How To Engage Remote Employees In The Age Of Social Distancing

How do you keep employees focused and engaged from a distance?

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As COVID-19 cases resurge, it appears remote work is here to stay. While this has been a difficult time for both employers and workers, business objectives still need to be met. Beyond simply surviving as the months drag on, it is critical that managers find socially distant ways to keep their employees thriving and on a path to personal and professional success. 

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This is particularly important for cannabis companies. We are already navigating a developing industry and some companies have a workforce spread across multiple states or are adding employees during the pandemic. 

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How do you keep employees focused and engaged from a distance? The key lies in creating multiple communication channels. Because everyone communicates differently, developing various ways to interact will ensure managers are collaborating effectively with all members of their team. It also addresses the communication disconnects that can cause confusion over how or why goals were not achieved.

The all-hands meeting

Weekly or bi-weekly company-wide meetups let the leadership team communicate with the entire staff about what is happening within the organization. This allows company leadership to set priorities at the highest level, maintain transparency, and coalesce around broader company goals. In addition, employees are given a chance to ask questions and interact with the leadership team during these group meets. Perhaps most importantly, the all-hands meeting creates a sense of camaraderie between teams that do not work together regularly, helping the entire company feel connected despite the physical distance.

The stand-up

Stand up meetings are regular team meetings that provide managers a way to keep their eyes on things, making sure staffers are working towards appropriate goals and objectives.  Because most companies are working with lean teams right now, it is essential that employees are focused on the right tasks each day. This type of interaction allows managers to get involved in the team’s day-to-day activities and course-correct if necessary. Stand ups are a bit more collaborative than company-wide meetings, and this dynamic – expecting each team member to provide a quick update – may require a period of adjustment.

The 1:1

One-on-one meetings between managers and employees are a great tool to help each individual member of your staff develop professionally and to gain an understanding of their challenges and strengths as individuals. This can be especially helpful for workers who aren’t as comfortable discussing issues or asking questions around other team members in a stand-up or all-hands meeting.

The software can help facilitate the process, tracking goals, and progress. In fact, Würk is beta-testing software from UPTICK that tracks one-on-one meetings, allowing managers to take notes on each staff member, and creating reminders of what to discuss. 

Tracking meetings can help identify professional development needs for each employee and what they need both professionally and personally for growth in their career. For instance, one-on-one meetings allow managers to check in with your staff’s mental health, too. COVID-19’s resurgence may be causing fear and anxiety – and some employees might be dealing with a sick household member. Take this time to understand what and how your employee is doing and refocus if needed. Make sure they know that you, as their manager, are here to help.

The happy hour

A seemingly small but important piece of office life missing from the socially distant workplace is the casual interaction employees typically have throughout the day. That includes small talk at the water cooler, lunchtime catchups and coffee chit chats. Happy Hour meetings are structured socials that encourage the bonding and friendship that naturally form between colleagues. 

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As with traditional in-person happy hours, it’s important to keep conversations light - and not focused on work. In our office, we’ve built in some games and fun challenges during some of our happy hours. During one meeting,  employees played “show and tell” shared something of interest in their home or yard.  The company got to see a bird’s nest in an employee’s garden, while another showed us memorabilia from a food truck they owned. The break from the grind gave everyone a chance to be together as people. 

Encourage company leaders to attend these events.  It helps employees recognize that social interaction is an important aspect of work. 

The professional training

Although your company’s leadership team has already climbed the ladder, leaders need to progress personally and professionally, too.

At Würk, we hired an outside consultant to build our leadership development program, including a schedule for training and classes. It helped us understand what we want our company leadership to look like, how well our leaders are positioned to achieve that vision and what goals they should be hitting to stay on track.

Leadership training is acutely important right now. Expecting managers to steer socially distant workplaces and new challenges while continuing to achieve company goals is a big ask. But it is also a chance to let your leaders shine – with appropriate training and your support.

Leading your company to success

While all companies are learning how to lead and evolve in the COVID-19 landscape, it can be uniquely tricky for cannabis companies already forging a path in an ever-changing industry.

RELATED: If Your Cannabis Brand Didn't Matter Before COVID-19, It Sure Does Now

The first step is understanding all people communicate differently. Using a variety of communication methods can ensure the whole team is included and all pieces of the organization are in alignment. 

Giving all employees what they need to be successful now and in the future is a challenge to overcome – and an opportunity to develop your team.

Keegan Peterson

Written By

Keegan Peterson is the founder and CEO of Wurk, the first workforce management company designed specifically for the cannabis industry. Before Wurk, Peterson spent eight years working for high-growth HR technology companies, developing a deep understanding of possible solutions in the space.