How to Keep Employees Engaged While Working Remotely

Hi, I’m Brad Corbet, Managing Director of Motionworks K.K. and host of Coffee for Closers interview series.

In the past couple of months, many things have changed in Japan. We’re only here at the end of the first quarter of 2020 and we’re already faced with huge challenges.

So, I’ve made a conscious effort to come out every week with a video blog, a vlog, addressing some of the issues. There’s a lot of stuff out there about the spread of the Corona (virus) and all this kind of stuff; that’s not what I’m going to report about. What I’m more interested in is reporting on companies and employees, and companies that are doing things right, or how they’re struggling with these issues. I’ve made a list of about 10 issues that I’m going to vlog about and talk about with companies, with employees, with companies and managers, about how they’re dealing with these situations.

But for starters, I thought I would kick-off with one fundamental thing that doesn’t matter if we’re working remotely, or if we’re working side-by-side in a desk environment. I think these are some basic housekeeping rules that would apply to any kind of situation, that a lot of companies may overlook because of the current situation.

For starters, this one is titled ‘How to keep employees engaged during this remote work situation’. In some cases, some companies have been working remotely for a long time. Others, it’s been a forced situation. I’m more interested in catering to the companies that are in that forced situation because this is a very uncertain time, and an uncertain environment for companies as well as employees. I’ve read a lot of articles and I’ve also formed my own opinions, and even my own situation of these things.

For starters, there are basically 3 things.

The first one is really understanding everyone’s situation.

If you’re a company, if you’re a manager, this would be no different to if you were working side-by-side. What is their situation? For example, I have two kids: a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Luckily for me, I work from home quite a bit- more often than I would like during these recent days. I’m not getting out as much, but luckily my kids are in school. Monday through Friday I take them as early as I can and I pick them up as late as I can, but I do enjoy spending time with my kids. However, I do work on Weekends as well, and it’s extremely challenging for me to get any real productive work done on the Weekend. Luckily, my wife can help in some cases, but those kids are always there and I’m not going to ignore them. If anything, the worst situation is your stress level goes up, you get angry with the kids- it’s never a good environment. If I were to put myself in that situation Monday through Friday, that’s an extremely stressful environment, and I think a lot of people are in that environment right now. Many schools have closed, kids are home. If the kids are at a good age where they’re mature enough to study or do something on their own, that’s great. However, I think the majority of employees out there are probably in my situation Monday through Friday, having these little monsters running around and having one parent gone. Or maybe there’s only one parent present, where you can’t take turns or go to a coffee shop, or something like that.

I think the majority of employees out there are probably in my situation Monday through Friday, having these little monsters running around and having one parent gone. Or maybe there’s only one parent present, where you can’t take turns or go to a coffee shop, or something like that.

That’s what companies really need to understand; understand everyone’s situation. Realistically, what’s the situation? How many hours of the day do you actually have? What type of environment do you have? For example, what’s your Wi-Fi like? Do you have the proper Wi-Fi structure? Other things like: What kinds of distractions? Let’s say they don’t even have kids.

What kind of distractions do they have? Maybe they’re living next to a construction site that’s digging, drilling or banging away. That gets frustrating. Or maybe they’re in a totally, securely quiet, great Wi-Fi environment but one of the issues: it’s just boring.

We’re cutting our commute time by maybe 2 hours in some cases, and that can be used very productively. But again, it depends on the environment. 2 hours of not commuting means 2 more hours of having to baby-sit your kids, or taking care of issues. I think first and foremost, that’s what companies need to understand. Understand each employee’s unique situation. Do you have kids? Do you have distractions? Those are the biggest things.

