Effective ways of keeping remote employees engaged

Written by

Dan Gates


April 23, 2021

People are sociable by nature, and we often look to our peers to guide and motivate us. This is particularly evident in the workplace. Our colleagues help us with problem-solving, upskilling and creative thinking. Furthermore, the feeling of being surrounded by like-minded people with a shared goal is key to both performance and productivity. But what happens when we are no longer with our peers, with interactions going from in-person to being in front of pixelated screens?

COVID-19 has seen more people than ever swapping their corporate desk for their home office. Many people have welcomed the change, giving them additional flexibility as well as many other benefits. However, with new ways of working come new challenges. When working from home, employees won’t be in physical proximity to colleagues who keep spirits high and offer assistance where needed.

Remote work can be particularly challenging when you manage a department or team. You will want to avoid a ‘big brother’ approach, where you are pinging endless Slack messages or holding unnecessary Zoom calls. However, when people are isolated from their colleagues they may begin focusing solely on their individual tasks and disassociating themselves from the rest of the team. 

People perform well when they understand their specific contribution to a company’s long-term goals. This requires them to be engaged with a wider network of peers. Given the current circumstances, we also cannot overlook the importance of maintaining a positive team morale.

So how can we increase employee engagement for remote workers? Below are some ideas for engaging virtual teams, helping leaders to maintain morale and cultivate a better team environment.

How to engage remote employees

Introduce the team

Starting a new job in a remote environment can be a daunting prospect. Therefore, it is crucial to invest in a thoughtful and considered onboarding process. This can include scheduling an introductory meeting with a new employee’s line manager, where they can set some initial performance and development goals.

One of the most important parts of an onboarding process is a robust and transparent structure. This means that new hires will understand what is expected of them as they find their feet. A 2016 study found that new hires who underwent a structured onboarding process were 58% more likely to stay with a company after three years.


Of course, it’s not all about KPIs and training plans! Any great onboarding process will also ensure that new employees are integrated with the rest of their team. This will help them build productive and enriching working relationships. You may want to suggest a social call after working hours, so new employees can begin to build positive relationships from the get-go. For teams using Totem, we recommend adding new starters to your Totem account in the weeks before they start, so they can get to know their peers, how teams communicate, and what work gets celebrated, to give them the best chance of “hitting the ground running.”

Celebrate success

As businesses have had to adjust rapidly to new circumstances, many people have seen their workload increase. Therefore, a bit of positivity and appreciation can go a long way. Team motivation is what drives your company’s productivity, so reinforcing the fact that they are part of something bigger will help boost morale and encourage better performance. 40% of US employees state that they’d put more energy into their work if they received more recognition.

Regular doses of positivity over shared communication channels are an excellent way of maintaining morale between remote employees. Recognition can be both professional and personal, from congratulating team successes to celebrating milestones like birthdays and anniversaries.

Schedule in virtual social time 

Socialising with colleagues can fortify a sense of belonging within a team. We often want to do our best for those around us, especially when we have great working relationships with them.

A brief chat by the coffee machine can also give us a boost and break up our working day. This is why it’s so important to retain face-to-face communication where possible. Research suggests that incorporating time to talk rather than simply sending an email can have a 10-15% increase in productivity. This is known as the ‘water cooler’ effect.

Fortunately, the opportunities for virtual socialising are limitless. For instance, rather than simply having Friday night drinks over Zoom, other ideas for fun team-building activities include quizzes, online multiplayer games or even a virtual escape room. 

Use the right communication tools

Communication is key when it comes to remote employee engagement. Making sure you use the right tools to communicate can make a huge difference to your team. A primary example of this is using collaborative tools and instant messaging platforms such as Slack. These tools can maintain an open flow of conversation, whilst also making reaching out less formal and more immediate.

When managing a remote team, there can always be the temptation to check in too frequently. While you’ll want to keep abreast of performance, virtual tools can make it easy to lapse into micro-managing. Most virtual communication tools allow employees to update their ‘status’ to show whether, for instance, they are absent or in a meeting. Therefore, encourage employees to update their status to ‘do not disturb’ if they are in the middle of an important task.

Teams may find it useful to segment their tools or channels for more effective communication.

This could involve having separate channels within a single platform, each with a distinct purpose, or employing multiple channels. For example, teams may use Slack for client-facing communication, whilst using a platform such as Totem for socialising and peer recognition. This means employees can mute any low-priority channels whilst ensuring they don’t miss out on any high priority updates.

Organise one-to-one calls

Whether in the office or not, employers must take the time to have one-to-one meetings with their employees to check in on progress. It only takes a short, regular face-to-face video call to help employees feel that their needs are being met. This creates an open space for discussion, where team members and employers can talk over feedback and share concerns and opinions. 

That being said, recent studies show that many people are feeling drained by an excessive amount of virtual meetings (otherwise known as ‘Zoom fatigue’). Citigroup recently hit headlines for launching ‘Zoom-free Fridays’, helping employees maintain a positive work-life balance as well as focusing on key tasks. Therefore, you should try to avoid excessive Zoom calls. Any necessary virtual calls should also be planned as far in advance as possible, so your team can structure their workload accordingly. 

Make it a priority

It goes without saying that employee engagement should be up there on the list of every employer’s top priorities. During a time when working from home isn’t always a choice, it’s important to make sure employees are still feeling part of a team. Using the right tools, there’s no reason morale and productivity shouldn’t be as high as in the office.

Totem has launched an innovative platform to help teams stay connected, so everyone remains part of a wider workplace culture. Our team engagement app is designed to facilitate great communication. Not only can managers reward outstanding performance, but team members can recognise the accomplishments of their peers both in and out of work. The Totem platform also generates a wide range of in-depth workplace culture insights, helping leaders accurately measure engagement across their organisation.

Want to boost team morale and improve productivity in your business?
Request a demo of the Totem platform today.