How to keep remote employees engaged

Photo of bored-looking man wearing glasses and a suit with chin on hands staring at a laptop screenA lot of people are asking variations on this question.

How to keep remote teams engaged. How to keep remote employees engaged with the company culture. How to make sure remote employees feel part of the team / part of the company. How to onboard remote employees.

And so on. And on. And on.

Apparently it’s a deep and burning issue.

Bluntly: I don’t get it.

It’s no different from before

Treat employees with respect.

Communicate effectively.

Offer development and advancement opportunities.

Make sure they know how their work fits into a bigger picture.

And for onboarding, give new employees more than a half-day overview of company policies; give them a six-month ramp-up, including regular check-ins with their manager and at least one peer mentor or “buddy.”

Okay, it is a little different

Without casual meetings in hallways and by the coffee maker, it takes more intentionality and focus to stay connected. Which is why I’ve been recommending virtual office hours for years now as part of managing remote teams.

Since remote employees can’t just stick their heads into the leader’s physical office space, they need a way to “stick their head” into a virtual space, and have permission – in fact, encouragement – to do so.

Just open up a Zoom (or your platform of choice) meeting at a specified, regular time each week, and let people know they can hop on if they want to talk. You can lock the room when someone’s there, and then anyone trying to come in knows to come back later. Or enable the “waiting room” function and let people in one at a time.

It’s the equivalent of the open office door that is then closed when someone’s with you. And it helps take the place, at least partially, of those random meetings in hallways or by the coffeepot.

Yes, I know people are talking about “Zoom fatigue.” Do it anyway. (And consider that if your team is suffering from Zoom fatigue, you’re probably holding too many other meetings.)

How to keep remote employees engaged? It's the same as before - respect, communication, opportunities - just *more intentional*. Click To Tweet

Who’s asking this “how” question?

Maybe I’m cynical, but my guess is that the companies asking how to keep remote employees engaged are the companies who were having engagement issues when everyone was in the same building. Sure, there are some ideas that may be new (I’m a little startled by the number of people on LinkedIn who called my “virtual office hours” concept “brilliant,” but hey, I’ll take it!). But in essence, it’s the same set of core principles:

Respect

Communication

Opportunity for development and advancement

And I’ll add one more point: be an engaged manager and leader

If you were doing those things before, keep doing them. If you weren’t, well, get started!


If you liked this post, you might like Managing a Remote Team (video)

Wondering how to convince your leadership to pay for professional development? This guide will help.


 

gljudson Management & Leadership

Proposing routine maintenance for … employees?

Cartoon image of three service techs with toolsYour company takes care of the things it owns.

The office HVAC system gets regular inspections. Computer hardware and software are upgraded and scanned for problems. Potholes in the parking lot are patched and resurfaced. Manufacturing equipment is routinely overhauled and serviced. Security systems are maintained.

And so on.

We wouldn’t dream of ignoring holes in the roof or keeping outdated, unsupported software on company computers. We would never skip maintenance on expensive equipment or allow critical files to be unsecured.

But what about the people?

People are any organization’s most valuable asset. And while many organizations pay lip service to this concept, sadly few follow through.

What holes are you ignoring in your staffing? How are you making sure skills are up to date? What institutional knowledge is at risk when high-performing employees seek other opportunities? Why are those employees leaving? What’s the bottom-line impact of employee turnover?

How much are you losing because you’re not conducting routine maintenance on your employee population?

Perhaps that sounds dehumanizing – implying that the individuals on your payroll need maintenance, as if they were a piece of mechanical equipment or part of your physical plant. But way too many companies are better at maintaining their physical assets than they are at supporting their people.

Does your company demonstrate the importance of their employees? Or is it just lip service? What, specifically, does your company do to show that supporting, training, coaching, and leading matters?

Perhaps your company is outstanding at all of that.

Or perhaps not. Because this is a whole lot more than annual satisfaction surveys, suggestion boxes, or public statements of support for diversity and inclusion.

What’s needed?

What do you, as an individual employee, need in order to have more fun and find more meaning in your work?

What do you, as a leader, need in order to be better at supporting your team members, your peers, and your boss?

Looking at the company as a whole, what needs do you see going unanswered?

Get specific

To be successful in presenting your case – whether it’s to executive leadership, HR, or your immediate manager – you must be clear and specific.

What, specifically, is the need? What, specifically, should be done to address it? What are the costs involved in leaving things as they are? What are the costs of the action you’re recommending?

Remember that the human brain takes loss far more seriously than gain. It is far better to not lose $100 than it is to gain $100. So emphasize what’s being lost because this “routine maintenance” for employees isn’t happening. (To calculate the cost of attrition, download the employee replacement costs spreadsheet.)

Present your case

Prepare a short executive-summary style explanation of the problem and your solution. Don’t overwhelm your audience with the details of your research or why you think this is important. You need to grab their attention right up front with what matters to them, and a long introduction won’t do that.

