Employee Engagement in a Remote Work Environment

The digital divide and a lack of interaction with coworkers make team-building and innovation difficult. Introducing creative opportunities to connect outside of their normal duties invites your staff to learn, collaborate, and invoke purpose.

If 2020  has reminded us of anything, we humans are deeply social animals. Like a  dolphin seeking its pod, social isolation in our “pandemic pens”  presents challenges in today’s remote work reality. In this article,  I’ll explore the challenges business leaders face with staff cohesion.  I’ll then provide innovative solutions to engage staff in a prolonged  work-from-home environment.

Home Sweet Home

Working from home comes with its perks. Particularly for established professionals with deep existing networks, home is comfortable and commute-free. Who doesn’t like a well-stocked fridge with all of your favorite food in the office?

But for many of us, we miss our people! 2020 marks a missed year for building professional relationships. Young professionals lacking mature professional networks have especially struggled. Opportunities to develop social connections with colleagues and peers correlate with the need to wear pants. (Very  few opportunities, indeed!)

From a business perspective, grassroots relationship-building bolsters the social fabric of your organization. That’s why companies commit resources to host happy hours, retreats, and holiday parties. 

Brief, positive interactions with colleagues in a work setting build valuable social capital. Even a few minutes spent hearing about colleagues’ weekend can improve an employee’s outlook.

Remote Possibilities

Casual social interactions prove challenging to replicate with remote work. Business leaders are struggling to develop creative solutions to generate social capital. A growing proportion of new employees have never met their own coworkers in the flesh.

Some companies have issued employee surveys to identify and mitigate WFH challenges. Many find virtual happy hours or video-conferenced ice-breaking activities have lost their luster. There’s a reason “Zoom-fatigue” can contend for  Merriam-Webster’s “word of the year”.

One executive I spoke with expressed the difficulty in planning virtual social events lamenting, “I didn’t go to school for this!”

An article by Business Insider summarizes nine common challenges from the WFH environment. The article outlines team-building challenges, solitude, and struggles to strike a work-life balance. Many business leaders likely felt they could have authored the article themselves!

Do you feel you’ve exhausted all options to promote social connectivity? Are you throwing your hands up in resignation? Perhaps you’re awaiting an expedient return to the office to assuage your problems? In reality, most companies employing knowledge workers will not mandate M-F office presence.

Creating opportunities for social cohesion is a talent  retention issue. Companies who don’t manage to keep staff engaged risk  losing talent to competitors who can. So what options do business  leaders have to bring staff together?

Trying Something Different

Have you considered sustainability? Think about the possibilities. Your staff (especially younger) seeks professional development opportunities. They also want to work for a company that values sustainability. They also seek opportunities to connect with others. 

Sustainability can be a  catalyst for improving corporate image, workplace culture, employee  satisfaction and retention, and operational efficiency.

Imagine what your staff will tell their friends and family about working for your organization. “Last week, I met eight other colleagues I’ve never spoken with at a sustainability engagement my company hosted. I enjoyed learning about the organization’s sustainability goals and the progress we’ve made so far. It gave me some good ideas for how I can contribute. The short break from project work was a refreshing reminder that I work with smart, caring colleagues. I’m talking with a new friend I met named Sophie during lunch tomorrow. She’s in accounting and may have some ideas for working together.”

If 2020 has taught us anything, we cannot overstate the importance of outside-the-box thinking. Are you doing all you can to keep your talented staff engaged and connected?

Whether it’s a one-hour presentation, a single-day workshop, or creating a  Sustainability “Green Team” within your organization, is it time to change the conversation? We’d enjoy discussing which Solutions in  Sustainability may be right for you. 

About the Author

Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, clean energy specialist,  sustainability nerd, professional engineer, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements. Contact him at alex@alexkaufmanpe.com.

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