9 Jun 2020

5 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement on a Remote Team


Sapling growing in soil

In 1999, researchers Jonathan Haidt and Judith Rodin collaborated on a review paper which concluded that “changing an institution’s environment to increase the sense of control among its workers, students, patients, or other users was one of the most effective possible ways to increase their sense of engagement, energy, and happiness.”

Judith Rodin and Ellen Langer conducted one of the studies cited in the review paper. Residents on two floors of a nursing home were granted benefits. The first was that they could have plants in their rooms. The second was deciding as a group on a movie night each week. On one floor, the benefits came with a sense of control where the residents could choose their plants and take care of them. Plus, they could decide as a group when movie night would be. On the other floor, they also had benefits but without the choice. Instead, nurses picked plants and took care of them for residents. The nurses also chose a movie night for each week. This subtle change in choice had a powerful effect.

On the floor with increased control, residents were happier, more active, and more alert. And these benefits were still seen a year and a half later.

Would you like to help your employees feel more engaged at remote work? In this article, we’ll discuss five ways that you can grant your team members a sense of control through the gift of autonomy. These are the best practices shared at Running Remote Online – an exclusive event for the founders of remote businesses taking place on June 17–18.

1. Acknowledge your employee’s point of view

You can help your employees feel valued by considering their perspective when making decisions. To illustrate this point, let’s say that you go to a doctor for an annual checkup. You arrive for your appointment early, check-in at the front desk, and share a copy of your new insurance card. A few minutes go by, and a friendly medical tech calls your name and walks you to a waiting room to get you situated. The doctor walks in and introduces herself to start a conversation.

Now it’s your turn to choose what happens next.

A) If you get the sense that the doctor isn’t listening and maybe even talking down to you, then you won’t feel good at all.
B) If the doctor listens to you and asks a question like, “What’s the matter?” — then you’ll appreciate and remember that.

My guess is your choice was based on a recent visit to a doctor’s office (even if it was years ago). This scenario carries over into the workplace.

Along the same vein, asking “What matters to you?” is an excellent way to gain understanding. You don’t need to agree with everything that is shared by an employee. You shouldn’t, as challenging ideas are a normal part of critical thinking. However, you can let an employee know that you understand where they are coming from and that you’ll take what they’ve shared into consideration. Sharing feedback at the right times can also help a team member grow.

2. Provide specific and helpful feedback

Feedback can be a signal to an employee that they are on the right track. Or it can be used to nudge an employee in the right direction if they’ve veered off course.

“Without feedback, there can be no transformative change. When we don’t talk to people we’re leading about their strengths and their opportunities for growth, they begin to question their contributions and our commitment. Disengagement follows,” wrote Brené Brown in Daring Greatly.

Coaching an employee to find their strengths is an opportunity to lay the foundation for forwarding progress for years to come. When you share feedback on strength, you are investing in your team’s future by helping employees find what they do well so they can do more of it. As a leader, that process can be enjoyable as you see your fellow workers succeed. Plus, the impressive thing about strengths is often they can be used to overcome areas of weakness. You can gently push an employee to “play on their strengths” by allowing them to have a say in some projects that are assigned to them.

3. Allow a say in assigned tasks and activities

As a leader, you are looking for results. Initially, it may be the best guess on how to delegate work. As time passes, you’ll get more familiar with the strengths of your team, and your intuition will also get better. In other words, you’ll be able to see projects coming down the pipeline and know who will deliver excellent results.

Invite employees to take on new projects and consider their perspectives. Make sure they are clear on what the expectations are and what the outcome should be. Then allow them to figure out how they’ll see a project through to completion. You can also nudge your team members to take on new activities.

4. Encourage employees to take on new projects

Asking employees to take on challenging projects is a great way to assist in their growth. New activities will stretch their skills so they can achieve things that they previously thought were not possible.

As a leader of a remote team, you can show your support by coaching an employee. Remember that feedback can be a valuable tool to provide guidance on what you expect. If you take a chance and a project doesn’t work out as expected, then start a discussion about it. Lead a conversation with thoughtful questions like “Why do you think this didn’t work out?” and “Is there anything I can do differently to provide support?” With this approach, you’ll quickly help your employees learn from failure without feelings of guilt or casting blame. Knowing that you’ll stand beside them will instill confidence to try again with other projects in the future.

And if a project goes well, then celebrate the accomplishment! Flip the first question above to ask, “Why do you think this project went well?” Keep notes on all of your team’s success and share them regularly, so they become habits.

5. Inspire habits that align with your team’s goals

A habit is a behavior that is performed automatically. Habits are powerful because they don’t rely on willpower. You also don’t have to worry about feeling motivated to get something accomplished. When you make something a habit, it will get done.

“Habits are behavioral autopilot, and that’s why they’re such a critical tool for leaders. Leaders who can instill habits that reinforce their teams’ goals are essentially making progress for free,” says Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Switch.

What habits should you look for? Start with habits that make it easier for your remote team to find success in different areas of your organization.

Through a sense of control, your remote team can work day in, day out on something that fully engages them. Ongoing engagement is a virtuous cycle that continues to drive forward progress.

Five techniques to increase employee engagement on a remote team are:

1. Acknowledge your employee’s point of view
2. Provide specific and helpful feedback
3. Allow a say in assigned tasks and activities
4. Encourage employees to take on new projects
5. Inspire habits that align with your team’s goals

Would you like to learn more about building an engaged remote team? Join the Running Remote Online on June 17–18. This is a free online edition of the wildly successful Running Remote live conference, held annually for the last three years, which delivers insightful case studies from top remote work experts who have scaled their businesses without a physical office space. This time, the event features such speakers as Aaron Ross, the CEO of Predictable Revenue, Noah Kagan, the CEO of Sumo Group, and Bryce Maddock, the CEO of TaskUs.

Say yes to investing in your team’s future by signing up for Running Remote Online.

Running Remote Conference

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