employee engagement ideas

Why employee engagement activities are critical for distributed teams

Reading time: about 5 min

Keeping remote and hybrid teams engaged is not as simple as just mapping “office culture” directly to remote environments—and keeping employees engaged goes beyond just virtual happy hours.

Culture is not just a collection of personalities or the expression of corporate values—it’s the lived experience each team member has on a day-to-day basis as they interact and work with their teammates and leaders.

Why employee engagement is important

Employee engagement should be a priority for any organization, because helping everyone in your company stay healthy and happy on the job is the right thing to do. It also has tangible and intangible business benefits. 

There are both collective and individual aspects to engagement that are worth monitoring and working on closely. Knowing what increases your team’s engagement can help you establish and strengthen your work culture. 

What makes an engaged team 

Keep your team strong and engaged by helping them stay: 

  • Balanced: Work, life, and wellbeing all in sync help teams stay focused and make it easier to make your projects a personal and group priority.
     
  • Productive: Projects run smoothly, with individuals (and the team as a whole) feeling like the work is understandable, manageable under the given deadline, and won’t be subjected to scope creep by stakeholders.
     
  • Connected: Communication and information are accessible and used effectively. Your team has access to visual and text chat tools, org charts, and other resources to help them know who to talk to for various needs.
     
  • Appreciated: Individual contributors know they are valued and can see how their work adds value to what the team accomplishes. 

Ultimately, doing what you can to support your team’s engagement helps your bottom line by making it easier to recruit and retain good candidates and reducing the isolation some remote workers may feel. Engaged teams are often highly innovative and better prepared for taking on new challenges. 

Engagement activities to try

Bringing your team together to grow engagement organically through activities and challenges can help you demonstrate commitment to improving employee engagement. 

Recognition

  • Virtual gratitude jar: A place for your team to share what they’re thankful for and appreciate. This could be work-related gratitude or anything else to be grateful about. Reading the gratitude jar messages is a great way to take a break and reflect on what your team accomplishes. 
  • Teammate of the quarter award: Your team can nominate throughout the quarter and vote on a winner. Some organizations have set prizes or let the winner choose a unique perk. 
  • Shoutout channel: In your collaboration toolspace such as Slack or Teams, host a shoutout channel where your team can recognize great work. 

Give swag: Company branded giveaways are fun and can be used to recognize individuals or the group. New team members can be welcomed and recognized with a gift box. Order individual items or stock up on gifts with your logo–their favorite water bottle or tshirt could serve as a reminder of their awesome work for years to come. Or, keep it simple and buy their favorite snack.

Camaraderie and team building

  • Icebreakers: Use interesting questions to encourage your team to think creatively about non-work-related challenges. You can also choose interesting questions that relate to work (“What would this team do differently if our biggest competitor bought us out?” “If our biggest problem became 50 times bigger, what would you do?” “If your team started a competitor company, how would you overtake this organization?”) 
  • Quarterly team activities: Group activities can be big or small. Sign up for eSports challenges as a team and play online together virtually, work online together in a guided virtual session with a facilitator, or attend a virtual conference. Get together in-person for a BBQ and games or a day at the lake. You can even go on a team retreat–across town or across the world.
  • GIF sharing: Create channels and challenges around sharing GIFs. For example, a daily theme: scary GIFs, dinosaurs, favorite movies. Raise the stakes by banning reused GIFs (no one can post what’s already been posted to the channel). 
  • Challenges and games: March Madness brackets, white elephants, Kahoot, Jackbox, etc. Solve problems together, even if it’s in a fun and informal setting. 
  • Volunteer as a group: If you’re all able to go in-person and work on a project–or even volunteer online–bring your talents to a nonprofit that needs volunteers. This can help your team’s problem solving skills and gives your team an opportunity to genuinely give back to the community. 
  • Virtual “lunch”: Just because your team is remote, doesn’t mean you can’t coordinate a team lunch by ordering delivery. 

Growth and learning

  • Lunch and learn: Take turns teaching each other a work-applicable skill, watch a Masterclass together, etc.
  • Offer coaching and education: What skills would help your team do their jobs better? Consider bringing in a workshop, curating an online learning track of classes or learning your team can use, or providing champions in your team the space and time to craft resource collections for their coworkers. If learning Mandarin would help your team with their projects, then why not bring in an expert in the language to teach lessons?  
  • Share inspiration: Slack channels where you can essentially have a team “swipe file” of favorite examples of work other companies are doing that you want to emulate. For that matter, consider building a swipe file where teammates can document their best work. 
  • Support passion projects: Many companies give employees time to work on whatever projects they choose, setting aside their normal priorities and collaborating on something new. This is a great way to boost your organization’s innovative output and give your team a chance to grow. 

Listen and model engagement in your organization 

Listening to your team creates a full feedback loop, providing your employees with opportunities to speak directly about their priorities, interests, and needs. Your team can help your organization determine which activities make the most sense and do the most to improve engagement.

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