What Remote Work Can Teach Us About Keeping In-Office Employees Engaged

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Nearly a third of all workers would rather take a pay cut than return to their office. This tells us a couple of things. First, it turns out employees really enjoy working from home, which suggests companies have succeeded in creating positive experiences for their dispersed workers. Second, it reveals opportunities for organizations to reimagine how they approach in-office engagement, for that day when employees finally go back into the office.

At Wisetail, we recently conducted a survey of 2,000 people (a mix of remote employees and people in traditional offices) where we asked them to share their thoughts on a number of different work issues. One of the key findings was that about 60 percent of remote workers feel like they are a priority at their company, and more than half of all workers agree that remote work options should be available to everyone. Remote workers also said they felt engaged and included and were given opportunities to experience community and connection at work. For example, about 60 percent of remote employees said they were able to chat with their CEO while being onboarded.

In the face of adversity, business leaders didn’t turn their backs on remote employees. Folks who weren’t in the office still felt valued by their employers — no easy feat, but certainly worthwhile. It turns out it’s possible to create strong communities within remote organizations, and the companies that responded to remote workers’ calls for community will come out of this pandemic stronger and more resilient.

However, there’s another side to this coin. Our study found that in-office employees didn’t feel their companies had done much in the last year to improve employee engagement. Less than half of in-office workers believe they are a priority to the company, and just 48 percent of in-office employees were able to meet with their CEOs while being onboarded — 12 percent less than their virtual counterparts.

For most companies, employees will eventually return to their offices in some capacity. With this in mind, organizations should think about how they can transfer their progress with remote employee engagement into an office context. Here are some key actions to consider:

Build Digital Communities

Research shows social and collaborative interactions are key to corporate prosperity. Simply put, employees perform better when they work collectively.

Before 2020, many companies — and even employee engagement experts — were skeptical about the possibility of creating meaningful relationships between employees on distributed teams. Over the past year, however, we’ve seen this simply isn’t the case.

Virtual engagement tools have played a key role in keeping employees engaged with their employers and with one another when working remotely. By creating opportunities for collaboration, socialization, and communal learning, these platforms can fortify an organization’s culture whether employees are working in the office or at home.

Provide Opportunities to Connect From Anywhere

Keeping with the theme of digital engagement, companies can also encourage staff members to communicate on internal message boards and communication apps. It doesn’t have to be all business; give employees space to talk about what’s going on in their personal lives as well. After all, people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged and productive. Encouraging strong connections between employees is a good business practice.

As Zoom happy hours and virtual game nights have proven, friendships can be cultivated regardless of location. And there’s no reason those types of connections must be confined to remote workers. Employers can give their employees just as many opportunities to create meaningful relationships in the office, too.

Take Advantage of Training

Learning and development opportunities are a valuable chance to strengthen the bonds between the company and its employees and between employees themselves. Whether onboarding new hires or providing training for existing employees, organizations can make learning a more engaging process by tailoring programs to employees’ roles and including interactive elements.

For example, social gamification can encourage employees to invest more in both their training and their relationships with one another. Gamified learning encourages healthy competition, which builds camaraderie while fostering more buy-in from staff.

Open the Digital Dialogue

The importance of staying in constant dialogue with employees has become crystal clear over the past year. Most companies today understand that feedback isn’t a one-way street anymore. Moving forward, our people strategies should make two-way communication between the company and its employees a priority. This means investing in tools that facilitate the flow of information between employees and organizations. This will allow all parties to stay ahead of changes, persevere through tough times, and continuously foster trust in one another.

As more and more of us receive our vaccines and prepare to enter the office again, we should bring with us the lessons we learned from our time working remotely. By creating community through digital tools, encouraging meaningful relationships, and prioritizing communication, organizations will build their companies into true communities.

Ali Knapp is president of Wisetail.

By Ali Knapp