Improving remote team engagement isn’t easy. But it’s essential.
Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, remote teams are nothing new for most companies. But effective remote team engagement may remain a struggle.
Employees’ expectations about work culture and environments have changed. And it’s not just resignations managers need to worry about. According to Gallup, workforce engagement dropped in 2022. Just 32 percent of workers say they are engaged. And the percentage of actively disengaged workers increased to 18 percent.
Why employee engagement matters
Gallup looked at the business units in companies and compared their levels of employee engagement. The ones with higher levels of engagement positively affected business outcomes. Among the outcomes there was a:
- 23 percent increase in profitability
- 41 percent decrease in product defects
- 10 percent increase in customer loyalty
So how can product companies avoid the pitfalls and increase design team engagement? Here are nine team engagement techniques for managers.
Technology has provided many ways for teams to work effectively without requiring team members to work in the same room. Video conferencing and messaging apps have exploded in usage as well as capabilities. And the options for technology seem endless.
Design teams working remotely can leverage technology to work collaboratively and communicate throughout the day.
Our design team, which primarily works remotely, uses Figma and Figjam to design and brainstorm collaboratively. And we use Zoom and Slack to communicate throughout the day.
Managers need to put the tools and expectations in place. But they also need to make sure design teams understand what tools they can use, how often, and why.
2.Host opportunities for social interaction
There’s something to be said about work friends. A sense of belonging motivates employees. Personal connection is the difference between worker and engaged worker.
Humans crave connection. In fact, social connections at work can lead to happier employees, less stress, and increased engagement.
It’s not enough to provide technology. Engagement doesn’t happen magically because a workplace has all of the tools available. As a manager, encourage employees to share time together that doesn’t have anything to do with work. It might look like a virtual happy hour or social games.
Our design team has tried several online games for virtual work events. A favorite is Gartic Phone. I believe most of us spent a full hour laughing so hard our sides hurt.
Carve out time for teams to spend together just to have fun.
Remote work intensifies the need to for clear and frequent communication. So much can be lost when teams don’t work in the same office.
The problem with email
Many non-verbal cues go away in a remote environment that are key to in-person communication. Non-verbal communication makes up the bulk of how we understand other humans. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and email — for the most part — eliminate body language and tone.
So when you send an email, it’s twice as easy for the recipient to misinterpret messages. They might miss your meaning or assume negative verbal tone. That’s why it’s important to be extra mindful before pressing send.
Am I using the right tool?
You also need to decide which medium is appropriate for the conversation topic. Not all information belongs in an email.
Go for video first
It’s best to schedule a video call if:
- the topic will require a bit of back and forth dialogue
- you expect questions to arise
- you plan to discuss important or sensitive topics
Also, answering questions is easier on video compared to on email or Slack because the response is more immediate. It could also be appropriate to schedule a quick, five to 10 minute call to clarify any issues.
At Standard Beagle, we have a standing video conference set up all day ,every day. We call it the Virtual Hangout (VH). Whenever team members need to talk through a project or co-work, they can jump on that call and collaborate.
If you need a quick response to a less pressing question or are just checking in, it might be best to use a messaging platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
These programs facilitate all-day communication between teams. The benefit is you will most likely get an immediate response because most people check frequently throughout the day and receive alert banners. Also, the recipient can respond when they have a moment, making it less time consuming to clarify issues for everyone.
These tools can also be disruptive to work flow or turning off work, so make sure everyone knows how to use Slack’s mute and notification settings.
When to use email
At Standard Beagle, we typically save email correspondence for clients or to complete other admin duties. In other workplaces, an email could be used as an alternative if the messaging platforms are not available for you. If you rely on email for communication, then be sure to check periodically throughout the day.
Stand-ups and huddles
We’ve found that having check-in meetings at the beginning and end of the day helps eliminate some back and forth conversations. These conversations were in person when our entire team was in office. They are tough now that the team is mostly remote.
These check-in meetings are typically quick 15-minute meetings. And they allow us to address any blocks we may have.
The meetings keep everyone on the same page, provide focus, and build morale. At the end of the day we share what we accomplished and our “wins.” This is a time for accountability. It’s framed in a positive way to keep us moving forward. This is when our team tends to laugh and smile the most.
Wage war on jargon
Nothing derails communication more than dense text filled with jargon.
