How to Keep Your Team Engaged When Working Remotely

Janey Zitomer
April 23, 2020

Many leaders at the following five companies have been helping employees access any and all equipment they might need while working from home. But headphones, portable desks and video cameras don’t lessen the emotional toll of adjusting to a new normal.  

At SumUp, Managing Director Jan Hoffmann recognizes that these times can surface different challenges for everyone. As a result, the company’s employee assistance program includes a confidential counseling service to support work, family and health-related issues. Stackhawk managers praise team members for getting outside, going for a bike ride or getting in a good workout.

It’s also important to note that physical, mental and financial employee support isn’t a one-size-fits-all template.  

Leadership at CampMinder is asking employees how they feel the company is responding to COVID-19 to gauge reactions and make adjustments as necessary, while Matillion managers are using survey tool Culture Amp to get feedback after they make announcements.

To many tech employees, flexible work arrangements aren’t unknown territory. But as business plans shift and the industry landscape changes, connection matters. 

 

SumUp
SumUp
Jan Hoffmann
Managing Director

When SumUp’s team first started working remotely, leadership wanted to make sure everyone had the equipment they needed to be productive from home. Hoffmann said that providing employees resources meant shipping out new cameras for video calls and helping transport certain office supplies home. 

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since switching to remote working?

At SumUp, we’re proud to have a strong, cohesive culture. Consistent traditions have always helped build camaraderie and collaboration. In the shift to remote work, we’ve kept these same traditions while adding new routines specifically designed to boost remote engagement. 

For example, we now start every workday with an office-wide standup to keep our priorities in sync and energize the team. 

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

Because SumUp is a global company, we’re used to working remotely. We have stakeholders in different time zones and countries. Therefore, the biggest shift hasn’t been adding new tools as much as being even smarter with the tools we already have. 

Between using Trello to manage real-time project updates and Slack for feedback discussions, the team has remained both connected and productive. Additionally, we’re paying close attention to meeting hygiene. More than anything else, we’ve found that face-to-face conversations, even if they’re over Zoom, are still the most efficient way to collaborate. 

We recognize that these times can bring up different challenges for everyone.’’

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

Our first step was to immediately make sure everyone had the proper equipment to work remotely, whether that was getting new cameras for video calls or helping transport office supplies home. 

We recognize that these times can bring up different challenges for everyone, which is why our employee assistance program includes a confidential counseling service to support work, family, health-related issues or other personal matters. Finally, we’re constantly adding new initiatives to keep the team feeling connected, including a weekly cooking challenge and remote yoga classes. 

 

Andrew Taylor
Interim VP of Engineering

Interim VP of Engineering Andrew Taylor said that Matillion has committed to paying employees who are caregivers and parents full salary while they manage homeschooling responsibilities and look after loved ones. The team has adapted to changing government processes and policies as quickly as possible to serve employees in both Denver and Manchester offices. 

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since switching to remote working?

As a global company with dual headquarters, our transition to fully remote working has been quite straightforward. We had the tools and capabilities in place because flexible work is already part of our culture. We have had to tweak our approach around our informal communication between colleagues. It’s easy for people to feel isolated when they can’t just grab a coffee or take a walk together at lunchtime. 

We’ve upped our regular communication to include daily video stand-ups for all teams and bimonthly, long-format town halls. We’ve created some specific Slack channels for people to ask questions and get support and we've encouraged individuals to create more socially focused channels. Our #throughthekeyhole channel, based on the format of a popular '80s U.K. television show, has some of the best engagement we’ve ever seen. 

At the executive level, we have increased standup frequency from three times a week to daily and made them longer. We don’t always use all of the time, but having a regular cadence established, where we can quickly discuss and execute changes, is really helpful. 

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote? 

We’ve built our business using cloud software. We’ve been using Zoom and Slack for years. We're big Google G Suite users so we had no awkward transition around our file sharing and collaboration tools. 

Some people in my professional network have had issues using their systems over the VPN. Thankfully we’ve avoided all of that. We use Udemy for Business to promote learning, and we’ve definitely noticed that people are using some of the video courses on well-being during this time. 

We’ve leveraged Culture Amp, our preferred survey tool, to quickly get feedback from our teams when we make announcements or need data to make decisions. We’re using Slido to allow team members to ask challenging questions anonymously that we can then address during our town halls. We also use Slido for quick, interactive polls. 

Our team has the option to use vacation time if needed.’’  

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive?

We decided to go fully remote quite early so we could be proactive. We took a few days to make sure everyone had the right equipment, including desks and chairs when necessary, and we’ve been asking all of our team managers to check in frequently. 

Fortunately, we’ve seen our teams really rally together. Everyone seems as productive as normal. We proactively surveyed our employees to figure out how to help them best manage their time and not experience burn out. We set expectations around productivity and asked everyone to do the best they can in terms of committed working hours. 

Our team has the option to use vacation time if needed. We also set up a Slack support channel where team members can share resources to help one another. 

 

In addition to giving employees a $200 credit toward headphones of their choice in order to increase remote productivity and morale, the StackHawk team is adding events like a recurring 4 p.m. happy hour to employees’ agendas. CEO Joni Klippert said that the meeting has been a good way to bring everyone together at the end of the day. 

 

What is the most impactful change you’​​​​​​​ve made to your team’​​​​​​​s workflow since switching to remote working? 

We didn’t have a lot of superfluous meetings to begin with, so not a lot has changed. I will say that for backlog grooming and sprint planning, it’s important that extra work goes into setting clear objectives and writing detailed stories in advance of meetings so they run as smoothly as possible. Overall, we are seeing a high level of engagement with our remote work, which is reflective of the culture that was in place prior to the shift.
 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote? 

