How employee experience can help you better connect with a distributed workforce
Laying the groundwork for a resonant employee experience (Ex) is never easy—but it’s certainly been a more familiar process for teams working exclusively in person.
Distributed workforces (completely remote or hybrid models) pose unique challenges to employee experience. Company leaders adapting to these models from in-person work have another layer of employee experience complexity to navigate.
So, how can organizations with remote or hybrid work structures activate employee experience strategies that align brand meaning and organizational values to cultivate and reinforce employee brand belief, increase employee engagement and boost the bottom line?
Employee experience challenges in remote and hybrid work
There’s no denying that remote work significantly impacts workplace culture:
- In a late 2020 study of teams that had transitioned to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, 51% of respondents reported that maintaining company culture was a significant obstacle in remote work implementation.
- Another 2020 study reported that, since the start of the pandemic, 45% of employees noticed that their team’s level of camaraderie had decreased.
- A 2020 survey of Japanese workers noted that the more time employees spent working remotely, the more lonely and isolated they felt—both on and off the clock.
The resulting decrease in in-person collaboration and social connection among coworkers leaves a substantial impact. Everything from hallway-passing friendliness and ad hoc happy hours after work to body language communication are diminished. So, company leaders must now make (or maintain) time for employees to connect with one another digitally.
Building an employee experience plan for remote workers
Connections are simply less accessible among a distributed workforce than one occupying an office, and it’s an employer’s obligation to compensate for that via employee experience. But where do you start?
Here are some considerations you should factor into your distributed work adaptations.
Include workers in your employee experience planning
Employee experience relates to the feelings your employees have and the approaches they take toward your brand at every employment stage—from the first interview to their last day on the job. So, naturally, the focal point of your employee experience planning should be your employees.
Make sure their voices are heard throughout the process:
- Ask staff what they’re looking for when it comes to support—whether you’re planning on a customized approach or simply looking for feedback about your current culture, their input is invaluable.
- Consider hosting a brainstorming session, and include as many employees as possible in the early planning stages.
- Once you start implementing your plan, ask for feedback regularly; if something isn’t working, your employees will likely be the first to notice.
If your brand uses multiple communication channels—phone/video calls, text messages, email and instant messaging are only a few examples—it can be difficult to create standard communications procedures that work perfectly for everyone. And some people favor certain channels over others.
But remote workers cite communications challenges as one of the biggest setbacks to success in a hybrid or fully remote workplace. So as you reconsider the role of communication in your employee experience model, emphasize:
- Clear, concise and accessible messaging about company policies
- SOPs and expectations for less formal communications
- Tutorials to ensure everyone knows how to fully use your communication tools
- Flexibility and willingness to adapt your approach based on the needs and preferences of your staff
- Nonwork-related social channels that help employees transition watercooler talk to fun shares, comments and emojis
- Social opportunities where work conversations are prohibited (e.g., leveraging video calls for group lunches or digital happy hours)
- Micro-recognitions and giving every team member an opportunity to make their voice heard in both professional and casual settings
Be honest about the challenges
While old-school business maxims of the past might have encouraged leadership stoicism in the face of challenges, new data suggests that transparency is key when building positive company cultures.
According to data from Glassdoor, increased transparency:
- Builds trust among staff, managers and a brand as a whole
- Improves employee morale and engagement
- Reduces workplace stress
- Increases employee satisfaction
- Boosts staff and overall company performance
When you involve your employees in the process, they feel more respected and invested in it themselves. So, as you confront distributed work challenges, be honest with your staff about current setbacks. They may also have ideas or bring new perspectives for future improvements.
Heed lessons learned during COVID-19
Whether your business transitioned to fully remote or hybrid models during the COVID-19 pandemic or you’ve always relied on some version of distributed work, this crisis was a particularly challenging crucible.
And, as the world returns to “semi-normal,” don’t forget some of the most important lessons learned over the last three years:
- Circumstances can change on a dime. Emphasize flexibility and grace as you continue to navigate somewhat uncharted waters.
- Some employees simply can’t return to “normal” due to ongoing health risks. Do your best to accommodate the needs of your most vulnerable staff.
- The world remains a stressful place—remember that an essential part of creating an employee experience plan is to provide stability and security for your employees.
Provide necessary tools and resources
While in-person offices might use physical resources to improve employee experience, remember to extend the same opportunities to your remote workers.
For instance, if your organization supports employee development by providing in-person training, you should do your best to extend an equally valuable opportunity to your remote workers. And, for resources employees depend on (like software applications), remember to provide education to help them make the most of these tools.
Simply put, it’s difficult enough for an in-person manager to build stronger bonds among their team members without helpful tools—extending resources can make or break employee experience improvements, especially for remote teams.
Let’s consider a hypothetical:
- In March 2020, your organization transitioned to a fully remote work model.
- Between March 2020 and April 2022, your organization hired six new employees.
- While some employees had the chance to build relationships in person, not everyone is on an equal playing field—your six new hires simply haven’t had the same opportunities to get to know the team.
If onboarding is a priority in your employee experience overhaul, consider re-onboarding your workforce. This applies to distributed and non-distributed hires, achieving the following purposes:
- Re-orientation to company values—Anyone onboarded in the pandemic’s early days likely encountered stressed systems—whether working remotely or in person. Re-onboarding ensures that newer teammates and the rest of your staff are on the same page about what the brand stands for. Similarly, if your organization underwent substantial changes recently, it’s worth re-onboarding long-time employees to ensure they understand and successfully adapt to the changes.
- Onboarding process trial run—Since re-onboarded employees will already have some exposure to your company culture, they could serve as a focus group for a new and improved onboarding process that aims to improve employee experience.
Using employee experience tactics to build a tight-knit team—even while working remotely
A positive, inclusive and productive workplace culture doesn’t just appear out of thin air. These work environments take time, actionable strategies and resources to cultivate—and you should expect to invest even more of the above when overhauling employee experience for distributed workers.
But, in a climate where company culture and brand values are key to hiring, retention and company success, investments in all of your workers (especially those working from home) are worth every penny.
Mercer. Global Survey #6: Globally, How Are Companies Flexing for the Future and Returning to the Workplace?
Insead. The Great Covid-Driven Teamwork Divide.
Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. Job Stress and Loneliness Among Remote Workers.
Qualtrics. What Is Ex? Your Ultimate Guide to Employee Experience.
Inc. Is Poor Communication Hindering Your Remote Workforce?
Glassdoor. Transparency in the Workplace: Why It Matters and How to Practice It.