2020 has given us a proverbial butt-whoopin'. At this point, you probably cringe every time you hear the words "COVID-19" or "pandemic" only because the terms are completely unavoidable in almost any conversation. Ready or not, nearly every organization was forced into remote work. At first, this change was thought to be temporary. However, top companies like Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Uber, Shopify and many others have committed to offer long-term remote work. A Business Insider survey reports that 2 out of 3 businesses may be working from home forever.
Instead of just trying to get by, organizations are now being very deliberate in creating a positive, sustainable remote experience for their teams. You might be wondering how your remote workers feel about the changes you’re making. Whether you work in the office or from home, employee experience matters. At the same time, companies often think of their employees after their customers, which can cause retention and recruitment issues down the line.
What Is Employee Experience?
It's probably safe to say that your company has the customer experience down to a science. You:
- Have a variety of lead generating activities in place
- Work with your sales team to close the deal
- Build up your customer success professionals to work with customers
- Innovate with your service or product offering
Your customers are well taken care of, but when did you last look at your employees? Are your employees feeling the love with a well-thought-out employee experience? If you take a closer look, how do your virtual teams feel?
Your employee experience can be defined as the journey your employees take from when they apply to the time they leave your company. You want to understand this journey so that you can build an experience that reflects well on you and your organization while pleasing your growing employee roster.
What Makes Employee Experience Different for Virtual Employees?
Virtual employees can be tricky for HR professionals, especially if you work with a group of employees in the office daily. You have to go out of your way to ensure that you are spending time with virtual employees and guiding them down the right career path. Communication with virtual employees is also a challenge because of potential communication issues over email and Slack. Having both the right strategy and tools is vital to maintaining company culture with a remote workforce.
8 Ways to Improve Employee Experience for Remote Workers
Now that you understand why you should care about your virtual employees’ experience, consider these eight ways to improve:
1. Ensure Virtual Employees Have Everything They Need to Succeed
One of the first tips to improve your virtual employees’ experience is to ensure that your team has everything they need to succeed. In the office, it’s tremendously easy to tell which employees have their needs met and which ones don’t. You see office workers at least every week, you see their office space, and you can easily see when you need to step in.
When employees work from home, it can be easy to go weeks without chatting if you aren’t careful.
- Create a baseline of things you provide for all virtual employees, like a laptop and a stipend for their home office.
- Build a form where virtual employees can request things like upgraded office gear or standing desks.
- Reward loyalty by improving your team’s office once they meet certain anniversary milestones.
- Encourage employees to use the points they earn through peer recognition programs like Nectar on things that upgrade their work set up.
2. Focus on Well-Being
Working from home is something most people aren't used to. It can be a bit out of their comfort zones. Combine that with all the chaos and uncertainty in the world and you've got a recipe for stress, depression and heightened mental illness. Take the initiative and set aside some budget to offer a stipend or reimbursement for employees who engage in activities that will improve their well-being.
Here are some ideas of things they could do with the stipend:
- Buy gear for at-home workouts, enroll in virtual workouts or go to a local gym if open.
- Get a Headspace subscription for daily meditation.
- Get virtual, on-demand counseling through Betterhelp or Talkspace
An investment in well-being not only shows employees you care, it also helps them be happier, more productive and boost overall employee engagement.
3. Create Clear Boundaries for Work Activities
Remote employees are working a lot. Why do remote employees work so hard? Simple. It can be challenging turning work off when you work from home. Also, meetings can increase during this time, making it hard to find the focus time needed to get the job done.
Here are some ideas to help you set clear boundaries for work activities:
- Limit the number of unproductive meetings.
- Let employees set office hours during the week that they’d like to be active.
- Ensure that no meetings or work take place on the weekend, where possible.
- Create limits for employees who can work overtime.
- Ask your employees to let you know if they are struggling to find adequate focus time.
4. Update Rules and Policies to Flow With Remote Work
Often we make rules that work in an office environment but don’t flow for remote workers. For example, you might have a rule about working during 9-5. If you employ someone who works in a different time zone, what are their expectations? You need to adjust your rules for time zones to ensure that employees don’t need to wake up early or stay up late to do their job correctly.
5. Check-in Often
If you want your virtual employees to succeed, you need to check in on them often. Set a weekly or twice a month 1:1 with each employee you manage. During that time:
- Get to know their workload.
- Ask if they need help with anything.
- Assign projects that need more context and nuance.
- Build rapport with that employee.
- Let them know that you care and that you’re there if they need you.
One-on-ones are a great way to keep in touch with remote employees. Make sure that you put these one-on-ones on a calendar so they don’t get skipped. You can also use tools like OfficeVibe or TinyPulse to help automate feedback and 1:1's (both of these tools integrate with Slack to make things even easier).
6. Use Your Company Values to Guide Your Actions
Simply put: values matter. Your values should guide how you treat employees and what they should expect from their employee experience.
Take a look at your company values. Are you showcasing those values when dealing with virtual employees? Remember, values are more than an external measurement of your business. These should also guide internal actions.
7. Ensure Benefits You Provide Work for All Your Employees
Benefits are tricky, especially when you deal with virtual employees in a variety of locations. Virtual employees deserve benefits that work for them.
Connect with your company’s benefits administrator (or hire one) to take stock of your current benefits. Can you offer those same benefits to employees who live out of your state or country? How do your current virtual employees feel about the benefits you offer? What can you do better to protect your people?
Your benefits administrator should be able to help you create a plan for all your people.
8. Ask Your Employees About What They Need
Last but not least, ask your employees what they need.
Be upfront about your experience with virtual employees, and let them know you want to serve them better. We can give you general tips to improve the remote working, but nothing we say will be as valuable as how your employees feel.
Talk with them, take action on their recommendations, and build a company that every employee is proud to work for. Use a pulse survey tool to automate continuous feedback.
Now that you understand the importance of employee experience and how to improve it for your virtual employees, we have a challenge for you. Take one of the suggestions we shared in today’s article and implement it at your company. Set goals and initiatives around how you can improve employee engagement despite the hurdles that COVID-19 has presented.
Your organization's remote employee experience won’t change if you don’t start setting goals and taking actions to help create a better work environment. One small step today can make a gigantic difference in the lives of your remote workers and their well-being.