We use Slack and Zoom and added a 4 p.m. happy hour meeting without an agenda. This meeting gets everyone back together at the end of the day. It provides opportunities for employees to brainstorm features, share an interesting customer story or simply give personal updates. It helps people feel connected, both professionally and personally.

We praise people for getting outside, going for a bike ride or getting in a good workout throughout the day.’’

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

It’s important to us that our team feels supported in this time, and that includes having a workstation that is comfortable. Because video conferencing is key to how we do work, we gave each team member a $200 credit toward headphones of their choice. We have also augmented home workstations with screens or other capabilities as needed. 

I’ve been sending a “surprise” to everyone’s house each week. We’re a small team, so this is still possible. The first week was StackHawk branded cookies from Gateaux Bakery, and the next was a work-from-home snack kit. It’s fun to see the messages roll in as people get their treats, and it’s nice for their families too. 

We’ve also created a Slack channel dedicated to movement. It can be easy to sit at your desk for ten hours at a time and not even realize it. We praise people for getting outside, going for a bike ride or getting in a good workout throughout the day. Endorphins are helpful in an otherwise stressful time.

 

Rebecca Sunshine-DeWitt
Senior Marketing Manager

Senior Marketing Manager Rebecca Sunshine-DeWitt has found that being able to see each other as people and not just doers while the Pie Insurance team is currently apart has been critical to maintaining office culture. During meetings, leadership encourages daily parenting anecdotes and provides stress-relieving resources like remote yoga classes. 

 

What is the most impactful change you’​​​​​​​ve made to your team’​​​​​​​s workflow since switching to remote working?

Pie has given each team the flexibility to adjust their workflow. For example, the marketing team has always been split between our two offices, so we are used to having remote check-ins. But our head of marketing thought it was important for us to have more regular team-wide communications, so we now have two weekly team stand-up meetings. 

While the Wednesday standup remains pretty traditional, the Monday stand-up also includes some watercooler time. We used to sit next to each other and be able to ask about each other’s weekends. Now those Monday stand-ups allow us to connect on a personal level, even though we are forced to be apart.

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

Pie Insurance was founded with headquarters in Denver and D.C, so we’ve always excelled at communication and productivity, even when teams aren’t in the same place. 

At Pie, it’s about more than just having the tools you need to communicate. It’s about using those tools in a way that allows our teammates to connect as humans. For example, we take time to talk about the crazy thing our kid said or the weird thing we caught our neighbor doing in their backyard. Being able to see each other as people and not just doers while we’re forced to be apart has been critical to keeping team members productive and maintaining our office culture. 

At Pie, it’s about more than just having the tools you need to communicate.’’

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

Right off the bat, the company made sure we had monitors, keyboards, etc. for our home offices. Pie Insurance quickly focused on the mental and physical health of Pie-oneers as well. 

For those who crave social interaction, we have team happy hours via Zoom, encouraging folks to pub-crawl from one team to the next. Our Pie parents need extra support, so we created a new channel on Slack where caregivers can share ideas and vent as they navigate working from home and parenting full time. 

Finally, to ensure transparency isn’t lost, leadership established a weekly town hall to provide staff with updates and allow us to submit our own questions.

 

Claire Howick
Talent Operations Specialist

At CampMinder, Talent Operations Specialist Claire Howick said the team continues to leverage Officevibe to keep a close eye on team members’ engagement levels. They also mix it up with team-building activities like a virtual scavenger hunt. Most recently, everyone involved had to find and hold up a roll of toilet paper.

 

What is the most impactful change you’​​​​​​​ve made to your team’​​​​​​​s workflow since switching to remote working?

Our team has always thrived on authentic social interactions throughout the workday. Not only does it bring us closer together as humans and colleagues, it fosters productivity and creativity in our output. With that in mind, we are attempting to stick to our regular meeting rhythm, while building in additional opportunities for informal socializing. 

Our monthly all-company meeting is an opportunity for team members to publicly recognize their colleagues for embodying our core values, and we successfully conducted March’s meeting over Zoom. The team-building portion of the meeting included a virtual scavenger hunt with hilarious screenshots to capture the fun.  

Additionally, managers are keeping their departmental meetings and one-on-one check-ins in place, knowing that their team members might need extra guidance and support right now, especially those for whom this is their first experience working remotely.

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

We are primarily leveraging chat and video tools to stay connected, but doing so in new ways. A big crowd favorite is our weekly happy hour with employee “Cribs”-style tours. Team members are able to give a full tour of their homes with Zoom from their phones. We’ve hosted a “costume catwalk” for our beloved pets we miss seeing at the office, and we’re holding a lunchtime social hour for anyone who wants to drop in to say hello.  

We also continue to leverage Officevibe, a weekly pulse survey tool, to keep a close eye on team members’ engagement levels. We recently added a few custom survey questions about how the company is responding to the COVID-19 situation to gauge how we’re doing and make adjustments to how we’re supporting our team members through this challenge. 

Our talent and culture team members have an open-Zoom-door policy for anyone who needs extra support.’’

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive?

We have a collaborative Google document where team members share what tools and strategies are working for them. We know many of our team members are now faced with the prospect of balancing work and family life, so we’ve provided tips to everyone on how to be empathetic and supportive to parents and caregivers right now. 

In addition to providing a one-time childcare stipend to our parents and caregivers, we also made sure our employees’ monthly wellness stipend through ThrivePass could be used for childcare, home office equipment and food delivery.

Our talent and culture team members and our CEO have an open-Zoom-door policy for anyone who needs extra support or just needs to talk.

 

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