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5 Tips to Engage Your Remote Workers: How to be a Great Leader During COVID-19

It's been over two months since the global pandemic has disrupted our normal ways of life. Naturally, COVID-19 has also had an impact on our economy--forcing employers to send their workers home and hoping their now remote workers will continue being engaged and productive.

A Gartner Inc. survey found that 88% of companies around the globe have either encouraged or required their employees to stay home whether or not they showed coronavirus-related symptoms. These results were measured according to the responses of 800 human resources executives.

With so many people working from home, it's up to the leaders of the organization to find ways to keep their team motivated and engaged.

Why It's Important to Show Great Leadership During the Global Crisis

Showing leadership is always important. Showing leadership during a crisis is even more so, but showing leadership during a global crisis such as COVID-19, is a pivotal moment in your company history.

This is when you decide what kind of leader you want to be, and how you want your company to be remembered.

The companies that are proactive and agile are the ones that will survive. The companies that care about their remote workers and show empathy in these difficult times are the ones that will thrive.

Brain Kropp, the Vice President of research at Gartner, says that what employers do now will define their employer brand for years to come.

You may be wondering what an employer brand is. Essentially, your employer brand is what attracts the best talent to work for you. It's a mix of your company's identity, your Employer Value Proposition, and the messages that you send to potential candidates.

So why does that matter? Don't you have bigger problems to deal with than your branding and image? Is everything really about Public Relations?

Yes. How you react to COVID-19 now is how you will be remembered as a company for long after the crisis is over.

According to the Willis Towers Watson survey

"95% of the respondents believe senior leaders have demonstrated a sincere interest in employee wellbeing and 85% believe employees have trust and confidence in the job being done by senior execs."

These companies are obviously doing something right. What will you do?

Are you going to be the boss that leaves their team out to dry? Or are you going to engage in best practices for engaging and motivating your team? Will you be a servant leader?

Everything you've read, listened to, watched, and learned about leadership has boiled down to this moment. Is that overwhelming? Definitely. Is it doable? Certainly. If you don't believe me, this is what top companies in the US are doing for their employees, so much so, that the article is named "Covid-19 May Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Employee Engagement."

So how are you going to take advantage of the seemingly impossible situation at hand and thrive?

How to Engage Your Remote Workers

Here are the top five tips covered in this article to keep your remote workers engaged.

  1. Aim to be the CEO (Chief Empathy Officer)

  2. Open Communication Lines--and Keep them Open

  3. Protect Your Workers

  4. Set Up Your Team for Success

  5. Create a Fun Remote Work Culture

1. Aim to be CEO (Chief EMPATHY Officer)

Leaders must make sure that they are taking care of their team. As Josh Bersin, HR leader, says "when people don’t feel safe, supported, or emotionally secure, they simply cannot do their jobs."

Great leaders are leaders who care about their team and take care of them.

During this crisis, CEOs should be more empathetic towards the needs of their employees.

Does someone on your team have young children and is now working at home where their time is riddled with distractions? Is there someone who is having trouble adapting to remote work? Someone who is anxious or distraught by the uncertainty in the world?

Listen and cater to these people and their needs. If you take care of them, they'll take care of your company.

2. Open communication lines--and keep them open

Workers who feel alienated are less likely to feel engaged in their work.

The best way to make sure that your workers feel like they are still part of the company regardless of working at home is to improve your company's internal communication tenfold.

How can you improve internal communication?

  • Check-in with, or create a process to check-in with everyone working remotely on a regular basis; it doesn't have to be you but make sure that your managers are reaching out to their team and communicating about work efficiency

  • Create and disseminate employee surveys meant to assess motivation, engagement, and job satisfaction, and listen to the feedback

  • Be open about mental health and encourage team discussions about best methods to cope with anxiety and pressure

  • Set up digital delivery platforms (such as videoconferencing and instant-messaging platforms) so your team can communicate with one another and collaborate in virtual formats

3. Protect your workers

Being Chief Empathy Officer requires that you listen to your team's biggest struggles and that you provide solutions quickly.

Whether you chose your employees yourself or your head of Human Resources did, each person was hired to do a job and do it well. But just as you would provide the tools and resources your team needs in an office setting, you must do now as they work remotely. Only, those needs have changed.

How can you take care of your employees?

