Building Engagement Among Your Remote Workforce

August 9, 2016

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of posts on the topic of remote workers. Check out the other two blogs here and here.)

It’s 8:30 AM, and you’re nestled in your favorite sweats, looking out your window at your picturesque backyard flower beds, sipping your favorite brand of tea. Ahhh, sounds amazing. Contrast this to feeling squished in a pencil skirt that you hate but it was the only nice thing not at the dry cleaners, staring at miles of gridlock traffic, with convenience store coffee accidentally splashed on your white dress shirt. Ick (can I go back to the flower beds, please?). Working from the comfort of your home definitely has its perks. Not just for your wardrobe and sanity, but also in promoting improvements to productivity, work/life balance, and your overall happiness. It’s the reason why over 37 percent of US workers are now telecommuting (an increase of +23 percent since 2010).

As an HR leader, you can easily empathize with the benefits of offering remote work environments and flexible schedules as perks for your employees—but at the same time, anxiety can creep in when realizing that less face time could impact employee engagement or your overall company culture. At Blueboard, 25 percent of our staff is fully remote, and for employees at HQ we’ve adopted Work from Home Wednesdays to benefit teammates with long commutes, or who feel more productive working from home. Read along for a few best practices we’ve learned to help you become a telecommuting champion for your company and—as deserved—reap all of the benefits.

1. Promote Active Communication. Working from home doesn’t mean getting the permission to go dark. It’s crucial for managers to feel confident in the work output of their direct reports choosing to work remotely, so open lines of communication are a must. And for the employee, open communication helps them feel more intertwined with the day-to-day goings on of the company, and it helps them build stronger, personal relationships.

Encourage employees to stay active and signed in on shared communication platforms like Google Hangouts, Slack, or Yammer, so that managers or their employee peers feel comfortable reaching out, and confident in receiving a timely response. Platforms like Slack are also a great outlet for the witty, informal conversations that help bring out your teammates’ individual personalities, building culture (even if in the form of awkward GIFs, Pokémon Go leaderboards, or links to funny articles online).

2. Get Up Close and Personal. Utilize video conferencing tools when possible to literally bring remote employees to life. Video is proven to promote more authentic, relaxed conversations that help foster relationships (because small talk on the phone can be painful), and as a manager lets you better read people’s emotions, non-verbal cues, and body language during more serious conversations.

Invest in video conferencing tools like HighFive, Zoom, or try more cost-effective options like Google Hangouts to prove out your business need. Begin setting the standard that all meetings should be video-based unless location doesn’t permit, even for more casual 1:1’s or quick catch ups.

3. Energize Your Recurring Meetings. Let’s face it, weekly stand-ups or team meetings can sometimes be a bore when you’re on the other side of the camera working remote, and it’s easy to find yourself multitasking on other projects.  

I recently met with the team at Five by Five, a global creative agency with over 100 employees across four offices (land and sea). To promote creativity and a culture of fun, they’ve adopted the Dollar General Pitch. How it works: creative teams go out and buy $50 of random stuff from a Dollar General or similar store and assign the items across small groups of teams. Bi-weekly, the company comes together over video conference and competing teams have three minutes to give their elevator pitch. Judging teammates will raise their hands if they want to hear more (like the Voice), or as Heidi Klum would famously say, “You’re out.” The event has been incredibly well-attended and helps to bond the international teams (not to mention keeping those healthy creative juices flowing).

Not a creative agency but still like to have fun? Consider adopting similar challenges held over VC for building sales pitch skills (i.e. pretend to pitch your product to Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé or another celebrity), customer service objection handling, or other skill-building exercises related to your business’ core competency. Renowned Cisco virtual manager Hassan Osman also shares a few fun virtual team-building exercises that enable your remote employees to share pieces of their personal lives or other fun facts in a less forced and awkward way.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to enforce engagement during team meetings (i.e., laptops down unless you’re presenting something)—so that employees make the most of the scheduled time together, and to help the remote employee feel like they have the team’s full attention.

4. Recognize and Celebrate, In A Sharable Way. Above all else, it’s critical for remote employees to feel like they have the same exposure and opportunities for advancement as their peers in HQ (which for remote employees can be a real fear). This is where your recognition and rewards program comes in. At Blueboard, we’ve witnessed the success of companies with a wide network of remote employees reward with tactics that are inherently shareable, and fun to celebrate. Like experiences as rewards.

Enter Chloe + Isabel, a jewelry lifestyle brand and pioneer of social retail dedicated to empowering the next generation of women entrepreneurs—by enabling them to become independent Merchandisers. The c+i team awarded their top Merchandisers who met aggressive holiday sales goals with Blueboard White Gold awards—their choice of awesome experiences like music lessons, fine dining, spa packages, or tickets to a pro sports game. Unlike cash rewards that are often kept quiet, Merchandisers were encouraged to tag social media while going out and about on their experiences, share their experience photos on community boards, and their quotes of positive feedback and enjoyment were updated on the c+i internal rewards hub to build further excitement. Not only did experiences prove to be a reward worth hustling for, but they also enabled the Merchandiser community to bond and celebrate with each other virtually.

Managing and building engagement for your remote workforce is an exciting challenge that can reap real benefits for your business’ bottom line (just ask these guys). It’s up to you to apply some of these learnings to ensure that employees feel heard, feel bonded, and feel recognized.  


Morgan Chaney is the Head of Marketing at Blueboard, an experiential employee rewards platform for the modern workplace. She is also the Editor of Blueboard’s blog, which covers topics like employee engagement, culture, and recognition. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Broadcasting from Oklahoma State University and currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

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