2020 gave 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 utterly 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 offering 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 digital employee 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 The Digital Employee Experience Different?
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.
Connecting with your remote team takes proper planning. As you read the article, think of ways to streamline your approach to a digital employee experience. What can you create a documented process for? How will you use these tips in your life as a manager?
Creating an employee experience strategy for your remote workers is the best part because it creates an easy to follow framework. After you've done the work once, you can typically automate parts of this process through various remote work tools like Nectar or Slack.
Create a list of the remote work tools you have and see how you can apply those tools to the list of employee experience improvements for remote workers.
22 Ways to Improve Your Digital Employee Experience for Remote Workers
If you're ready to improve the employee experience for remote workers, let's talk about strategies. We have outlined 22 ways to improve the employee experience for your virtual staff below.
Reading 22 ways to improve the employee experience for your remote workers can feel overwhelming. Take this list one step at a time. You might find that some of these ideas are hard to follow or that they don't apply. Read the list and take two or three ideas that you can research and utilize in your company. Once you have those 2-3 ideas, implement them. The best way to use this post is to take action on a few items instead of considering all 22 tips at once.
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 laptops 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. Teach Employees How To Use Remote Work Tools
If your employees are used to life in the office, they may not understand remote work tools like Zoom or Slack. Don't throw your employees into the remote work waters without training? Take a few moments to explain these tools and how you intend to use them at work.
If you think about it, you may not even understand how you intend to use these tools. For example, using @here or @channel on Slack can be extremely disturbing to company productivity. When should those be used, and when should they be avoided? Ensure you have a clear understanding so that you can teach your new and old employees the proper way to use tools like Slack at work.
One easy way to create these remote tool trainings is by using an app like Loom. With Loom, you can create a quick walkthrough video for tools you use as a team. Grab the link for these videos and include them in an onboarding document or your company Wiki to look back on later.
3. 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 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. (Or check out a forever free alternative in Medito)
- 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.
4. Get Clear About Meetings & Meeting Times
Meetings are beneficial for remote employees because they help ensure that everyone is on the same page about what's happening at work. Regular meetings are even more critical when you have remote workers because there isn't as much time for water cooler chat.
Here are some things you want to think about when it comes to meetings:
- How many meetings should there be per week?
- At a minimum, there should probably be an all-team meeting and department-wide meetings each week.
- Do you also want to do weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and employees?
- Limit the number of unproductive one-off meetings.
- Ensure all meetings have a loose plan before they get on the schedule.
- Ensure that no meetings or work take place on the weekend, where possible.
- Take into consideration all the time zones on the team.
- Use Google Calendar or a tool like Doodle to find the most agreeable times.
- If an agreeable time does not exist, record the meeting for playback later.
5. Understand How You Want To Communicate Outside Of Meetings
Besides meetings, there is a lot of back and forth communication that needs to be considered. It can seem like we are never too far from a communication tool, but what is appropriate? Set clear expectations for each communication type and when they should be used.
Do you have clear policies for emails, Slack, social media, and phone calls/text messages? If not, set boundaries, so managers and employees know what type of communication is expected.
6. Create Clear Boundaries For Work Activities
Remote employees are working a lot. Why do remote employees work so hard? Simple. It can be challenging to turn 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:
- Let employees set office hours during the week that they’d like to be active.
- Make sure that they put those times on their public calendar.
- Create limits for employees who can work overtime.
- Ask your employees to let you know if they are struggling to find adequate focus time.
7. 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.
- Revisit your employee handbooks.
- Ensure that employees read and understand the new rules in their handbooks.
- Keep up with your rules and ensure they are being followed and enforced equally.
8. 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.)
9. 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 digital
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.
Use tools like Nectar’s Recognition & Rewards platform to recognize employees who embody your values every day.
10. 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.
11. Host Occasional Retreats To Build Bonds With Remote Employees
Remote employees love working from the comfort of their own homes, but they love to come together as a team too. Company retreats give your employees a chance to come together and work as one unit. As COVID vaccines start to roll out across the country, you should be able to start dreaming of coming together as a team again.
If you’ve never hosted a company retreat before, start by hosting a yearly retreat. During this retreat, come together as a team, share your goals, talk about what’s going on in your life, and do something fun. You’ll walk away with a new sense of purpose and excitement about the work that you do as a company.
12. Enforce Vacation Policies (Even If Your Employees Can’t Go Anywhere)
How many vacation days did you use in 2020? If you’re like many employees, you probably skimped on your allotted days off. Many employers are dealing with the ramifications of the lack of employee vacations in 2020. You may have had to roll over some vacation days or scramble to figure out how to get employees to take more time off. We know the value of an extended break from work.
Help your employees brainstorm exciting things to do with their time off, even if they can't travel as much as they want to. Ensure employees who are taking vacation time stay off apps like Slack or their email if possible.
Even a good staycation can help your employees feel refreshed and ready for work!