  • Ensure they have the proper equipment to work from home

  • Give employees more flexible benefits

  • Improve work at home programs

  • Give employees free wellness education

  • Encourage employees to take paid vacation

  • Help furloughed people find new jobs

  • Provide financial aid to help your employees pay their loans

  • Provide financial counseling to help your employees manage debt and savings

When your team feels cared for, and they have the necessary resources to do their job well, they will be much more engaged as they work from home.

4. Set your team up for success

Working from home means that your team now has more time on their hands. They don't have to worry about commuting, or getting the children ready for school. They can eat breakfast at their desks and work in their pajama pants if they choose.

Why not encourage learning during their spare time?

Has one of your employees always had an interest in app development but never had the time? Is someone on your team good at design and wishes they had more time to develop their skills in Adobe Suite? Does someone on your marketing team want to get better at Search Engine Optimization?

Although the pandemic has caused massive changes, they're not all bad. Numbers of engaged people on social media are climbing, and so are the hours that professionals are spending on honing in their skills and increasing their personal success.

How to encourage learning:

  • Knowledge is never wasted. Encourage your team to seek out programs, courses, and certificates.

  • Or have your Human Resources team develop training packages and programs.

A person who feels that their company is investing in them is more likely to stay with that company in the long term. Invest in your employees and they will take care of the company.

How to encourage personal success:

  • Invest in coaching. It goes without saying that a person who understands their strengths and in turn their areas for improvement is valuable to a company. For example, individuals who receive coaching, (such as that based on the Clifton Strengths Assessment) will undertake tasks that play to their natural strengths and perform better. Take the guesswork out of leading your team and find out what potential lies within your organization.

  • Tailor your approach according to individual strengths and preferences. Is someone on your team extremely extroverted and is having a tough time adjusting to remote work? Check-in with them more and consider doing daily check-ins as a team to keep the culture strong. Gallup suggests setting up an opt-in reminder system that would act as daily motivation. See below for an example.

  • Define measurable goals for each team member. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to motivate and engage your team.

"Managers have to be explicit about the remote workers' responsibilities and metrics--and excellence should always be the standard.
That said, managers and employees should define success together, based on the worker's talents... [and] your expectations for your employees must be clear and achievable for them."

- Adam Hickman and Jennifer Robinson, Gallup

Clear expectations are a must, but as the co-authors say, you also have to respect what is within reach for your team.

How to define expectations for your remote team and ensure they are met:

  • Set deadlines. When does the marketing project need to be done? What date can you reasonably expect your development team to have a functioning product? Be as specific as possible.

  • Create project milestones. If your remote team is managing a big project, it helps to break it up into chunks. Then encourage your team to reach out whenever a milestone is reached so you can be in the loop and provide guidance for the next phase.

  • Create a code of conduct for all remote work. You don't have to be strict in the beginning, because it will take time for your team to adjust, but after a few weeks, and especially after you've implemented the solutions your team needs to work effectively, you should give some thought to a code of conduct.

5. Create a Fun Remote Work Culture

Lastly, you should aim to make your work culture even stronger in times in which your team is physically separated. Consider asking your marketing team to create engaging team culture games like the one below, or do challenges.

You can also encourage everyone to play mindfulness bingo (shown above) or hold a bake-off on a designated baking Slack Channel. On that channel, your team would be able to share recipes they made over the weekend and share photos of how it turned out.

These are cost-effective ways to keep your team engaged and having fun while stuck at home. Tip: find the templates above and many more on Canva, and use any social media platform to disseminate them.

Get creative with your team's emotional health. Nothing grows a company like a team that sticks together in difficult times!


How to be a Great Leader

and Engage Your Remote Team

Being a great leader in times of crisis is about caring for your team and showing genuine empathy. Once you commit to understanding challenges and opening communication lines you will be able to provide direction.

However, you also want to provide the conditions to optimize work performance by doing everything in your power to solve problems and improve your team's skills on an individual level.

Lastly, the Internet has made it easier than ever to engage, so make sure that you encourage your team to take part in fun activities when they're not working, and build that team culture.

If you're feeling motivated or inspired to take your leadership game to the next level, Cantera Leadership offers Clifton Strength's Virtual Workshops for both you and your team!

Keep everyone engaged during the pandemic and in the future once you're through this forced experiment.

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