This is probably a sensitive one, but realistically, how many hours of productive work can you actually do in a day? In some cases, it might just be 3 hours, which actually might be more than it was at the office. But companies and managers need to understand, “Ok, 3 hours. Great”. But it’s 3 very productive hours. When my kids bother me on the weekends, I know that I have 15 minutes of golden time, and I’m going to use that 15 minutes to my maximum advantage because I know they’re going to attack me any time. Those types of situations, companies should be aware of. So that’s first and foremost: to really understand everyone’s situation. Everyone has a unique situation. Some are in great environments where they can get 10 hours of productive work, others are going to have 2 to 3 hours of productive work. That’s the reality of where we are at this moment. That’s first and foremost.

The second one is we should be interacting and engaging with our colleagues and our employers or our report-line more often.

Actually, I think this is already happening. Many people that I speak to are actually more in contact with the people they work with, because they don’t have the answers to the questions that they need, so they’re reaching out to colleagues or they’re reaching out to their direct bosses. This is great and this is one of the advantages of working remotely. But it can also be the stressful part of working remotely.

Realistically, depending on how the system is set up or security or access to hard copies or those things, there are going to be situations where you just can’t provide some information, and somebody else has to provide that information. That constant engagement, or just regular updating of the situation with employees or helping them find answers, or even creating some kind of remote site or something that they have access to. I think that the person-to-person engagement is just huge, I don’t need to list all the apps and systems out there, there’s so many things. Line, WhatsApp, Zoom, Google- the list is endless of how we can actually engage with our employees in any environment, in any situation. I personally hate texting; I don’t like sending texts. Pick up the phone, or I’d rather send an email worst-case scenario. Because of this situation, let’s just pick up the phone or let’s have a quick zoom conference or go to a meeting conference or whatever platform that you’re using. It takes 5 minutes or 10 minutes. This should be on a daily or weekly basis depending on your work environment or your work situation. That is so easy to do, and it’s probably one of the biggest advantages of this situation that you should be taking advantage of: jumping on top of this communication. We will probably have more communication now than we did working right next to each other to be honest, in this day and age. It’s more important than ever to stay on top of a clear communication flow. Then again, a lot of companies have been doing this, and they’re doing it very well. The companies that are forced to do it probably are not in a comfortable situation, so they need to think about that.

Really, the third one is common practice in any kind of situation, but, more importantly with remote situations, if number 1 and number 2 are in place, then number 3 is simple.

We need to track that progress and address issues as they’re coming up, because there will always be issues. If you are listening to point 1 and you understand everyone’s situation, and you’re in clear communication for point 2, then number 3 just falls into place.

You are basically just tracking the progress; you’re updating people on the situation and you’re suggesting and advising where to go next. Who knows how long we’re going to be in this situation? The good thing is that we stay positive, and we’re working through all those environments. I think that’s what companies and employees need to remember; if I’m a remote worker, I need to have at least weekly contact, if not daily, with my report-line or something like that. That’s essential. One, just because you’re sitting in a house all by yourself, or worse, you’re sitting in your house with two or three or ten little monsters that are destroying your day. You need to understand that situation. Again, if those 3 principles are in place, I think that will help both the company side and also the employee side work through situations.

So, I’ve included a few different links that might be useful. Some are in English and Japanese- I am going to provide things in English and Japanese for many links, because there are a lot of good articles out there in Japanese and also in English. Things that really apply to Japan, there’s so much information right now globally. To be honest, most of it is crap because it doesn’t really apply to Japan. This is something that really needs to apply to Japan. This is really why I want to do this weekly video blog, podcast, and also regular blog, to keep people informed and engage with people. If you’re a company, either on the employee side or the company side, the management side, that are having issues either positively or negatively, please reach out to me. I would love to have an interview, or even a video interview through different platforms, and really learn about the situation. Really, we need to help each other.

I’m Brad, thanks for watching. Stay tuned for more great content from Motionworks and Coffee for Closers. Stay safe, and stay productive. See you soon.

Here are some related articles that may also be of interest:

https://www.uschamber.com/co/run/human-resources/keeping-remote-employees-engaged

Also, check out our updated website and platforms at https://www.motionworks.co.jp/

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more great content from the Coffee for Closers Podcast Channel.

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