The Traditional Office is Dead: How Do I Keep Remote Employees Engaged?

We thought we had more time to adjust to the inevitable transition from traditional brick-and-mortar, nine-to-five work arrangements.

As leaders, we read the statistics that said change to the gig economy was coming in the near future, but we read this information with some degree of denial. After all, the business was doing well and every effort was being made to keep employees engaged and productive.

A Pandemic that transformed the working world overnight

But then COVID-19 came along, much to our dismay, and we were forced to rapidly pivot our businesses just to survive. We moved hundreds of employees from traditional office jobs to remote working. Some did not have the ability to do this and lost their jobs. Others, deemed essential workers, had to conform to a whole new set of scary rules. Not only did it overwhelm employees, but it also consumed every ounce of our energy to deal with the almost daily requirements and recommendations being made by everyone from the medical community to politicians.

Fast forward to the present day. Our organizations have been forever changed. It’s no longer a matter of planning remote work, it’s making adjustments around this new way of working. One of the biggest challenges has been maintaining that regular connection with employees. It’s easy to create a culture when people are all working in the same area. But when everyone is working from their own locations, this culture often becomes a non-issue.

With the uncertainty of when or if we will ever return to the traditional office environment again or if remote work has replaced this forever, how can we foster that important sense of culture and belonging in our employees?

How do we maintain engagement when our organizations have already been struggling?

Let’s first look at what workplace culture and engagement are made of. These ideals are centered on the values of people who are all moving towards a common goal. What may have started out small grew into a movement of sorts. More people got on board and believed in it therefore a culture was born. Employees could choose to either stay plugged in or exist on the fringes in some disengaged state. And around two-thirds of the workforce has statistically done so.

Those same people are likely still employed by your organization, along with a crop of new faces. It’s important to tap into those who are on board and still think in terms of the values you’ve established over time and trial. Those fringe employees are probably already doing their own thing or have moved on to other companies.

How can you restore a sense of engagement in remote employees?

The secret to employee engagement has been a mystery for as long as employers have been concerned with it. There is no one hard fast rule that works for all organizations. Instead, each organization must take the time to learn what drives its people and promotes engagement. Much of this comes down to improving the workplace so that people feel valued, respected, and as if their talents are contributing to some greater good.

10 ways to increase remote employee engagement

With this said, there have been some actions taken by employers that have increased employee engagement. Here are some suggestions for keeping your remote employees engaged and productive.

1️⃣ Create an emotional connection

If you want to have any hope of engaging with your remote employees, and keeping the culture alive, it must live in the hearts of your people. Consider ways to create an emotional connection with employees. Share the successes and failures of the company in a transparent and human way. Invite employees to share their experiences with working remotely. Above all else, have a sense of humor. (No pants during virtual meeting kind of hilarity)

2️⃣ Increase communication efforts

Remote workers require a lot more touchpoints when it comes to communication. They don’t have the benefit of casual conversation with the boss or social interaction with peers. They can quickly feel isolated from you as a manager and as a team member. Be sure to step up your standard communication schedule with at least one conversation a day and invite weekly team meetings so they are included in projects and updates.

3️⃣ Highlight the culture daily

It can be challenging to foster the corporate culture when employees are not in the midst of the environment of it. Find ways to demonstrate the cultural values of your organization and remind employees often of what these values mean. Keep them interested in the culture by making sure they have plenty of corporate swag around them at home. Brand all communications and make a regular effort to bring up the culture in meetings and interactions.

4️⃣ Boost morale with incentives

Remote work life can be discouraging at times. It can make anyone feel negative. To maintain high levels of engagement and morale, make it a point to provide meaningful incentives for remote workers. Create a bonus system that is achievable for all employees. Set up a system so that peers can vote for their favorite team members.

5️⃣ Recognize and praise often

Remote workers can sometimes feel taken for granted because they don’t have anyone to notice their hard work and efforts. However, recognition is an important aspect of employee productivity and motivation. Establish a system for regularly thanking your remote employees and letting them know they are appreciated. Focus on their skills, their actions, and the way they approach work. A little positive praise can go a long way.

6️⃣ Provide rewarding projects and tasks

Give all your employees the chance to use their skills in challenging and rewarding work tasks. Provide projects that honor their skills and keep them from being bored while working remotely. Match up projects to the skillsets on your team. If you forget the talent that you have on your team, they can get bored and start seeking other work opportunities.

7️⃣ Host virtual events and coffee hours

A constructive way to keep remote employees engaged is to host regular events that bring people together virtually. Use live streaming to host coffee and work sessions, host an open office or tutorial. Invite employees to connect with supervisors using a self-scheduling application so they can balance work and life. Encourage peers to seek out support from each other and collaborate by any means they can.

8️⃣ Institute progressive career paths

One of the factors that can help employees “stick” to their jobs is the understanding they are actually moving in a positive direction with their careers. At hire, or as soon as you are available to discuss the changes to the employee’s role,  it’s a good idea to have a talk about the employee’s career path. Think of it as a map that can help bring comfort to the employee who is uncertain about their future with the company. Make sure the career path is progressive enough so that the employee feels they’re moving through it steadily and has the support needed to succeed.

9️⃣ Watch out for disappearing employees

Managers often assume that because they don’t hear from an employee for a few days that everything is just fine. This is definitely not the case with remote employees. It is extremely easy for a remote worker to simply drop off the radar and disappear. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but prevention is taking the time to stay in communication with the employee on at least a daily basis. This does not mean micromanaging. It means reaching out to the employee in a non-threatening way and just checking in to make sure they have everything they need each given day.

🔟 Promote management accountability

If you are at a higher level as a supervisor then you will have managers who are in charge of their subordinates. In this case, you must make each manager accountable for the performance and the experience of all of their remote employees. This includes how well they are doing with keeping remote employees engaged and participating in the daily culture of the organization. Encourage managers to actively coach and seek out opportunities to keep their people connected. 

These are just some suggestions for helping to keep your remote employees engaged in the work culture. It takes a lot of work but it is very rewarding when your remote team sees themselves as one big unit working together towards a common goal.


Sage HR

Sage HR is an award-winning cloud HR and people management software solution that streamlines and automates HR processes across the end-to-end employment journey. 

Written By

Tess Taylor

The Founder of HR Knows, a corporate content, consulting, and career coaching firm in New York and the Founder and Managing Editor of The HR Writer, a popular blog in the Human Resources and Recruitment scene. Contributor to CakeHR.