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Employee Engagement: How to Get Remote Workers to Care About Your Business as Much as You Do

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October 26, 2020 9 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 54% of workers are disengaged at work while another 14% are actively disengaged.

Combined, these numbers mean that 68% of employees lack some level of commitment to their work. For employers, this could also mean that well over half of their employees are doing less than their best work.

This is because is one of the most important factors affecting workplace productivity and . Building employee engagement among on-site workers is challenging enough, but fostering engagement among can be even more difficult.

With the right approach and resources, however, it is possible. 

What is employee engagement?

Understanding what employee engagement requires understanding what it is not. Employee engagement is not the same thing as employee satisfaction or happiness.

Employee engagement refers to a worker’s commitment to the company. Employees who are engaged work not only for themselves and the benefits they can gain, they also work for the company and the company’s goals.

Related: How to Stay Sane While Working From Home

Engaged employees take ownership of these goals. Furthermore, they do more than the minimum to achieve them. In other words, they contribute more in practically every aspect of their work.

Engaged employees, in turn, contribute more to a company’s bottom line. Towers Perrin research finds that companies experience a 6% increase in profit margins when employees are engaged.

What factors contribute to employee engagement?

Employees are more likely to be engaged when they feel a sense of belonging. Belonging is a basic human need. We all want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to feel that we matter and that our efforts matter. We want to feel that our voices are heard. Plus, we want to feel that we’re part of a community that allows us to become our best selves.

In addition to a sense of belonging, the following factors are often associated with employee engagement:

  • Employee participation

  • A strong and positive company culture

  • Open lines of communication

  • Regular feedback

  • Well-defined goals

  • Employee autonomy

  • Diversity

  • Opportunities for learning and advancement

  • Frequent recognition

  • Concern for employees’ overall well-being

Efforts to promote employee engagement must take each of these factors into consideration. 

Fostering employee engagement among remote workers

Building remote employee engagement can be a challenge, but it is essential in today’s . Even before the coronavirus pandemic, remote work was on the rise. In fact, the number of remote workers increased by 159% from 2005 to 2017.

In 2017, 3.4% of the population worked remotely. With the shutdowns and social distancing imposed by the pandemic in 2020, that percentage soared. By June of 2020, 42% of employees were working from home.

Related: Adapting to the Unexpected – Preparing your Business and Pivoting in Real-Time

As countries reopened and restrictions eased, some of those employees returned or will return to work. Still, experts predict that remote work is here to stay. According to recent studies, 40% of companies expect their employees to continue working remotely in the future. 

This means that employers must build a sense of community among workers on-site and at home.

Tips for building engagement among remote employees

Even in a virtual workplace, you can take concrete steps to instill a sense of community among your employees.

1. Hold virtual company meetings

Company meetings are essential for communicating and refining your goals. The rise of remote work cannot mean an end to these meetings. 

To foster engagement, schedule regular company meetings via Google Meet, Zoom, or another platform. 

Depending on the size of your company, the structure of these meetings might vary. Smaller companies might gather all of their employees monthly or even weekly.

If your company is large, though, perhaps you’ll only hold a company-wide gathering once or twice a year. Between those large gatherings, you’ll ensure that departments and employee teams are still meeting regularly.

2. Give remote employees a voice

Another factor to consider in larger meetings, especially larger remote meetings, is employee voice. For employees of the largest companies, it’s easy to feel lost in a crowd of colleagues. Again, this is true even at large in-person meetings. When the “crowd” of colleagues consists of squares on a Zoom screen, it can be even more difficult to ensure employees feel heard.

Encourage all employees to participate in company meetings by organizing smaller breakout sessions. Most video conferencing platforms allow this option. 

Breakout sessions might focus on brainstorming, goal-setting, or progress assessments. By bringing smaller groups together and promoting conversation, these sessions can increase employee participation. Participation, in turn, increases employee belonging and engagement. 

