Going Remote: New Realities for Virtual Employee Engagement

Raise your hand if you have found the past six months of remote work exhausting. Not taking into account the broader issues surrounding us—our families’ health and safety, online schooling, civil rights protests, the U.S. election cycle—our exhaustion is coming from the changing realities of remote work.

Our working worlds have changed. Our teams are not available for a quick in-person chat, or meeting up for lunch or a snack in the kitchen. Instead, ad hoc chats and spontaneous meet-ups are now another scheduled part of a blurred work/life existence. At Opus, we had a bit of a head start on the remote work culture curve. Before COVID, 35% of our workforce was working remotely across 17 states. Just like us, with remote work as the norm and not the exception, all companies are looking for ways to drive employee engagement in new and sustainable ways.

Pre-COVID Employee Engagement Strategies Were Already Shifting

There have been numerous drivers over the past ten years impacting employee engagement: the addition of digital natives to the workforce, generational diversity, social-first collaboration tools, and the expansion of remote workforces. These changes pushed brands to shift their employee engagement goals and investment priorities. We are pushing beyond legacy employee engagement goals (such as building individual knowledge) to modern plans focused on team building. In this shift, progressive brands are prioritizing purpose, culture, and team dynamics as the core of their employee engagement programs. Skills and knowledge development are now table stakes .

Top-down, bottom-up, peer-to-peer: leading brands see how employee communications and employee experience are more critical than ever. Our client, Google, maintains a research project to study the 10 behaviors common among Google’s best managers and their impact on employee engagement. From these studies, and our experience developing our remote culture at Opus, we’ve learned an emphasis on cross-organizational collaboration is key to employee engagement .

Activating Employee Engagement Today

With a strong culture as the foundation, employee experience teams are catalyzing and nurturing their teams across five employee engagement pillars.

The pillars of engaging your employees

At Opus, we define these pillars as:

  • Declaring: This is the platform for your employee experience engagement. Tactics include an employee intranet or culture video—an overt, genuine definition of your company culture.
  • Framing: Stories about how your company demonstrates your culture day in and out. This could be first-person employee stories shared internally and externally, or maybe awards and recognition programs.
  • Engaging: A campaign-style approach to employee engagement. Think about the various engagement channels and focus on catalyzing brand champions through physical and virtual swag.
  • Surrounding: Once immersed in the culture, continue to envelop employees with culturally appropriate experiences. Donut Day, anyone?
  • Modeling: Be sure to champion those who elevate your culture by providing them with the tools and resources (and the incentive!) to support the company’s goals.

Shifting to Digital-First Engagement

As we head into 2021, leading brands—including many of our clients—are implementing their plans to support employee engagement pillars in digital-first ways. These companies are finding ways to keep sales kick-offs, all-hands, or leadership meetings relevant by capturing attention and creating connections that drive culture and success in this new reality.

Every company is unique, and every opportunity needs to be custom for your culture. Take, for example, the all-employee Trivia Challenge that popped up at Opus in early April. Across our global offices, our team members connected and learned from each other in new and inspiring ways. Our team conceived our Trivia Challenge and grew organically to be a very popular Friday afternoon activity.

While the Opus culture inspires our teams to act and create new experiences, we know successful businesses cannot leave it to the employees to drive the whole brand’s culture. We may not be able to meet in large groups or host a traditional in-person company meeting right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create meaningful connections and experiences until we can meet again.

As business leaders, we need to invest in the small things that showcase team cultures, like quirky employee-only swag that embodies your culture during video meetings, and the big things that are meaningful to employee well-being, like on-brand safety kits that show your company’s thoughtfulness. Altogether, and more than ever, our clients and agency teams have embraced new opportunities to improve communication, collaboration, and sharing in transparent, meaningful, and culture-driven ways. The payoff comes from closer, stronger teams thriving as a robust, engaged workforce.

Looking for new ways to engage your team? Reach out—we’d love to help.

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