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Productivity - 3 min READ

Promoting employee engagement in a remote workforce

Lessons we’ve learned here at Copper

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Michelle Jourdan

VP of People

We’ve decided to embrace a fully remote work model — and we’re discovering unexpected opportunities along with the anticipated challenges. On the challenge side, there’s a lot that has to be figured out and put in place to support remote workers effectively.

But on the opportunity side, we have a chance to explore new ideas, let go of outmoded structures, and identify needs that haven’t been obvious up to now. From that perspective, the shift to remote can become an organizational refresh.

Since I came to Copper a few months ago, I’ve had the benefit of exploring this new territory right alongside the employees. In fact, working together — at all levels of the organization – has turned out to be a key factor in our approach to maintaining employee engagement. Some great ideas have come from employees, and we’ve found that the more we listen, the more we learn.

Along the way, I’ve been looking through the plentiful supply of articles, webinars and other resources intended to address remote working. While I’ve found plenty of advice, a lot of it is very generalized.

Because when it comes to employee engagement, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. We’ve found success by focusing on the specific needs of our own organization, so our story won’t be exactly like someone else’s. Still — I think there are some good ideas, and even a few inspirations, that any company could explore.

Giving everyone a voice

My first action at Copper was to meet personally with every employee. I didn’t have any specific expectations, but this seemed like a good way to jump-start my relationship with the company.

As it turned out, those conversations were the best possible use of my time. And they established a strong foundation for our efforts going forward.

In these sessions, I did a lot of listening. I also asked a lot of questions — not only about their concerns and problems, but also about their positive feelings. My interpretation of “employee engagement” is that people sincerely want to be here, so it’s important to discover things that are creating satisfaction.

While it’s true we are a small organization (fewer than a hundred employees), I think larger companies can adapt the same strategy. Even if you meet with small groups instead of one-on-one, the value can be similar if there’s open, honest dialogue.

Talking directly with employees is a great start, but you also have to take the next step: addressing concerns, and acting on suggestions.

Two examples from our experience began with asking employees what they needed to be more comfortable and productive as remote workers.

  • Several employees raised the idea of using co-working facilities to improve their remote situations. We asked some detailed questions to get a better sense of how (and how much) they were likely to use a co-working facility. Then we polled all employees to see if there was wider interest. Based on these steps, we decided to try out a limited pilot — and though the results aren’t in yet, we’re excited to see the outcome.
  • Quite a few employees weren’t interested in the co-working option, but did express concern about staying healthy while staying home. Not everyone wanted the same thing (for example, gym memberships, home equipment, online fitness coaching), so we came up with the idea of providing everyone with a monthly health and wellness stipend to use however they choose — no strings attached. We received a lot of positive feedback on this initiative.

Creating connection points

We’ve also placed a high priority on making sure there’s a sense of unity across the whole organization. And one of our strategies has been a company-wide schedule of events that not only connects all our workers on a regular basis, but also addresses some of the challenges that are specific to remote work.

For example, remote employees often have to juggle their everyday life with their work life — and wall-to-wall meetings make it difficult to plan and manage time. So we’ve chosen to have no meetings (well almost none) on Fridays.

We also have a “Deep Think” week once a month — with fewer meetings and more freedom to work on longer, more involved projects.

Our goal has been to reduce the number of unnecessary meetings, and make time for meetings that foster a sense of connectedness and continuity. For example, Copper has an all-company meeting every week, so each employee can look beyond their own team, department or project to see the business as a whole. In every meeting, we celebrate successes, learn from problems, and surface new ideas. We also share information about present initiatives and future directions for the company.

Not every topic will come up in these larger meetings, so we’ve also scheduled a monthly “Ask Me Anything” session with our CEO. Employees have the opportunity to get answers and make suggestions on any subject.

Paying attention

Having those connection points has not only fostered a sense of unity among our remote workers, it’s also given management more insight into employee concerns. And that has enabled us to create more effective pulse surveys, going deeper into subject areas and generating fresh questions.

As a result of all these activities, we’ve discovered some excellent, employee-driven ideas. When one of our workers suggested a way for people to get to know each other better, we said “great idea — go for it.” Sometimes just giving permission empowers employees to make a valuable contribution. In this case, the result has been a very successful “Hello Neighbor” program where one team introduces itself and how it operates.

My key takeaways from our experience so far have highlighted the importance of curiosity and attention. By really looking at employee input, I’ve spotted some ideas that might have gone unnoticed. And by being creative — taking advantage of unexpected opportunities — we’ve been able to improve employee engagement, even as we shift to a fully remote workforce.

A final suggestion is to demonstrate attention by acting on employee concerns. For example, my initial one-on-one sessions revealed that some employees were worried the remote model would have a negative effect on their career progress. So we’ve implemented a new platform that integrates performance reviews, 1:1s, feedback and goal-setting with analytics, and adds tools that support both employee engagement and career advancement. The result will be a more seamless, responsive approach to people management.

There’s no doubt that everyone today is navigating unknown terrain when it comes to remote work. But I think we’re finding opportunities as well. And while not all the ideas I’ve outlined will fit every company, I think some will — and some may spark other discoveries. In the end, it’s all about keeping lines of communication open, and responding creatively to employee concerns.

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