Employee engagement: 12 online ways to remotely connect employees

When operating remotely as a company and following the COVID-19 restrictions, it’s even more important to encourage the connection between employees and strengthen the employee engagement. This is essential to keep the organization’s stability for the long term.

Research proves this.

Following the transition to remote working, in 2020, the employee engagement levels fluctuated more than ever before, according to Gallup. Gallup has been measuring the employee engagement since 2000. 51% of the employees are not engaged — they are not psychologically connected to their work and their company. They even look for better employment opportunities and will probably quickly leave their company for a better offer.

During the coronavirus crisis, the overall levels of engagement and average growth in engagement were not compromised for organizations that implemented employee engagement measures and interventions as part of their organizational culture. According to previous Gallup research, employee engagement is a consistent predictor of many important organizational outcomes across more than two decades, even during massive changes in the economy and technological advances.

A McKinsey survey from June 2020 shows that remote employees that see more positive influences in their day-to-day job, are more engaged. They are more emotionally invested in the company and have the willingness to go the extra mile. Among the main steps that McKinsey mentions for increasing employee engagement, are investment in organizational relationships and creating internal networks.

Working remotely
Employees that see more positive influences in their day-to-day job, are more engaged | Photo: Ekaterina Bolovtsova

So what do we need to do to strengthen the social connections inside the company or organization?

Whether in our organization we use Slack, a Facebook group, WhatsApp, Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams, or other virtual platforms, I collected some ways to strengthen the remote connections with the employees. These practices are well-used in the community world, and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t implement them among your employees.

What is community and how it can help your organization?

Read here

1. Employee spotlight

Most of the companies have a main communication platform where the employees communicate, or perhaps a main newsletter. Through a regularly featured spotlight section, you can highlight employees and departments’ activities, and promote a culture where the employees are in the center. In the feature, you can highlight employees and interesting information about them such as surprising hobbies, professional tips, and more. 

Occurring rituals have a significant influence on the employees’ community and their retention. In addition, such a feature doesn’t require a special budget or a lot of time.

2. Various threads

Here as well, you can utilize the existing company’s communication channels to break the ice or add a fresh and lighter vibe to the professional atmosphere. For example, before the weekend you can ask “what are you going to do at the weekend?.” You might create a small competition among a chosen question. You can publish surveys about hobbies, special places employees have visited, and more. Additionally, it’s important that the managers will cooperate with such initiatives. It will help the employees to feel comfortable with sharing.

3. Groups around common hobbies

Many times, the way to connect employees in a big company is through smaller groups. During COVID-19, Aqua Security built global communities initiated by the employees and focused on common interests. Among the communities you can find meditation, yoga, and cooking.

4. Podcast

Podcasts became very popular in the last years. However, many workplaces have yet to adopt this communication tool. Producing a podcast doesn’t necessarily require many resources and it’s comfortable for the employees. They can listen from everywhere, between meetings, and even after work hours. Moreover, the experience in which we listen to a human voice is more personal than reading a text message on screen and enables a familiarity with the speaker.

When employees interview other employees, they can hear each other’s voices and create a common experience, especially in big organizations. In a podcast, you can also share company updates, promote personal or common achievements of the employees, future plans, information about present employees and their activities, and more.
In order to create an internal podcast, you should decide about its goal and create appealing content. Make sure you promote it within the company so it can gain an audience.

Employee interview
When employees interview other employees, they can create a common experience | Photo: CoWomen from Pexels

5. A recommendation section

You can implement a recommendation section as a professional feature, where employees will share recommendations about relevant books, interesting blog posts, or must-follow podcasts. Otherwise, the section can serve as a space where employees share general recommendations from their personal world — new movies, inspiring books, recommended shows, and more. The section can be published on a chosen day at a regular time on the communication channel (i.e. Slack), or in a newsletter.

6. Ask Me Anything

The idea behind the Ask me Anything format (or shortly AMA): asking everything you wanted to know but were ashamed to ask, without anyone knowing it’s you who’s asking.
In a company, you can apply AMA on a professional topic, such a specific company’s product, or a live meeting with senior managers. The employees send their questions anonymously before the meeting, and receive the answers during it.

