3 Strategies to Ensure Remote Employees Remain Engaged and Productive

by Mark Marone  |  October 15, 2020

As I explored in an earlier blog, there’s considerable debate on whether organizations should get people back to the physical office asap or keeping them working remotely. If you ask employees, few want to continue working remotely 100% of the time.

However, most also say they would prefer to keep doing so at least occasionally. As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, a lot remains unknown: How long before we are able to effectively control this pandemic? When will we go back to the office and what will that look like?

We can’t know the answers to these questions with certainty. What is certain is that leaders should be thinking about how to get the best from those working from home – both for the present and into the future.

The good news is that WFH isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition for most organizations. Instead, companies can benefit from looking closely at the challenges and benefits coming from this forced WFH experiment and determine how best to support people, wherever they may be, even after office work becomes viable again.

There are several ways in which leaders and organizations can help foster productivity and performance by addressing important factors that underlie these issues.

Identify and Prevent Work from Home Burnout

While some people thrive by integrating work with their life; others perform better by keeping them separate (a recent HBR article referred to them as integrators and segmentors). Especially for those forced to work from the kitchen table, blurring the lines between work and home can increase the risk of burnout. This inability to escape the visual reminders of work at the end of the day can mean their minds never get a rest from the pressures of work.

While some of the proposed solutions may be new, the issue is an old one: getting your mind to let go of what’s in the past – even if that’s just moments or hours ago – to live in the present. As Dale Carnegie advised in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living: “Living life in day-tight compartments” can have tremendous benefits for our ability to deal with stress and live better lives.

We can apply the same concept by living in “workday-tight compartments”, finding ways to leave work behind and give ourselves the opportunity to be fully-present in our non-work hours. In fact, Microsoft is exploring a “virtual commute” feature they believe will help people wind down from the work day by creating a ritual that, like a commute, officially marks the end of work each day. That feature may not be valuable to everyone: different people are more productive at different times of the day and in different environments.

Rather than assume that integrating work is a problem for everyone and forcing all employees into a “hard stop” at the end of the day or ignoring the fact that others ARE genuinely struggling WITHOUT a hard stop, leaders can show real flexibility by accommodating BOTH through helping people recognize their own situation, validating differences, and supporting them in doing what’s needed to maximize their own performance and mental health.

That leads me to the second focus for getting the best from people in times such as these: resilience.

Build Employee Resilience During the COVID-19 Crisis

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is the ability to cope, recover and learn from disruptive events, and we believe it’s one of the most critical advantages an organization can have in times of rapid change of uncertainty.

There are a number of things that leaders can do to strengthen resilience in their people, teams and organizations. For individuals, helping people feel confident and supporting a positive outlook is a good place to start.

We also know that people are more productive when they receive recognition and appreciation for their work. While there’s been room for improvement in this area even prior to Covid-19 – our research has consistently found that it’s one of leaders’ biggest “blind spots” in their efforts to inspire workers to give their best efforts – a recent survey found that almost half of respondents (47%) said they have been frustrated by their efforts not being recognized during the pandemic. That makes now a good time to evaluate your recognition programs, reinforce the importance of providing recognition as a critical responsibility for leaders at every level in your organization and ensuring your end-of-year performance management activities include a strong element of sincere appreciation for people’s efforts.

Social Intelligence Can Drive Better Outcomes – But Only If Organizations Take This Chance to Prioritize It

Social intelligence refers to people’s ability to deal with challenging social contexts effectively; understanding others’ concerns, feelings and emotional states; and knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it in order to build and maintain positive relationships with others.

It’s a big part of what creates trusting relationships – whether personal or professional. Whereas uncertainty, apprehension and anxiety can kill productivity, collaboration and innovation, helping people feel connected and empowered can enhance those things.

The solution to these challenges may involve strategically using in-person opportunities (adhering to guidelines to keep them as safe as possible, of course) to their maximum effect. Recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that he doesn’t see his company’s future as 100% remote. Instead it will be a hybrid model that includes planned on-sites to bring people together because “we firmly believe that in-person, being together, having that sense of community, is super important for whenever you have to solve hard problems, you have to create something new.”

Some research suggests that younger workers, especially, are missing out on mentoring and making connections since being forced to WFH. According to the same survey, they may be “less likely to feel as if they’ve made a difference or completed the work they needed to do at the end of a typical workday”.

A lack of face-to-face interaction between employees and supervisors may hamper the exchange of feedback, and the same problem across teams may result in problems with information flow across the organization and the development of silos.

Ensuring that people across the organization are skilled at communicating with each other is essential to keeping people connected with others and with the organization’s purpose, especially since WFH provides fewer opportunities to “get it right”.

For leaders who recognize the value of developing these skills in their organization, bringing people together for training around topics such as interpersonal skills and leadership – both of which research suggests may be more effective when taught using a blended approach that includes live instruction – is an  opportunity to achieve two goals at once.

WFH may yet reveal new opportunities or challenges to productivity and performance that we haven’t yet encountered. In the meantime, it makes sense to begin addressing those that have already become apparent. It’s clear now that getting the most from a workforce that includes a WFH element – whether 100% remote or a hybrid – requires supporting real flexibility in work arrangements, developing resilience, providing adequate recognition and enhancing communication skills and social intelligence at all levels of an organization.

If you’d like to know more about how Dale Carnegie Training can help you achieve some of those goals, we’d be happy to talk with you.


Written By

Mark Marone

Mark Marone, PhD. is the director of research and thought leadership for Dale Carnegie and Associates where he is responsible for ongoing research into current issues facing leaders, employees and organizations world-wide. He publishes frequently on various topics including leadership, the employee/customer experience and sales. Mark can be reached at mark.marone@dalecarnegie.com.