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Keeping Distributed Employees (Remote Workers) Engaged with Internal Marketing

To put it mildly, the last couple of years have changed the face of many workplaces throughout the country and around the world.

Many of those faces, in fact, only appear on computer screens because they are not working from the office.

They are working from home.

In the past, they were called remote workers. But times change. A better phrase is “distributed.”

As Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and co-founder of WordPress, points out: “remote” implies that some are essential and some are not. He says, “I use the word “distributed” to describe what we do, where everyone is on an equal playing field.”

So, though some, many, or all your employees may be remote workers, your team still needs to work and feel like a team.

The benefits are great, but as with everything, having a distributed workforce takes work to get right.

But you have a tool that works equally well internally as it does externally: your marketing.

The best way to keep your distributed workforce engaged and part of the team is through internal marketing.

A distributed workforce snapshot

At the peak of the pandemic, 69% of US employees were remote workers. This switch started saving them an average of almost $480 per month and over 13 hours of commute time. With extra time not spent in a car, employees were putting in extra hours at work (an average of 26 hours per month).

Being able to work from home has more benefits for those employees. When asked to evaluate aspects of their work well-being, 80% felt their employer cared about them. More than 75% felt more trusted, and 71% were more likely to recommend their employer to their friends. It just makes sense that employees who feel trusted and cared for will want their friends to enjoy the same experience.

Working from home also helps create a better equilibrium on that delicate tightrope of work and life. 72% of employees surveyed agreed the ability to work remotely would make them less stressed. 77% believed they would be better able to manage their work-life balance from home.

But what are the benefits for employers? From not having to provide as much physical space and many travel-heavy business activities (conventions, seminars, etc.) moving to virtual-only experiences, employers can save about $11,000 per year per remote worker.

Not only were workforces more distributed, but they were productive. 75% of employees report they are the same or more productive while working from home (and multiple sources back up those claims)- putting those extra hours not commuting to good work.

So, workforces are distributed. They are being more productive, and everyone is saving money. But how do we supercharge their productivity and, more importantly, make them feel connected to their entire workplace team?

Engaging internal marketing

The picture painted above reflects many of the positive outcomes of a distributed workforce, but it’s not all peaches and cream. In a pre-pandemic survey of distributed employees, 19% reported struggling more with loneliness, and 17% found collaborating and communicating with their coworkers more difficult. Though these statistics were collected before the new normal—where video chats are 50% more prevalent—they do illustrate a psychological need for connection that remote workers are lacking.

And that’s where internal marketing comes in. The same techniques you use to get your message to your customers can be turned inward to help your distributed employees connect. We’re going to divide internal marketing into a few areas of concentration, so you can more easily create an internal marketing engagement plan of your own.

1. Create a knowledge base

One of the first things your marketing team does when your company starts is developing your web presence. Your website, social media accounts, and introductory marketing collateral create a pool of information your audience can reference to learn more about your company. Guess what? Your employees need this too. They need a centralized spot where all your policies, procedures, documents, reference materials, and organizational materials live. They need their own pool of information.

By creating a place where your employees can find answers to all (or most) of their questions, you’ll establish a shared knowledge base. This is the very foundation of building a successful company culture. Whether you use a cloud storage location, a company-created wiki, or a full-fledged intranet, businesses must make sure that every employee—no matter where they are working—has easy access to the same information. This puts everyone on that same playing field mentioned before. Your shared knowledge base will not only offer support to current employees, but also be invaluable to new hires.

2. Build & use communication conduits

There are two communication channels that should always be open. The first is between employees. One of the best parts of being in an office setting is getting to easily interact with other team members. An informal meeting in the kitchen as you make coffee, a conversation in the halls while stretching your legs, and simply standing up and chatting over a cubicle partition are just some of the many ways to connect with your peers. These valuable connections can, of course, be replicated online using one of a myriad of chat tools. Find your favorite and build a virtual water cooler and meeting rooms where everyone can meet and communicate. It’s faster than email, more informal, and can quickly connect breakout groups to tackle any project. And, since most chat programs either have or work with video conferencing, it’s easy to have virtual face-to-face interactions.

The second channel is between employees and management. This one is of such importance that we’re going to hit you with some statistics. In a recent study by Gallup, only 7% of employees think work communication is timely, open, and accurate. These are the three pillars of exemplary communication, and managers need to make sure they are a priority. Why? Because that same Gallup study found employees are 2.7 times more likely to be engaged when they regularly communicate with their managers. Indeed, 74% of employees looked to senior management to guide and reinforce company culture. Show your employees how to be engaged by being engaged yourself, and keep them engaged by always providing timely, open, and accurate information.

3. Play games

To better engage your distributed employees, play games with them. Well, don’t “play games” with them, rather use gamification to enhance their united experience. Do note that gamification isn’t synonymous with competition; it’s not an “only closers get coffee” sort of proposition. It’s more a chance to build micro-achievements into any task. Rather than look at a project as jumping from one floor to another, for example, gamification adds a rope ladder which increases the desire to succeed because it’s fun to climb. As gamification expert and author, Yu-kai Chou says, “Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.”

Gamification can help you get company-wide training completed faster (first X-number employees who complete it win a prize), boost your collection for charity (most cans donated to local food banks wins), and assist in the accomplishment of any other business endeavor. By adding an element of fun the celebrates every success in the workplace, you can increase employee engagement by 48%. And more engaged employees mean your distributed workforce will be working more cohesively as a team.

The pandemic has made remote workers more common, often more desired, and definitely more valued. But the key to unlocking the true potential of your employees is by keeping them engaged with the same marketing techniques you use to engage your customers. By giving all your employees (no matter where they work) a good repository for shared information, easily accessible and always open communication channels, and gamified reasons to engage, your distributed workforce will feel and work like a connected team.