If you do a good job with that executive summary, they’ll ask questions. So have the details ready to back up your request.

What if they say “no”?

Invest in your own maintenance.

It’s your career that’s at stake.


If you liked this post, you might like Whose career is it, anyway?

Wondering what leadership development plan might be good for you? Take a look at the Empowered Leadership program.


gljudson Management & Leadership, Strategic thinking

Strategy: the alternative to spaghetti

Red blocks with letters spelling STRATEGY, INNOVATION, SUCCESS, PLANThrowing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks doesn’t actually work.

Supposedly a test to see if the spaghetti is cooked (if it sticks, so the theory goes, it’s done), it fails miserably. On the one hand, if your spaghetti is so well done that it actually does stick to the wall, it’s overdone for a good meal. And on the other hand, whether it sticks or not, it makes a mess. Either way, you’re likely to burn your fingers.

The term has become a metaphor for attempting random ideas to achieve an objective – the exact opposite of a well-thought-out strategic plan.

Whatever your objective may be – whether it’s a big project for your team, a shift to work-from-home for all, a leadership development plan for a distributed employee population, or simply making a decent spaghetti dinner – you’re better off stopping to think before you throw spaghetti – metaphorical or real – at the wall.

What are you actually trying to achieve?

One of the reasons spaghetti-throwing is so seductive is that we often aren’t clear about the actual objective.

If your definition of success for this effort – leadership plan or spaghetti dinner – is fuzzy, it’s no wonder you’re defaulting to random ideas.

What’s the goal?

How can you get there?

Work backwards. What do you need? What options do you have? What are the potential obstacles? What milestones do you need to meet in order to make the deadline?

Which path looks best?

Experimentation is not the same as spaghetti-throwing.

Experimentation is a well-thought-out process for testing an idea or option.

Pick the best of your potential options. Obtain the needed resources. Move forward.

Do you need to pivot?

Just because you’ve developed a strategy for achieving your goal doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work.

Your dinner guest may be on a gluten-free diet, or allergic to the tomatoes you were planning for the sauce.

Your emerging leaders may be in different time zones, or have child-care responsibilities that disrupt your planned delivery schedule.

There’s no shame in realizing that some aspect of your plan isn’t going to work.

Don’t ignore the problem, and don’t revert to spaghetti-throwing.

Think. Revise. Adapt your plans. And move forward.


If you liked this post, you might like “Sandwiches or salad? Goals matter!” (Food reference is a coincidence…)

Curious about a leadership development plan for your distributed employees? Let’s start a conversation!


gljudson Strategic thinking

The paradox of process

2020-07-27_improvement_cycleProcess is good. Process is important. Process keeps you from reinventing the wheel every time you complete a recurring task.

Without process, you run the risk (or, more accurately, the certainty!) of confusion. One client’s employer had no process for anything – proposals, contracts, customer interactions, project kick-off and closing – everything was ad-hoc, unnecessarily unclear, and fraught with misunderstandings. (Yes, she fixed it!)

BUT – and this is important – process should not be a straitjacket. 

When process becomes “this is how we’ve always done it,” you’ve got a different problem: inability to improve.

And when you confuse process and outcomes, you start sliding into failure.  “We followed the process! We did it the way we’ve always done it!” But what about the results?

Are you meeting goals? Are you achieving what you want to achieve? Could things be better? Should things be better?

It looks like a paradox, a contradiction in terms, but it’s not.

Stick to a process – and keep improving.

Follow the process – and evaluate it.

Add missing steps. Remove redundant or unnecessary steps. Explore efficiencies. Rearrange to streamline flow.

Observe. Tweak. Test.

Improvement seldom comes from a “big bang” change. Instead, improvement evolves incrementally.

Just don’t forget to communicate what you tweak, so everyone knows what’s happening.

Because in the end, that’s what process is for: consistency and efficiency for everyone involved.

gljudson Strategic thinking

Do the verb!

White neon sign reads DO SOMETHING on a black backgroundWant to be a leader?

Lead.

Want to be good at communication?

Communicate.

Want to be an author?

Write.

Want to get better at negotiating?

Negotiate.

It’s that simple.

DO THE VERB instead of wishing to be.

Is it easy? Probably not.

But you can’t get to being without doing what you want to be.

And wishing you could be only keeps you stuck in someday-land.

gljudson Career development

Helping First-Line Managers with Stress

Your first-line managers are an incredibly valuable – and vulnerable – asset. They have the most direct impact on your individual employees, and therefore on productivity, engagement, and results.

And right now they’re squashed between their own stress, their team’s stress, and their boss’s stress.

What are you doing to help them not burn out?

In this video, I offer several easy AND unusual ideas for ways to ease the stress your first-line managers are experiencing – that also might help you feel better too!

