show up to work with every day.
Some organizations invest in employee recognition platforms to formalize the practice of recognition-giving company-wide, but a simple ‘thank you’ message can suffice if it is honest, specific and personalized.
Is a direct report performing consistently well? Ask them to create a short video clip where they share best practice, or a success story, with peers. This drives motivation by aligning all employees around the organization’s betterment and success, rewards high performers by leveraging public recognition and improves communication and transparency by facilitating a free-flow of information across departments.
4. Ask for feedback
Feedback should resemble an ongoing dialogue between you and employees rather than something gathered once a year that is shortly forgotten about and never implemented. Listening is the first critical step, but can be undermined if not followed by action.
This is where Pulse Surveys come in handy. Because they are more frequent, more specific and shorter, they enjoy 45% higher engagement rates than conventional annual employee engagement surveys.
Related: What is a ‘Pulse Survey’?
Pulse Surveys formalize informally checking in. They allow you to quickly take the pulse of your workforce through concise but frequent feedback-gathering. Once the results roll in, look at the data to identify trends.
Once you know where the majority of employees stand, you can use their feedback to inform your actions and see motivation shoot up. The mere act of listening and acting is an under appreciated weapon in a company’s arsenal - when employees feel listened to, they are 4.6 times more likely to perform at their very best.
The key is to increase the touchpoints at which you seek feedback - turn feedback-seeking into a routine part of ideating new topics for training, identifying how to improve customer satisfaction, company goal-setting and even for an insight into the efficacy of pastoral initiates like team-building activities.
5. Deliver remote training
Training engages. When you empower employees the knowledge they need to succeed, you motivate them to perform to the best of their ability.
Delivering ongoing training and upskilling opportunities is key in tackling turnover - rated highly on their employee training program experienced 53% lower turnover. This reinforces the fact that training has the power to secure loyalty.
Related: How to Train Remote Employees
Conveniently, the two demographics entering the global workforce in the largest numbers - Millennials and Gen Z - find companies that invest in employee training to have the most attractive employer value proposition, i.e. they find them the most appealing to work for. Understanding what makes these demographics tick is increasingly important in a competitive job market.
However, as important as it is to deliver training, when it comes to delivering training remotely, any efforts risk being in vain if the right technology is not leveraged.
As a rule of thumb, the fewer platforms used the better. Remote employees - whether deskbound or deskless - seek a seamless technological experience where all information is centralized and accessible at their point-of-need, rather than siloed, disparate strands of information that live in different places and require different passwords to access.
When it comes to keeping remote employees engaged and motivated, it’s something to continuously address rather than leave be and acknowledge only after realizing your year-on-year employee churn rate has risen.
Nor is there a one-size fits all solution to solving engagement. What works for one employee won’t necessarily work for the other. Some may be more motivated by public recognition, while others bristle at the thought. Frequently checking-in with Pulse Surveys will help you bridge knowledge gaps and grow to understand employees individual needs, which in turn, enables you to personalize future training to unlock higher engagement levels.
Do you need a way to stand out from competition through delivering highly accessible, relevant, mobile-based remote training chock full of features, like Pulse Surveys, that are built to engage the modern learner?