13. Keep Tabs On Internal Hiring Within Your Company
One great way to improve your digital employee experience is internal hiring. Sometimes your employees want to try their hand at a different department (or another task within the same department.) When you have job openings at work, think about your current employees. Can they fill those roles? Doing a bit of internal hiring can do amazing things for your company and get your employees closer to the jobs they want to have.
Here are some strategies for keeping tabs on internal hires:
- Regularly update your organizational chart to keep tabs on the various seats within the organization.
- Ensure that all job openings are readily available for internal hires (even cross-departmental hires.)
- Create cross-departmental mentorship programs so that your employees can get to know different departments and job duties.
14. Create Personal/Professional Development Stipends And Grants
Professional development is essential for remote workers. How will you develop your employees and ensure they are taking time to work on themselves? If you don’t already have a professional or personal development grant or stipend at work, what are you waiting for?
Ensure that your employees have access to an employee development fund throughout the year so they can treat themselves to books, online courses, conferences, memberships, and more.
Encouraging growth in your employees will help you create an elevated workplace that keeps up with current trends and experiences in the field.
15. Get Employees Involved In The Hiring Process
Your employees want to feel connected with new hires and feel like they are shaping the company somehow. One way to do this is to get remote employees more involved in the hiring process.
Whenever you hire a new remote employee, have a few remote workers on the video call during group interviews. When your remote employees can feel connected to the organization's growth, it will instill pride in the organization.
16. Make Sure You Don’t Treat Remote Employees Equitably To In-Office Employees
If you are one of the employers who intend to have in-office employees, make sure that there isn't a massive divide between in-office and remote employees. Some gap is to be expected between people you see every day and people you don't, but make sure that your remote staff feels appreciated.
You may have to go out of your way to regularly connect with remote employees, but all the time you spend on this will be well-appreciated. Set a reminder on your calendar every day to check-in with your remote employees, whether it's a video call or a quick message on Slack.
17. Focus On Building Trust With Remote Employees
Trust is the foundation of many relationships. If you can't trust your employees, you'll soon find a rift begins to form between you and your staff. Lack of trust can be exasperated with remote work. You can't check-in on remote employees as much, and this can lead to division within your organization.
We know that remote workers tend to work longer hours and have a more challenging time with work/life balance. Do you need to log every hour of their work or look at their web history? Let your remote employees work in a way that makes sense for them. They may not need to work traditional hours, but they can still get work done and show up to regular meetings on time.
As an employer, you need quality work. Quality work might look a little different for your remote staff members.
18. Send Care Packages And Letters To Remote Employees
We all love to get a package or a letter in the mail. Show appreciation to your remote employees by sending them an occasional package or letter. If possible, avoid major holidays due to potential delays. Take time to appreciate your employees at random times throughout the year. Don't be afraid to write a letter or send a package the next time you think about one of your remote employees.
Here are some care package examples:
- Favorite snacks from your state: If you have a remote employee who lives outside of your state or country, send them some of your favorite snacks that are popular where you live.
- Fun games: Send your remote employees a copy of your favorite board game or a puzzle or two for entertainment.
- Relaxation Kit: Everyone loves a good spa night. Send your remote employee your favorite candle, face mask, or nail polish.
- New Books: We all have a favorite book. Send a copy of a book that changed you in some way, along with some fun tea/coffee and a bookmark for any bookworms on your staff.
- Wellness Package: If you have any employees who are into wellness, send them a package to get started. You might want to include a reusable water bottle, an easy workout (like a jump rope!), and even access to some of your favorite online workout classes.
Get to know your employees and what they love. Send a care package based on what they care about (or send them a friendly letter showing your appreciation because that will also be well welcomed.)
19. Get To Know The Appreciation Language Of Your Employees
We’ve talked about appreciation or love languages on the Nectar blog before. Appreciation languages are the ways that your employees want to be cared for at work. Some of your employees will enjoy words of affirmation while others enjoy gifts or even quality time.
Each of your employees has a different way of expressing and receiving love. If you want to create a unique and beneficial digital
employee experience for remote workers, you need to use this basic concept to treat your employees how they want to be treated.
20. Celebrate Important Milestones At Work
Milestones like birthdays and work anniversaries should be celebrated at work. If you don't celebrate these milestones with your employees' preferred appreciation language, it can be easy for your employees to feel undervalued (and you don't want that.)
As you hire a new employee, make sure that you note their date of birth and work anniversary in your calendar. Create another task a month or so ahead of time in your calendar to remind yourself ahead of time.
Try to make these days as memorable as possible for your remote team members, even if you have to celebrate far apart.
21. Revisit Your Employee Onboarding Experience
Employee onboarding sets a precedent for every interaction your remote staff will have with you. If you want to improve the employee experience, start at the very beginning.
- Create an employee onboarding experience that helps all of your employees settle into their new role and life at your company.
- Spread out the onboarding process so that your new employees don’t get overwhelmed.
- Use various voices during the onboarding process so that remote employees get to know more people during their first few weeks.
- Build out your onboarding process in a document so that you create something repeatable for all future hires.
22. 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 a virtual 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 improving 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.