Resources

How to brainstorm effectively with a remote team: https://youtu.be/xSFvoF57DP0

This is a fabulous book from which I learned some of these tools: Never Split the Difference, by Christopher Voss. Highly recommended.

gljudson Management & Leadership, Professional empathy, Video

Identifying Emerging Leaders

Silhouettes of male and female businesspeople walking awayWhen you leave it up to managers to select employees for professional development programs, there’s a lot of uncertainty involved.

It depends on the quality of those managers. Are they good managers, alert to their employees’ accomplishments, skills, and career ambitions? Or are they overwhelmed, frustrated, and perhaps with their own political ax to grind?

What inherent – or, let’s face it, overt – bias is involved? With the recent protests against police violence and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, I think all white people, myself included, have (hopefully) had to take a harder, longer look at how employees are hired, managed, and promoted.

Meanwhile, the individual employee has little control in the process, since it’s based on whether their manager recognizes and acknowledges their hard work, “likes” them, and wants to reward them… and how careful they are to educate themselves about overcoming bias.

And this means your so-called Emerging Leaders and Hi-Po Employees are maybe not the best in the company. Maybe there are excellent candidates for management and leadership that just aren’t being noticed, recognized, acknowledged, or sponsored.

How do you fix this?

Ask for applications. Create an open process where anyone who wants to qualify for a leadership program submits a formal application.

I suggest these criteria:

  • Compile a set of questions requiring knowledge and understanding of your industry and your company. The answers should be essays, not multiple choice, in order to demonstrate the applicant’s written communication, critical thinking, and logic skills. Be careful not to expect manager-level thinking; remember, the whole point here is to qualify them for management and leadership training!
  • Ask them why they want to be a manager and leader. What does it mean to them personally? This is not the tired old question “where do you want to be in five years?” It’s about their values and desires, beyond the increase in pay, to advance and be a true leader.
  • Require a memo of recommendation from their immediate supervisor, at least one peer, and one other manager within the company.
  • Consider blind submissions, if at all possible. We know, sadly, that certain identifying characteristics – name, gender, race, and so on – trigger bias, whether unconscious or overt.
  • Convene a panel to review and rank the applications. Make sure they have clear guidelines for accuracy and readability. Ask the panel to review each application individually, and then meet as a group to go over the top candidates. How many they ultimately accept is, obviously, dependent on how you design the training-and-support program – in-house, outsourced, time span, budget, and so on.

By conducting the selection process in this way, the candidates are more involved, more engaged, and more likely to fully participate in the training program.

And you’ll discover hidden gems in your employee population that might otherwise have gone unnoticed – and perhaps have simply gone, off to a company where their qualities and talents are appreciated and rewarded.

Obviously, this takes some time and effort.

But given the risks involved, and the potential reward, isn’t it worth it?


Yes, I can help with any aspect of this (of course). Curious? Think this might help? Let’s talk about how it works and explore whether it could be a fit. No worries if not; this is just an exploration. Contact me, or jump right to my calendar.

gljudson Career development

What is your failure saying about success?

Sad-faced emoji holding a sign that reads OOPS!We get so hyperfocused on omg, FAILURE

Ugh.

Finger-pointing, excuses, project post-mortems, who screwed up, how could I be so dumb.

Wait.

Stop.

Failure in one area is success in another.

Flip the failure over. What succeeded?

No, I don’t mean in some sort of Pollyanna-ish, unicorns-rainbows-fairy-dust approach. (You really should know by now that I’m not a unicorns-rainbows-fairy-dust person.) This isn’t false positivity.

But in order for something to fail, something else must succeed. And when you understand the flip side of the failure, you can see what you need to do differently.

Did you succeed at flying by the seat of your pants?

Did you succeed at tuning out other people’s opinions?

Did you succeed at catching up with a friend from high school?

Maybe, then, you need to …

Plan better.

Listen more.

Restrict social media browsing.

These skills – flexible responses, ignoring nay-sayers, and maintaining relationships (see what I did there?) are valuable.

In the right place.

For instance, I’m great at group facilitation, responding to questions, managing discussion. And if I bury myself in the Facebook groups I belong to, my fellow group members may appreciate me, but … I’m not getting other, more-important work done.

So I can succeed very well at group engagement and support. But then I fail in other areas of my business that need tending if I’m actually going to have a business.

What are you succeeding at that may be leading to failure where it really matters?

gljudson Career development

Leading through Uncertainty: a call to action

What does it mean to be a manager and leader in a time when everything seems to be turned upside down?

Are you ready to take on the challenge?

This isn’t an easy time for anyone, especially the first-line manager. I offer three key questions to help you decide what you’ll do.

The choice is yours. Are you ready?

Resources

Check out this post on my Facebook page for more resources: https://bit.ly/glj-anti-racist-resources It’s only a few, but a solid and informative few.

Also see this article on what “defunding the police” really means: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/defund-the-police-1007254

And this from an ex-policeman: https://medium.com/@OfcrACab/confessions-of-a-former-bastard-cop-bb14d17bc759

gljudson Management & Leadership, Video