Be sure you are wording your sentences in a way that makes sense. Think about the recipient’s level of familiarity with workplace jargon. Read what you wrote and make sure you are covering all the main points. Choose your words wisely and be sure you communicate in a way that anyone would understand.
It’s better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. Communicating your point clearly will encourage group understanding and prevent a lot of extra back and forth messaging. Sometimes that means adding a bit of extra detail.
It is also important to let the sender know you received the message. A quick thank you, or a thumbs-up emoji is enough to communicate that you received the message. Or if requested to do a task, send a note that you can get to it later in the day or whenever you are free.
Confirming messages sets an expectation, eliminating the need for either party to reach out again because of confusion or misinterpreted messages.
Know your medium
Understanding how to communicate using remote mediums is important and can take a bit of practice, but it will eliminate some headaches for everyone on the design team.
The goal is to be heard, to be understood, and to be as effective as possible, saving time for yourself and your typical workplace duties.
4.Mix it up
There’s nothing like face-to-face interaction for increasing design team engagement. When possible, find opportunities for the entire team to work together or simply interact.
Admittedly, this task is easier when everyone lives in the same general area. But even if your team is distributed across the U.S. or multiple continents, find ways to engage in person.
Perhaps you can host an annual or biannual retreat for the design team. Or find team-building exercises the team can do when in-person for training.
Our team is co-located, but we still all work remotely most of the time. We find quarterly opportunities to meet up as a team in the office. That’s when we use the time to collaborate on the whiteboards together. When we want to get out of the office, we’ve gone to Top Golf or Amy’s Ice Cream where we can relax and have fun.
5.Provide more support for new hires and existing teams alike
The majority of workers say their jobs can be done mainly from home. What’s more, more workers choose to work from home. But just because the team chooses to work remotely, it doesn’t mean they should be ignored.
Team members, especially new hires, need additional support in their positions if working remotely. They need to have guidance to know what to do and when.
This doesn’t mean they need micromanagement or intense supervision. In fact, it’s better to trust design teams to do the job they were hired to do. However, managers have a responsibility to provide support for workers so they know where to turn with questions and what resources are available to them.
Employees who feel valued are more likely to be engaged with an organization. One way to demonstrate value and boost design team engagement is by recognizing people for their work.
When we receive recognition, our body releases dopamine into the brain, which feels really good. And dopamine also improves our motivation.
However, be sure to recognize people in a way they appreciate. Standard Beagle co-founder Andy Brummer often shares how little he valued the paper certificates he received in one of his former positions. He felt like his supervisors handed out certificates without truly valuing the work.
So be sure that your words or other tools of recognition come off as genuine.
7.Provide tools for success
In addition to collaboration tools, you can boost team engagement by showing employees you’re invested in their success.
Ensure design teams have opportunities for learning. You can provide access to a online curriculum or annual budget to attend design-specific conferences.
We enjoy LinkedIn Learning, available through a LinkedIn Premium account, and great conferences like An Event Apart or SXSW.
Or you could provide a stipend for teams to set up their home office to help them work. Standup desk? Comfy office chair? Good headphones and an ergonomic computer station? You bet!
Nothing leads to burnout faster than not being able to turn off work.
Team members need to rest in order to be effective and productive the next day. It’s unfair to expect people to respond to work email and messages when they are not “on the clock.”
Talk with your remote team about setting boundaries at home. When are they expected to be on the job and when are they not? Then back that up by not bothering them. Both Google mail and Slack have the ability to schedule messages. Go ahead and write that message before you forget, but schedule it to appear when the employee is working.
By encouraging the team to set work-life boundaries you can improve mental health and ultimately team engagement.
Lastly, be flexible. Today’s workers expect trust and flexibility in their roles. Most appreciate a workplace culture where they can set work schedules that also allow them to handle life stuff.
Are you paying a worker to sit behind a desk from 9 to 6 or are you paying them for the outcomes they achieve? At Standard Beagle, we’ve found our team is much happier when they can take a couple of hours to pick up kids from school or run a pet to the vet.
Team happiness leads to increased team engagement.
The idea behind engagement for remote design teams isn’t that different from those working in person. But it does take additional effort and thought.
Putting these principles in action may take time, but gradually you’ll see design team engagement improve over the long run.