If you want a genuinely supercharged software development team, you’ll choose remote workers. You’ll use Agile development methodology.  And you’ll invest time in team bonding. We’ve talked about all these topics before, but there’s one other layer of sprinkles you can put on your remote working cupcake. Remote employee engagement. Need some ideas? Read on.

What Is Employee Engagement?

Although it gets thrown around a lot as a term, the definitions of employee engagement are a bit woolly. They tend to be things like, ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘energized’ and ‘fulfilled’ for employees. You create a sense of engagement by creating an environment where your developers feel a part of something. They are valued, working towards a goal, and they’re motivated to do that.

For you as an employer, that means that your virtual team will be proud of what they do. They’ll be willing to ‘go the extra mile’ to get something finished. Your employees have invested something of themselves in what you’re doing, and they want to see a return for that.

When employees are engaged, you get increased retention, fewer sick days, fewer complaints and grievances, and even more productive staff. That makes it an idea well worth pinning down and including in your aims for your remote culture.

So, how do you engage your remote employees?

Make Time to Engage with Your Remote Dev Team

As a remote team manager, you need to set some time ahead to prioritize your employee engagement. You won’t have the visual cues of the big smile as Sandra walks into the office or the way Stan shuffles out at 10 to 5 every day. Compensate for that with further communication. Get to know your virtual development team, so you know what’s normal for them, and you’ll have a better chance of heading off problems when they break the pattern.

Goal!

If you have a goal that everyone can get behind, then you have engagement. I’m not talking about, ‘Finish this by Friday, or you’ll all have to work the weekend.’ This goal should be an aspirational idea for the team to come together.

Remote Control

Remote developers have more than the usual amount of autonomy. If you try to use traditional markers for their progress, you’re on the road to madness. Trust that you made the right hiring decision, and measure the work your employees do for you regarding what they deliver, not some hours worked. Don’t micromanage.

I have a friend whose boss is currently paying her an hourly rate which includes an on-site premium because he says, it doesn’t matter that she always delivers: it’s the perception. If the client can see her in her seat, working, they’re happy. It doesn’t matter that she’d be twice as productive at home, where she can focus, where she isn’t constantly distracted and interrupted. Don’t be that guy.

The truth is workers with high employee engagement tend to raise their productivity. Even in some cases, they end up having more than one remote job at a time!

Also, while we’re talking about control, there are apps out there that claim to monitor your team’s mood and help you gauge their engagement, increase your remote culture, and improve their productivity. Unless your team is massive, don’t be tempted. An impersonal weekly questionnaire is no substitute for a message from the team leader asking someone how they’re doing.

Updates

For on-site employees, it’s a lot easier to stay abreast of what’s happening with a project, and the company in a broader sense. You pick up a lot of information as you move around the building, snippets of conversation, trophies on display in other departments and so on.

For those of your team who are working from home, it’s easy to feel disconnected from company progress. Make time to talk about the context that your project falls into, so your team feels a part of the whole.

Make sure that everyone stays in touch with what’s happening on the team, too. Daily meetings, kept excellent and brief (we like Agile-style SCRUM stand-ups) will make everyone feel included. Included is a big part of being engaged.

It may make sense to use a podcast platform to host a podcast for internal use to keep employees connected and help them understand the direction of the company as a whole.  This has become much more common in 2021 at larger companies as many employees have moved to remote roles.  But you don’t have to be a large company to start one.  If you think your team would benefit and they’re spread out across the globe, give it a try.  

Praise Them!

If you have a mix of on-site and remote team members, make sure that your digital nomads take part in the celebrations when things go right. Include them in ‘employee of the month’ or similar schemes. Make sure that they get name-checked when they’ve contributed. If you have an employee rewards scheme, find a way to extend it, so it includes your remote employees too.

Praise isn’t just a question of making sure that your virtual team doesn’t feel like it’s second-best as that will usually make people think of a job interview. It’s also about raising the profile of your team and the work it does within the company. Remote workers can suffer from ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Be a champion for remote working, don’t be shy about showing the benefits.

Connect Outside Work

You may not be able to take your remote software development team out for a beer after you hit that impossible deadline, but you can still find ways to celebrate together. You might not be able to give everyone a bottle of wine on their desk, but you can always order one to be delivered to their home. Or avoid issues of cultural misunderstanding and send an e-gift certificate.

Use Google hangouts or similar which you can upload a theme to create a virtual office party. When you’re talking about holidays, think about the fun things that can still translate to online. Christmas jumper selfies, for example.

And what about a team (online) playlist? Everyone suggests a song that helps inspire them to meet the team goal. Your virtual mix-tape.

Or hang out online in a gaming environment. Have an adventuring group on the D&D inspired game, Neverwinter. Battle with lightsabers in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Or just play competitive Words with Friends.

How about a team fundraising goal? Find an international cause or one that resonates with your team and what it does. Make it competitive, challenge your dev team to outdo each other in the amount they raise and the inventiveness in which they do it.

It’s All about People

Ultimately, having an engaged team is about knowing and understanding the people you work with day in and day out. There aren’t any shortcuts. If your attempts to engage aren’t genuine, they won’t ring true, and you’ll risk alienating rather than connecting. Every remote team is only as good as its members. 

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