Eleanor Hecks is the managing editor of Designerly. She’s also a mobile app designer with a focus on UI. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and goldendoodles, Bear and Lucy. Connect with her about marketing, UX and/or tea on LinkedIn.
Remote work has become more accepted as business leaders have discovered the many benefits of flexibility - including and especially the ability to hire top talent, regardless of location. However, leading remote teams can present new challenges for managers, from keeping employees engaged and motivated while working in different locations, to staff feeling isolated and potentially disconnected from company goals. And what good is being able to hire top employees if businesses struggle to retain them? So savvy remote leaders are leveraging new strategies to increase their employee retention rates. We’ve compiled a list of battle-tested best practices for improving employee engagement and retention in remote businesses.
Use Effective Communication Strategies
Critically, fostering a culture of transparency ensures everyone can have open discussions and freely share their ideas. Such practices promote a healthier work environment, as everyone can understand how they should work and interact with each other.
Clear and effective communication with and among remote team members is vital to increasing employee satisfaction. Communication has a direct impact on keeping workers on the same page — and it allows teams to deepen bonds and trust with each other and with their managers and leaders. When done well, communication also enables remote workers to build a sense of belonging in their organization, reduce misunderstandings and build trust.
To communicate successfully within a remote team, leaders must use the latest technology to meet employees where they are. Tools like Slack and Teams are great for asynchronous communication - these instant messaging apps allow employees to gain immediate responses to questions or ideas. But synchronous “live” communication is critical, too, Zoom and Google Meet are excellent tools for an efficient flow of information. With face-to-face meetings, you can create a virtual office experience that makes remote work feel less isolating. However, “zoom fatigue” is real - so, wise leaders can offer employees the ability to choose an old-fashioned phone call or a camera-off Zoom meeting from time to time.
Build a Strong Remote Work Culture
On remote teams, employees can sometimes feel separated by geographical barriers. However, a strong remote work culture can transcend this, creating an environment where they feel connected, valued, and part of a greater purpose. As a recent McKinsey report noted, when leaders and workers share a sense of purpose, they understand the company’s values beyond profits and they’re better able to achieve their goals more effectively.
Creating a sense of purpose and community in remote settings requires intentional effort on the part of leadership to make each team member feel included. Regular virtual social events, informal chat groups, and interest-based activities help workers connect. When remote leaders encourage open and personal conversations, they nurture a deeper sense of belonging.
Additionally, providing opportunities for collaboration is key. Over 60% of survey respondents have experienced a toxic work environment. However, organizing virtual team-building exercises and brainstorming sessions can foster a collaborative atmosphere. As such, team spirit and cooperation improve.
Another key to building a strong remote culture is recognition. Celebrating employees’ achievements reinforces positive behaviors and boosts morale. This can be as simple as a shout-out during team meetings and celebratory messages on team channels. Either way, this tactic helps build a culture where the staff feels seen, helping you increase employee retention rates.
Professional Development and Career Growth
Professional development is key to retaining more remote employees. In fact, 58% of workers have expressed they would leave if an employer failed to demonstrate a commitment to development, growth, and promotion. When team members see a clear path for growth, they are more likely to stay committed to their company. They see their current role as more than a job — instead, they view it as a step toward their long-term career goals.
One of the types of learning opportunities for remote employees includes online courses and workshops relevant to their field. These classes often advance team members in technical skills, leadership, and industry-specific knowledge. Other learning opportunities include webinars or virtual conferences that help staff learn about the latest best practices and industry trends, and offer networking opportunities.
Remote leaders can also develop their own career growth programs. However, you must understand an individual's aspirations and skill gaps for personalized programs to be effective. This is achievable through one-on-one meetings to discuss career goals, interests, and potential growth paths within the organization. Then, you can make a personalized learning plan that aligns with your employees' goals.
Placing a remote worker in training sessions creates opportunities for upskilling. As such, they will feel more supported in their journey, helping you create an engaged workforce.
Work-Life Balance and Flexibility
Flexibility is crucial in remote work settings — it helps sustain productivity and promote employee well-being. Otherwise, their efforts become stagnant when they start to feel overworked. Research from Stanford University shows productivity diminishes every hour worked beyond 49 hours per week, suggesting a balanced approach to work hours is important.
To achieve this balance, remote leaders should implement policies that actively acknowledge the staff’s personal lives, starting with a guideline for flexible work hours. For instance, you could allow workers relaxed start times and provide paid time off for extra hours worked. Leaders must not only consistently communicate these policies but adhere to the policy themselves by taking vacation and PTO.
Another important factor is encouraging and respecting work and personal life boundaries. Remote leaders can foster this by setting expectations regarding availability and response times, discouraging after-hours communication to promote a culture where employees feel comfortable unplugging. Leaders should also demonstrate this example by respecting their own boundaries and those of their team members.
Competitive Compensation and Benefits
To hire and retain a winning remote workforce, companies must build a compensation and benefits package that helps them stand out. This offering is vital when hiring employees because it acknowledges the value of their efforts. While providing a good income and competitive benefits is valuable to the team, better compensation leads to increased morale and engagement, preventing your workers from desiring other opportunities.
The first step to creating an attractive compensation and benefits package is benchmarking your current one against industry standards. Assessing this will help determine if your benefits align with other businesses in the field. Then, compare your packages to see if they are competitive enough. You could also use industry salary surveys and reports to gain further insight into what other companies are providing.
When incorporating benefits into your compensation package, consider going beyond traditional “perks”. Instead, think about what remote workers value most, which often includes home-office stipends, internet reimbursements, and wellness and mental health support. By offering unique benefits, workers see you realize the challenges they experience, making working for you more attractive and rewarding.
Feedback and Continuous Improvement
Remote leaders who provide constructive feedback in thoughtful ways help workers feel satisfied because they feel more confident in their strengths and learn key areas where they can grow. This builds an environment for continuous learning and development. While this practice is important for improving performance, it also demonstrates to the employee how much an enterprise invests in their personal and professional growth.
Providing regular feedback to their team members is critical for employers. Establish this system through structured performance reviews and one-on-one meetings — even casual check-ins between formal meetings can help maintain strong motivation. Ensure feedback sessions are specific and actionable for more productive meetings and to verify employees understand where they can improve.
But remember that feedback is a two-way street — staff should have the ability to provide feedback on leadership. And leadership should listen! By hearing the ideas and concerns of the teams they lead, managers can gain insights on workplace policies, company culture, and the work environment. By giving your team a voice, you can make adjustments that better meet their needs.