This format, according to Greenhouse CEO, encourages open culture where there is a place for a dialogue, receiving feedback and ideas for improvement. Through AMA you can defeat false premises, and creatively deal with complaints and objections. Just pay attention that if you are not really interested in answering tough questions, for whatever reasons, this format could be less suitable for your company.

7. Common challenge

Working remotely requires getting new skills and familiarity with new platforms. For those that never needed or had the opportunity to work this way, it can be very challenging. However, we can take this challenge and turn it into a positive. Together with the employees, you can think of a challenge that will motivate them to invest in themselves, try new hobbies, contribute to the outside community, and more. It’s important that the topic will answer a specific employees’ needs. Otherwise, the challenge will be a burden and you will receive the opposite effect.

8. Extra lectures and workshops

In order to break the remote work monotony, the long Zoom calls and the lockdown routine, many companies choose to enrich their employees’ daily work-life with non-professional lectures and workshops.

During COVID-19, Microsoft launched a virtual program that included lectures, workshops, and activities with experts. Their goal was to encourage creativity and interdisciplinary skills. Among the activities were a guitar learning course and even a cooking workshop, where the employees received a delivery of the ingredients to their homes. Microsoft even suggested virtual activities ideas for kids. During such activities you can (and I highly recommend) include networking elements. That way, The employees can get to know each other and create new connections at the workplace.

cooking workshop
You can organize a cooking workshop, and send the employees the ingredients in advance | Photo: Jason Briscoe

9. Activities organized by the employees

No need to outreach for ideas that bring added-value content to your employees. One thing that strengthens the employees’ connection to one another is hobbies. Most of us have hobbies or knowledge that may not be related to our profession, but definitely can inspire others. An activity where employees share their knowledge with their colleagues breaks the ice and creates engagement as well.
Reserve a monthly hour where employees deliver lectures on topics they are interested in. The big advantage is that you don’t need a special budget. The employees will get an opportunity to hone their public speaking skills.

10. Newsletter

An organizational newsletter is one of the common tactics for strengthening the connection between the company and its employees. Through the newsletter, you can deliver updates, highlight important messages, and create transparency.
The content varies among companies but I recommend using a permanent format to make it readable and memorable.

When I worked with the international Entrepreneurs’ Organization and we started a newsletter for the European region, that’s exactly what we did. We included important updates, short videos of leaders, events’ invitations, and program info. Additionally, we encouraged the branches to send us content. And indeed, in time, we didn’t have to request materials. The branches happily volunteered content.
The time and day when you send the newsletter is important. Busy business people, such as EO members, will know exactly when their newsletter will appear in their email. It can create a positive expectation. If it doesn’t work, try A/B testing until you receive the desirable result.

working from home with family
An “open house” can bring some relief for those who work at home together with their family | Photo: August de Richelieu

11. Hackathon

A great way to break the routine, create interest, and connect employees from different teams and even different countries, is organizing a hackathon. You can organize a hackathon around a company’s challenge, developing a product, or around ideas raised by the employees.

Criteo had a tough challenge. They had to transfer their annual hackathon to an online format. This involved 48 hours where employees from different departments joined from three regions around the world, in different time zones, and became a celebration of four weeks with pre-recordings, yoga lessons, and an awards ceremony, with the employees as the judges. The Criteo example might be an extreme one, demanding many resources and deeper thinking. However, you can easily organize a mini-hackathon during a remote half day. After all, you don’t need to reserve rooms, order food, search for flights, etc.

12. One-time events

One-time events are your opportunity to be creative while connecting remotely.
You can arrange virtual roundtables where employees will discuss relevant issues, as Forter did.

You can also dedicate a Demo Day, where employees exhibit their developments. If your products are non-techy, each department can present its major or new work. You might take a step forward and organize a virtual “open house.” You can invite employees and their families, create virtual booths where employees present their work, and even include added activities, such as lectures and workshops. It’s not just an excellent way to connect employees. It might bring some relief for those who work at home together with their family and break their routine. If you’re thinking about an activity with employees’ families, you might consider special dates such holidays.

Employee engagement when working remotely or through hybrid methods, demands a good deal of thought and being creative. You can try one type of activity, combine a few, and see what the reactions are. My tip? Ask your employees what interests them, not create an unnecessary burden, but create an activity that will be remembered.

Not sure in which way to connect your employees? Let’s talk.

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