3. Host virtual office hours

Virtual office hours offer another opportunity for employees’ voices to be heard. Depending on your company’s culture, on-site employees likely have the opportunity to drop-in on colleagues and even managers as questions arise. Unless your company takes steps to provide them, remote employees lack these opportunities.

When remote employees have questions, they have two standard options: phone and email. Each of these requires more time and is more impersonal than on-site collaboration.

Related: How to Start Your Own Business

Hosting virtual office hours can promote internal collaboration among remote employees and their bosses. As a manager, designate a half-hour slot once or twice a week when you’ll be available via video conferencing. Publicize these meetings and encourage remote employees to drop in with questions.

4. Capitalize on community

Making yourself available for virtual office hours shows your remote employees that your “door” is always open. Sometimes, though, questions and issues arise that can’t wait until your scheduled office hours. And sometimes, you simply aren’t available.

Apps like Slack offer a forum where employees and management can interact in real-time. Slack allows you to set up message boards, or channels, organized by topics or teams. When employees need answers and you’re not available, they can post questions for colleagues and other managers to answer.

In addition to message boards, communication apps like Slack allow direct messaging and voice and video calling. As a manager, you can also send updates and announcements to your team in real-time.

5. Host casual virtual meets or hangouts

Employees develop a stronger connection and commitment to their workplace when they interact regularly with their bosses and colleagues. However, these interactions need not—and should not—be all business.

In addition to more formal business meetings, consider using video conferencing software for more informal hangouts.

If you utilize Slack, also consider adding more personal and informal channels. These might include a “random” or “watercooler” channel to encourage appropriate office banter. Channels devoted to employees’ interests, like sports and cooking, can also promote conversation.

6. Check in regularly

Schedule or encourage employees to sign up for periodic reviews. These one-on-one meetings allow you to recognize an employee’s achievements and highlight areas for growth. They also allow your employees to ask questions and raise concerns in a private and personal setting.

7. Publicly Recognise Success

One-on-one reviews let you express your own gratitude for an employee’s efforts. However, public praise can be even more effective. 

Consider sponsoring an employee of the week program. Clearly define the criteria for recognition. Offer employees who are selected a small incentive. Also, consider featuring them in a weekly email.

When you highlight exceptional employees, you’re using their successes to motivate others. You’re also helping your employees get to know each other and giving them the chance to share their expertise.

8. Promote overall well-being

A big part of feeling like we belong is feeling like we matter not just as employees but as people. Show your employees you care about them as people by encouraging them to take care of themselves. Make self-care a priority and a topic of conversation. 

If you use Slack for internal communication, consider setting up a self-care channel. Also consider sponsoring wellness challenges and incentives. 

9. Welcome new employees

You’ve taken steps to build engagement among your existing employees. What happens, though, when you add new hires? How do you introduce them to the company culture? And how do you integrate them into the company community?

The onboarding process is even more important for newly hired remote employees. It starts with finding the best talent and making your company accessible to them.

In fact, companies that are open to remote interviewing and hiring can attract a broader range of talent. My company, Bubblegum Casting, experienced these benefits first-hand when we decided to offer the ability to work remotely on several of our open roles. 

Our decision to interview remotely proved to be a wise one and we were inundated with applications from some incredibly talented people. It was such a success that we even introduced the concept to our clients who now audition talents remotely

You see, when your company appeals to remote workers, your base of potential employees is unlimited by geographic considerations. 

If you’re hiring and hoping to tap into this base, make sure that your job listings include the steps you’ve taken to make remote workers feel at home. (Hint: If you’ve implemented the steps above with your existing workers, highlight those in your job listings!)

After hiring new employees who will be working remotely, be sure that the orientation process introduces them to the available resources. Apps like Slack and casual Google Hangouts do little to promote community if your new employees aren’t aware of them.

And that is all there is to it. Once you stay on top of things and continue to engage with your remote workers on a personal level, you may even find that they become some of your most valuable assets. 

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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