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What does workplace engagement look like in the hybrid and remote work setting? 

What does workplace engagement look like in the hybrid and remote work setting? 

Aug 10, 2023

8 mins read

Employee Experience

When you first meet someone, within minutes you often get asked “What do you do?” Because whether we like it or not, much of our identity is tied to our work. And since we spend much of our time working, it’s important for that work to feel meaningful. 

Research has shown that when employees feel a sense of belonging, whether as part of a team or an organization, they will perform better, and be more engaged. 

With individuals working together in a physical office, workplace engagement is often a naturally occurring phenomenon, supported in tandem by a dedicated team member. 

But in a remote or hybrid work setting, the seemingly small opportunities for interaction and connection, like grabbing a coffee break, eating lunch in the cafeteria, or stopping at a colleague’s cubicle to catch up between meetings, just don’t exist. And while those aren’t the only ways workplace engagement is fostered in a physical office, one can’t deny the power of being together as a driving force for engagement. 

As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Katarina Berg shared in the Harvard Business Review, “This feeling of belonging has become challenged over the past year plus as we’ve shifted away from in-person interactions and found ourselves relying on video calls and screen activities to stay connected.” 

Alysia Young, Head of Employee Experience at Thumbtack notes:

“Belonging is about feeling genuinely accepted and valued for who you are. It’s rooted in connection to others, feeling seen and feeling heard. When team members truly know and believe that they not only can, but are encouraged to, bring their full and authentic selves to work, it has a significant impact on their overall work experience. They feel more engaged and can bring the best of themselves daily. Not only is this beneficial for the employees’ wellbeing, but it directly impacts the company’s success.”

With this in mind, companies with dispersed or distributed teams need to make a concerted effort to foster an environment from which employees can derive meaning, and remain engaged, both with their managers and their colleagues. 

So, how does a company do that with a remote or hybrid team? Let’s take a look at what workplace engagement looks like in those types of settings. 

Communication policies and methods are thoughtful and organized 

It’s probably no surprise to you that effective communication is crucial in hybrid and remote work environments. And you’re probably familiar with the myriad tools available to do so and use them on a more than regular basis. 

However, leaders need to establish both formal and informal approaches to communication, so that employees are clear on where to go when they have a project-related question versus where they go to celebrate a team member’s birthday. We might have discounted the importance of the latter, perhaps because those types of communications were just a natural part of everyday in-person work life. 

Alysia Young adds:

“When you’re not in an office every day, informal communication and connection become just as important as the quarterly goals/priorities readout or monthly All Hands meeting.

Consider taking the first few minutes of a team meeting to ask and answer icebreaker questions, promote team sharing of weekend adventure photos in a Slack channel, or authentically engage with an employee resource group or special interest forum. 

When team members—and especially leaders—take time to intentionally communicate informally and authentically with others, they are building a strong foundation to create deeper and more meaningful relationships among peers.”

Both of those types of interactions are important in the work life of an employee, particularly when it comes to workplace engagement. 

In-person opportunities, both personal and professional, are intentionally planned

Work isn’t just about being productive, but rather, about connecting with other people. And while we’ve established that some meaningful connections can be made virtually, through various tools and platforms, there is no denying that in-person collaboration, at some level, is important. 

In a hybrid setting, that can be achieved a little more readily, since there is some sort of physical office still being maintained, though teams may not necessarily be in the building at the same time. But in a remote work setting, this practice needs to be more intentional. 

Successful remote teams bring their teams together in various ways, whether it’s an all-hands work week twice a year, monthly meetings for employees who live near each other, or in-person onboarding sessions for new hires, just to name a few. Tapping into a resource like Flexspace, which connects companies and their employees with on-demand coworking spaces, makes these necessary in-person collaborations easier to plan and execute, and maintain, with the resources used for physical space now being intentionally utilized to bring connection and meaning to employees’ lives. 

Workplace policies, as they relate to the overall work culture and employee experience, are being constantly re-evaluated

The current state of work is at its highest level of unpredictability, and over the last few years in particular, we’ve seen companies completely shift their workplace policy, moving from numerous offices around the world to one headquarters building, and in some cases, none at all. 

This means we’re still adapting to the ever-changing workplace, and in that vein, the needs of employees. And we’re taking into account what we’ve learned over these last few years, and applying them as nimbly as we can to ensure the happiness and success of our teams. 

“At Thumbtack, we’re virtual-first, but not virtual only. While our team members engage in most of their day-to-day work remotely, we are intentionally and boldly committed to ensuring meaningful in-person gatherings for both connection and collaboration as a key tenant of the overall employee experience. While we’re still learning and iterating the nuances of how and when this happens, we know the impact and return on this investment in our team members is critical to our – and their – success.”

Alysia Young, Head of Employee Experience, Thumbtack

What worked in 2020, with a team who was happy to be fully remote to avoid the unknowns of the COVID-19 virus may not work now in 2023 with a team who has been isolated from in-person connection and collaboration. As the climate continues to change, we need to find a way to balance the desires of our teams with our company’s intended outcomes. And in doing so, we may have to shift what we know about ensuring our employees are fully engaged in their work.