According to a study by IWG, 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, with increasing numbers exclusively working remotely. As this number grows, so does the need to find creative ways to engage remote workers and keep a cohesive culture at your company. 

No longer ancillary, remote workers are now key players on teams around the world. But employees who work remotely may be at risk of feeling isolated or less engaged with the company than those who are in the office every day. Read on for tips to make remote workers feel like part of the team.

Come Together Right Now

In an era when employee engagement is at low levels, it’s important to keep employees — especially those not getting as much face time — involved. Here are a few ways to keep them in the loop:

1. Enable feedback and listen

When it comes to managing a remote team, effective communication might be the most important thing to get right — and also one of the most challenging. Sure, there’s no shortage of communication channels to choose from. Between email, texting, video conferencing, and team-based tools like Slack, it’s easy for you to reach your employees — and for them to reach each other.

But a suite of communication tools doesn’t necessarily mean you have effective communication. As a leader, you must intentionally build a feedback culture. Depending on your setup, you might go days, weeks, or months without seeing your remote employees. That means you don’t have body language or casual chats to gauge their happiness or level of engagement.

Schedule regular one-on-ones with each remote worker. Try not to push back or schedule over these — they’re a priority! Ask employees about the challenges they’re facing in their role and what you can do to support them. If you have a lot of remote workers or entirely distributed teams, you might also need to train managers to give and solicit feedback. Consider providing a special training session specifically for remote employees.

2. Create a virtual water cooler

As more employees go remote, we need to reimagine the social landscape at work. These days, luckily, most people are familiar with online social interaction (seven in 10 American adults are on Facebook).

Opening a line for two-way feedback is a great first step when it comes to virtual communication. But don’t stop there. Your remote workers should feel just as plugged in to the company as your on-site employees. Positive relationships are crucial to keeping your people happy, healthy, and motivated.

Encourage social interaction among employees. Be sure to make small talk with your remote workers: What’s new with their family? Are they looking forward to any trips this year? Start group meetings with an ice breaker from time to time so teams can really get to know each other.

You might also consider a communication platform that enables social interaction like Workplace by Facebook or Jive. This will give remote employees a virtual “home base” to check for company communications, as well as non-work-related discussions.

Do, however, be selective about the communication channels you set up for your remote teams. Too many incoming channels can be overwhelming for remote employees, and they can have an adverse effect on productivity and satisfaction. Pick a few, each with a specific purpose and goal in mind, and commit to them.

3. Celebrate great work

We all want to feel like our hard work is valued. In fact, 79% of people reported that recognition makes them work harder. However, your remote employees’ outstanding work is more likely to fly under the radar, leaving them feeling underappreciated. Be sure to acknowledge their performance and let them know how much you value what they do every day.

Better yet, empower employees to recognize each other in the same way. Many digital employee communication tools have features that gamify engagement and provide ways for employees to give props to each other.

Fostering a culture of appreciation isn’t difficult: those who feel appreciated are more likely to express appreciation to others. Publicly celebrate employees when they do an exceptional job on a project, and make sure it’s visible to remote workers, too. If you and other company leaders plant the seed of sharing appreciation, it will grow quickly throughout your organization.

4. Offer inclusive benefits

Speaking of showing appreciation, does your benefits package cater to remote employees? If you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar company that’s gradually increased its amount of remote work, it might be time to update your benefits and perks.

First, make sure the big-ticket items are on point: Your health insurance plan’s provider network should cover all your employees’ locations (with bonus points for providing telehealth options). Then, ask yourself if there are perks available to on-site employees that remote workers don’t have access to. Things like free coffee and catered lunches might seem small, but they can make a significant impact on employee engagement. Your remote employees miss out on all of this.

If you have a wellness program (you should!), make sure it’s set up so remote workers have an equal opportunity to participate. For example, if you offer employees a gym membership, the option should include gyms where each employee is located.

You could also consider a fun alternative to the standard gym membership. Workout apps like Gixo provide the dual benefits of encouraging wellness and fostering engagement. A virtual fitness program enables all your employees — remote or not — to participate together through live classes they can take from home or the office, encouraging each other to hit their workout goals.

5. Get employees together

Technology is extremely valuable in keeping remote workers engaged, but there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction to build a strong team. If possible, you should plan regular opportunities for your employees to get together in person.

Many companies with remote employees have an annual retreat. Depending on your company size, bringing everyone in to your HQ can be expensive, but it’s worth it. Your employees will appreciate the chance to put faces to the names of the people they work with on a daily basis.

This event could include any regular or mandatory trainings your employees need; you could also plan it around continuing education, like a conference. Alternately, you could just plan a fun team-building event that has nothing to do with your work. Whatever you decide, be sure to build in plenty of free time for networking. Encourage employees to mingle with new faces by assigning groups, tables, or teams.

Teams of the Future

With better technology and more communication tools than ever before, the increase in remote workers is a trend that’s unlikely to slow down any time soon. Are your company’s engagement practices up to snuff? By fostering open communication, celebrating the wins, and offering inclusive benefits, you’ll ensure your remote workers feel as much a part of your organization as the in-office employees.