The Secret Ingredient to Engaging a Remote Team
[Updated July 2023] In today's interconnected world, where teams often span across different time zones and geographical locations, finding effective ways to engage employees is crucial. At Brilliant Ink, we’re a badass, fully remote and distributed team. When a client is looking for ways to better engage their people, the first piece of advice we give them is to tap into empathy.
According to the 2023 State of Workplace Empathy Report, empathy is a critical component for driving employee engagement, shaping organizational culture, and achieving overall success. Unfortunately, the empathy gap seems to be widening year after year, fueled by various factors like the transition back to the office, mental health concerns, cultural dynamics and a sense of belonging.
For companies that have remote employees, the very nature of working virtually can amplify feelings of disconnection or disengagement, making it imperative for organizations to be mindful of creating an empathetic work environment.
What do we mean? It’s about considering someone else’s work experience when it comes to time zones, the mix of face-to-face communications vs. emails or Slack messages, and so on. Showing empathy and engaging with your teams in ways that meet their needs also fosters an inclusive environment where people feel valued and respected.
Here are seven ways to infuse some empathy into your employee experience.
1. Choose the Right Channel for Your Message
Even though this is a communication fundamental and second nature for most of you, check yourself on it, especially as you introduce new workplace collaboration tools. Are you relying on Slack or email when you really should just hop on a call? Would people benefit from watching a screen recording with a tool like Loom or Slack Clips so they can follow along at their own pace?
Consider the context and nature of the communication. If the matter is complex, nuanced or requires immediate clarification, hopping on a phone or video call can save time and prevent misunderstandings. Face-to-face communication allows for non-verbal cues and real-time dialogue, leading to better comprehension and creating a stronger sense of connection.
As we know, understanding your audience is key. Does your team member thrive in written communication and appreciate the clarity of Slack messages or emails, or would they prefer verbal exchanges to better express their thoughts and emotions? By understanding these preferences, you can adapt your communication style and channel selection to accommodate diverse needs and promote engagement.
2. Become a Project Management Pro
Invest in communicating and clarifying team members’ roles and responsibilities on a project—I promise, it’s worth the effort. When your people know how they contribute to the bigger picture, it makes virtual collaboration that much easier.
We’re big fans of Smartsheet and Trello for project tracking and Resource Management for allocations and team utilization. There are tons of tools out there—try them out!
At Brilliant Ink, we believe finding a project management partner is essential to internal communications. And if you’d like to deeper, check out this podcast with our team and creative agency expert Jenny Plant.
3. Create Accessible and Inclusive Comms
Creating an inclusive remote work environment involves considering the needs of disabled and neurodivergent workers. By proactively addressing accessibility, you create an environment where everyone can fully participate and contribute. Here are some key considerations to make your communications more accessible and inclusive:
- Prioritize accessibility when sharing documents, presentations or reports. Provide alternative formats such as accessible PDFs or HTML versions that can be easily navigated with assistive technologies. Ensure that text is properly formatted, images have appropriate alt text descriptions, and color contrasts meet accessibility standards.
- For any audio or video content, including webinars, training videos or company announcements, provide closed captions or transcripts.
- Use plain language and avoid jargon or complex terminology that may be challenging to understand. Clearly convey information, instructions and expectations in a straightforward manner to ensure comprehension by individuals with cognitive disabilities and global audiences.
- Recognize that people have different learning preferences. Provide information in multiple formats, such as written text, visual aids or audio recordings, to accommodate varying learning styles and allow individuals to engage with content in a way that suits them best.
For more tips, check out these brilliant articles:
- How to Host More Inclusive and Accessible Virtual Meetings
- 3 Ways to Support Neurodivergent Remote Workers
4. Do a Fun Exercise: Build Personas
Think about the typical employee in your Tokyo office, in Dublin or in New York, or the person who works from home in Houston. Ask yourself, “Am I doing everything possible to include them?” For instance, if you work out of the main office, don’t post HQ-specific content to your #general Slack channel.
Another thing: be sure to add functionality to your intranet’s calendar so people only see events that are happening in their location. Even consider what time you send emails or schedule video calls—time zones matter! It’s especially important when you’re sharing company-wide news or hosting a virtual All Team call.
You can even take it a step further and create actual personas to help you better understand your audiences and ensure your communications resonate (and we've got the perfect resource to help you get started)!
5. Celebrate Your Teammates
It’s always important to recognize when people go above and beyond, even when you’re literally sitting next to a colleague. But it’s valued even more when you aren’t seeing each other face-to-face or even talking every day.
At Brilliant Ink, we have a peer-to-peer recognition program called, "Damn, You’re Good." Every employee receives a designated budget each calendar year, which we use at our discretion to send gifts to team members to show our gratitude and/or to celebrate their big and small wins. We also set aside time in our weekly team calls to open the floor to celebrate ourselves or our colleagues.
Also, consider sending physical packages. As this article mentions, "when everything is digital, a physical package (think: company swag, books, snacks or handwritten notes) is delightful." We love using sites like Goody, Sugwarwish and Packed with Purpose to send our colleagues gifts and tasty treats.
6. Help Workers Meet In Person
While remote work offers flexibility, facilitating opportunities for remote workers to meet in person can enhance team connections. Consider organizing occasional team retreats or regional meetups where remote employees can come together.
Make room in the budget to support remote workers in meeting with their local colleagues and encourage individuals to organize informal get-togethers, such as lunch or post-work activities. By covering the expenses for these meet-ups, you demonstrate the company’s commitment to fostering strong relationships and creating opportunities for in-person connections.
These opportunities to meet in person can lead to increased engagement, improved collaboration, and a sense of belonging within the team, ultimately driving the overall success of your remote workforce.
7. Prioritize Mental Health and Well-Being
A recent study by Integrated Benefits Institute found that fully remote (40%) and hybrid work (38%) are associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms compared to in-person work (35%). Researchers said, “Although there isn’t a massive disparity between in-person and remote workers’ likelihood of depression and anxiety, it’s an important difference that employers would be wise to pay attention to.”
So, What Can You Do?
Provide resources and support for managing stress, maintaining work-life balance, and promoting self-care. Encourage breaks and time away from screens to prevent burnout. Implement wellness programs, virtual social activities and mental health resources to support the holistic well-being of your remote team.
By prioritizing their mental health and kindness, you create an environment where remote employees feel valued, supported and able to thrive.
Additional Resources for Remote Workers:
- 22 Employee Engagement Ideas That Remote Workers Love
- How to Engage Remote Employees: 10 Actionable Tips & Tools For Hybrid Workplaces
- How to Build a Remote Work Mental Health Program
- Innovation in Remote Digital Collaboration
- Brilliant Productivity: How We Get $^&! Done
- Brilliantly Easy Ways to Engage Your Kids (While You Try To Work!)
- 5 Easy Ways to Enhance the Virtual Onboarding Experience
By infusing empathy into the employee experience, organizations can build a strong sense of belonging and drive overall success in a remote work setting. Adapting your communications to meet colleagues’ needs, recognizing and celebrating teams, and organizing in-person meetings can strengthen connections and create a supportive work environment. People want to connect, so you might find that if you create the right opportunities, this will be easier than you think!
If you need help engaging a remote workforce, we’d love to hear from you! For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly employee engagement newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest!