Remote employee engagement, wellbeing and representation all depend on regular, candid communication. But while the web is full of tips on the language of virtual communication and remote socializing, there’s relatively little on how teams should feed back on the remote experience itself. So how do you go about it? What kinds of mechanisms and virtual spaces can you provide to help remote employees participate in your culture? And how can you encourage input to make sure everyone’s voice is heard?
The rise of distributed working will put more than mere physical distance between colleagues, with each worker effectively experiencing their own individual work experience. This will undoubtedly limit how far we’re able relate to our colleagues; if we can’t see how they’re doing and we aren’t a direct part of their daily experiences, there will always be – to some extent at least – a sense of detachment.
This detachment could also potentially inhibit employee union and make it harder to participate in company culture. Working from our own home office, it will becomes difficult to know whether other people are being treated equally, as well as share our successes and frustrations, and work together to improve the remote work experience for everyone.
As with almost all remote work challenges, effective and proactive communication is central to overcoming this. There isn’t really any way to downplay the importance of feedback: studies show that both giving and receiving feedback is enormously important for millennials, who make up over half the workforce. So before your company rolls out a long-term remote work policy, make sure you have robust mechanisms in place to keep the fractured remote experience visible and respond to individual needs.
For all our reliance on async communication, it’s important to establish regular one-to-one meetings with employees where you can review projects, performance, and find out how people are feeling. Loneliness is one of the most common complaints for remote workers, so if an employee is feeling isolated, it’s essential to bridge this gap as soon as possible. The only way you can do this is by keeping two-way feedback regular, consistent and personal. Weekly or bi-weekly video meetings are good ways of doing this, as seeing each other’s faces – even through a screen – can help build trust and encourage honest feedback. The more secure and connected an employee feels, the more open they’ll be with their communication.
One-to-ones are only one part of the feedback puzzle. You should also take advantage of new virtual technology to gather employee feedback – particularly anonymous feedback. Thankfully, the rise of remote working means we can also expect a rise in the technology that measures remote working experiences. Try using Vevox, an anonymous polling app that encourages employees to give frank feedback without fear of retribution, or the anxiety of having to give further details. If your team relies on Slack for most of its digital communication, you may want to try Polly, which is designed to work alongside Slack and is very effective at gathering anonymous employee data. Such qualitative feedback works well alongside one-to-one approaches, and will provide companies with a more holistic sense of how their employees are doing.
On a more human level, there are also ways to get feedback on a group basis. This can actually be more effective than one-to-one feedback, creating a safe space for collective empathy and support; just hearing someone else voice a point similar to their own can give employees the confidence to share their ideas and opinions. Consider organizing away days and workshops facilitated by employees themselves, which allow remote employees to meet up and talk face-to-face. If your budget won’t stretch to it, be sure to work these sessions into company meetups. Not only is this a good opportunity to promote a healthy feedback culture, but it’s also a great chance for employees to build relationships and trust – both with their coworkers, and with the company as a whole.
Keeping your finger on the pulse of team engagement is vital to making “remote” work. Regular feedback is strongly linked to engagement, and when you’re working remotely, it can be easy to feel disconnected from what’s going on. Similar to the polling apps above, this area is witnessing a tech explosion, so there are quite a few tools to choose from. Use tools like Engagedly to track levels of engagement, survey employees for feedback, and ask for their ideas. Alternatively, create your own internal employee feedback surveys with something as simple as SurveyMonkey or Typeform. Just be sure to do some research on how to get maximum participation – namely, allow for anonymity, include factors that can be validated, and come up with an action plan.
Back in the virtual space, think about setting up focus groups to discuss company policies and creating permanent staff forums for ongoing discussion. These could take the form of casual internal channels for sharing insights and ideas (e.g. a dedicated public channel inside Slack or Basecamp), or more formal organized groups that are run by employees. The bottom line is that however you go about gathering remote employee feedback, it’s essential to create a psychologically safe environment. Remote culture might look different from office culture, but with proper communication, a bit of planning and the right tools, it’s probably much easier than you think to make feedback part of your everyday culture.