How to Keep Your Team Engaged When Working Remotely

From virtual Bingo to implementing new Slack channels and more, here are a few ways companies are keeping teams together as they transition to remote work.

Written by Stephen Ostrowski
Published on Apr. 21, 2020
How to Keep Your Team Engaged When Working Remotely
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Experimentation is a key tenet for many tech companies, and as teams adapt to remote work, that value remains consistent. 

“Just as we constantly make iterations to our in-person working strategy, we’ll be doing the same with our working-from-home strategy,” said Beth Steinberg, VP of people and talent at Chime

For Steinberg, that strategy means bringing people together with initiatives — think: virtual cocktail classes — aimed an engaging teammates during a stressful stretch.

Social activities shouldn’t be conflated with a lack of productivity, noted Heather Doshay, VP of people at Webflow.

“It sounds like it would make people less productive, but when people's belonging needs aren’t met, it can be difficult to be focused and engaged in other parts of life, including the job itself,” Doshay said. 

From virtual Bingo to implementing new Slack channels and more, here are a few ways companies are keeping teams together as they transition to remote work.

 

Weblow SF
webflow
Heather Doshay
Vice President of People • Webflow

 At website design tool Webflow, the team has created guides to wellness apps and has kept a pulse on sentiment through engagement surveys.

“You can’t improve engagement and productivity unless you listen to your people,” said Doshay. 

 

From an organizational and cultural standpoint, what is the most impactful change youve made to your teams workflow since switching to remote working?

We’ve operated as a distributed team since hiring our first employee. That said, acclimating to fully remote — versus about two-thirds remote — is still a significant change for a good part of the workforce. Additionally, many of the ways we encourage remote work-life balance — like getting outside or finding after-work social opportunities — are currently not available to us. 

One major change we’ve made to bolster both engagement and productivity is to provide new ways of helping our team connect. From the creation of new Slack channels, to daily connection chats focused on topics like yoga to kids show and tell, to “MTV Cribs” remote office edition, we find it important to virtually maintain the social ties that may be missing for our team members in their lives at this time. It sounds like it would make people less productive, but when people’s belonging needs aren’t met, it can be difficult to be focused and engaged in other parts of life, including the job itself.  

You can't improve engagement and productivity unless you listen to your people.”

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote? 

We’re lucky in that we’ve always operated remotely. We may take for granted some of the ways co-located teams don’t have built-in means for keeping everyone engaged. One initiative — which  isn’t new for us, but is highly recommended for all teams, especially distributed ones — is employee engagement survey software. Here, we use CultureAmp, but there are tons of great products for this, like Lattice and Peakon. 

You can’t improve engagement and productivity unless you listen to your people. Every organization has its unique problem areas. We have pointed opportunities for improvement, but we wouldn’t have a clear signal on this if we only responded to anecdotes from the team and didn’t complete regular surveys. I find that teams who conduct surveys push past the loudest voice in the room and can take action on things that will help the whole team. 

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive?

We’re big on mental health. In a time where the newsreel is cycling stories on physical health, it’s important we don’t forget about the way many people are mentally and emotionally feeling right now. We're offering a mix of things we’ve always done, such as access to Bravely for all, a platinum medical benefits plan that provides in-network therapy for a $10 copay (many therapists offer virtual sessions), a $200 monthly wellness budget and an employee assistance program. 

Because many people historically applied their wellness budget to a gym membership, our team produced a crowdsourced guide of mental health and wellness apps. The guide helps people invest in mental health while their standard routine is altered. We also have a #mentalhealth channel in Slack, where our team’s vulnerability is honored as courageous. 

 

Beth Steinberg
Vice President of People & Talent • Chime

“We’ve really encouraged employees to take time for themselves,” said Steinberg.

At challenger bank Chime, embracing remote work has entailed recurring lunch-and-learns, team trivia and other rapport-building measures, complemented by regular updates from the executive team that endeavor to provide transparency to teammates. 

 

From an organizational and cultural standpoint, what is the most impactful change youve made to your team's workflow since switching to remote working?

Last week, my team took part in a mocktail and cocktail-making class with a local Irish bar owner. Other teams have done group workouts, played trivia via Zoom and more. Now more than ever, it’s important to provide our teams with opportunities to connect. Teams have implemented daily check-ins, optional lunch chats and Friday team-building events. 

Conversations don’t always have to be work-related; I encourage teams to make sure that they aren’t. We’ll talk about the latest Netflix binge, play a game, discuss who has the best background photo, experiment with filters or simply have an open and honest discussion on how we’re currently feeling. It’s important for us to embody our value of “be human” and put people first. 

Our leadership team does a weekly rotation of an executive leadership update to stay connected with employees, be transparent about where we’re at and provide insight into where we’re going as a company. During my update, I closed by reminding employees of the importance of their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. 

We’ve also encouraged employees to build in time for lunch and breaks throughout the day. It can be exhausting to be on Zoom calls all day, so we’ve really encouraged employees to take time for their well-being to help prevent burnout. 

Our teams are constantly looking for ways to stay connected and engaged.”

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

Our teams are constantly looking for ways to stay connected and engaged. Normally in office, our Chief Marketing Officer Melissa Alvarado rallies the team for a daily 4 p.m. plank session. Even though we are all remote, we continue the plank tradition over Zoom. We can do them in sweats, include our family members or dogs and still have a sense of being connected. Our workplace team has done a phenomenal job of ensuring employees feel engaged and productive, with opportunities like Bingo on Tuesdays; work-related lunch and learns on Wednesdays; life-related lunch and learns on Thursdays; and show-and-tells and happy hours on Fridays. 

Just as we constantly make iterations to our in-office work strategy, we’ll be doing the same with our working-from-home strategy. Top of mind for us is thinking about how we use more written communication and other strategies to make sure we’re equipped to be able to shift how we work during this period. 

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

As we shifted to working from home, we implemented a tool, Modern Health, which provides employees with access to mental and behavioral wellness resources. Additionally, we’ve provided all employees with a $500 stipend to use for items they need to ensure their comfort while working from home. In an effort to show executive support, the entire leadership team has been checking in with employees outside of their department. Our workplace team is focused on team engagement now more than ever before: Recently, they delivered postcards to team members and are in the process of mailing a special surprise to provide colleagues with a brain break in the middle of their workday.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies.

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