More than ever, it's essential to keep employees engaged and make sure they know they are not on an island.

When organizations shifted to working remotely because of COVID-19, everyone's immediate focus was on establishing work-from-home infrastructure: ensuring your employees had the technology and processes they needed to be effective.

As organizations continue to evolve to meet the needs of new and existing employees balancing multi-generational households, remote work and the desire for location independence, it's important to ensure your leaders are prepared. Providing managers guidance on effective hiring, onboarding, interviewing and other talent essentials is crucial to ensuring engagement, growth, satisfaction and retention of employees.

From a recent ADP Canada survey, "45 percent of working Canadians surveyed say they would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week and more than one quarter would prefer to work flex hours. " Indicating that the employers should consider embracing a remote workforce as a long-term model.

Driving engagement from day one

For years, new and existing employees have asked to work remotely. Among other factors, they value the flexibility, autonomy, work-life balance, location independence and relief from commute stress and they gain by not working in a centralized office. But there is a potential downside to remote working: Employees can feel isolated and lonely. Employees who don't feel connected with their team, manager or organization are less likely to be engaged and are more likely to leave.

What's more, between 27% and 31% of employees reported a decline in their ability to perform their job in a given week following the pandemic-related shift in work, according the ADP Research Institute® study A Post-Pandemic Workforce: Tracking Perspectives Amid COVID-19. Engagement and productivity go hand-in-hand and can be impacted by workplace culture.

Leaders must create an environment where remote employees can thrive, feel valued and know that they matter.

How to intentionally develop a positive remote work culture

Just like in the office, a culture can develop on its own, but creating a positive culture requires intention. Three strategies to keep in mind to ensure a positive remote work culture are setting expectations, promoting flexibility and committing to communication.

  • Set expectations. It's important to outline expectations for employees who work remotely. For example, how will teams communicate about a project? Will they primarily use a, text, email or video chat? How quickly are they expected to respond to a text? To an email? Are there core hours during the workday when everyone is expected to be available?

There aren't right or wrong answers. What matters is establishing the parameters of behaviour, which will make communication easier and decrease confusion and anxiety.

  • Provide flexibility. While it is important to have a remote working policy, flexibility is key to success, especially in current pandemic conditions. Be open (that is, be flexible) to the idea that you still may need to adjust your remote policy. Focus on performance and productivity goals for each employee with clear expectations and check-ins to ensure alignment.

Your policy may have required that remote employees keep the same hours as they would if they were in the office, powering up the laptop at 8 a.m. But these days, as many employees also balance other family responsibilities, that 8 a.m. start may conflict with a child's online school call for math class. By focusing on the employee completing the work versus which hours the employee works on it, you give them much-needed and appreciated autonomy.

  • Increase communication. When employees start a conference call or video meeting, it makes sense to be efficient and jump into the discussion. When you're working remotely, however, it's also necessary to connect on a personal level. Some managers have coffee breaks during their longer meetings.

For example, my team meets weekly, and during that time, we check in on how everything is going. We might talk about some business items, but we also talk about fun things, such as what we're cooking, reading or watching lately. It might sound simple, but making that personal connection can be enough to drive engagement and let employees know you understand and you care.

More than ever, it's essential to keep employees engaged and make sure they know they are not on an island. Creating a positive remote work culture benefits the organization because it makes it easier to engage and retain employees as well as attract new ones. However, developing this type of environment when a significant part of your workforce is working from home needs to be done purposefully. Investing this time now can yield long-term rewards.

Learn more

Get customizable email templates and in-depth information on employee leave, recent legislation and other valuable topics in the COVID-19 Employer Communications Toolkit.

To learn more about how organizations can set themselves up for success when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, you can listen in to hear a more in-depth conversation between DEI expert Cathy Gallagher-Louisy, Principal, CGL Consulting and ADP Canada at:

This article originally appeared on SPARK Powered by ADP.