The right employee engagement activities can boost productivity, retention and happiness, even for remote teams.
In recent years, every organization seems to be chasing after that elusive employee engagement. And maybe the effort is paying off. In 2019, employee engagement reached its highest point (35%) since Gallup began tracking it in 2000.
But that still leaves 65% of the workforce as either not engaged, or worse, “actively disengaged,” as Gallup calls it.
Clearly, we still have room to improve. Before we dive into how we can fix this problem with employee engagement activities, let’s begin with a definition.
What is employee engagement?
Engaged employees, as defined by Gallup, are “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” The American analytics company developed 12 elements of employee engagement, which touch on areas such as:
- Expectations. Employees feel engaged when they know what their organization and leaders expect of them.
- Strengths. People want to apply their strengths and talents to their work.
- Praise. Receiving recognition for a job well done helps motivate employees.
- Relationships. Everyone wants to know that someone cares about them. Workplace friendships matter for employee engagement.
- Development. Employees do not want to stagnate; they crave growth and development opportunities, and they need feedback to improve.
- Purpose. Engaged employees find their work meaningful.
Why should I care about boosting employee engagement?
Great question! The bottom line is engaged employees are good for your organization.
- Employee engagement activities can increase retention (and thus, decrease hiring costs).
In 2017, Gallup found that in high-turnover organizations (those with more than 40% annualized turnover) could reduce turnover by 24% by having highly-engaged employees. It’s expensive to constantly re-hire and re-train workers, so it’s in your best interest to boost those retention rates.
- It can improve productivity and profitability.
Gallup research also found that workers in the top quartile of employee engagement were 21% more productive and 22% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.
This probably isn’t at all difficult to imagine: When you find your work dull and tedious, you’re not going to be excited to do it—much less do it well. But when you find your work enjoyable and challenging, you’re going to give it your best shot.
25 employee engagement activities for your team to try (even virtually!)
1. Create a dedicated Slack praise channel.
It feels good to know that what you do matters to someone. If you want to boost employee engagement, show your team that you notice their hard work. Dedicate a Slack channel to praising team members for their achievements and milestones. There are even apps that make it easy to celebrate wins with your team, such as Praisely and Kudos.
2. Position employees as subject matter experts.
OC Tanner’s 2019 Global Culture Report found a 59% increase in engagement when people at an employee’s company came to that employee for help. For that reason, they recommend positioning every team member as a subject matter expert and connecting them with others who might need their expertise.
To make it easy for connections to happen, consider developing a directory outlining each employee’s skills, knowledge and talents. These can even lie outside of the employee’s stated job description.
3. Revise your onboarding.
According to research by OC Tanner, 69% of employees are more likely to remain at an organization for at least three years if they experience great onboarding. You can incorporate employee engagement activities into your onboarding process through team building exercises, explaining your company’s mission and values and connecting new hires with existing employees who can show them the ropes.
4. Help your employees discover their workplace motivations.
A key part of employee engagement is making sure every team member knows their strengths and is able to use them in their work. By using a people analytics tool like F4S, you can quickly get evidence-based information about each individual’s workplace motivations, as well as what they need to work on.
For example, let’s say you have an employee who constantly gets into arguments with teammates lately and seems to be withdrawing from his job. After having him take the F4S assessment, you discover that he is highly motivated toward a solo environment, which means he gains energy from working independently with little interference from others.
You realize, then, that the open floor plan of your workspace and constant group collaboration are actually hindering his work. Based on this newfound knowledge, you can create more of a solo environment for him when he really needs to focus.
5. Meet with them one-on-one.
It’s easy for employees to begin to feel like just another worker in a sea of faces, especially if they are part of a large company. To personalize their experience and show that you care, consider instituting regular one-on-ones between them and their supervisor.
One-on-ones can be held weekly, monthly, even quarterly, and give the employee an opportunity to voice any concerns in private, review their progress, or even just bond with their manager. Most importantly, one-on-ones are an ideal time to give personalized feedback to help them grow.
6. Set challenging goals.
Without goals, both organizational and individual, how will an employee know where they’re supposed to go? Without this vision, they may lose drive.
Psychologist Edwin Locke’s research confirmed that specific, challenging goals increase motivation more than vague, easy ones. That’s right—employees want to strive for something. It’s what keeps life interesting and helps them grow.
7. Offer career development opportunities.
Career development is one of the best employee engagement activities you can offer because many are hungry for these opportunities. In fact, according to the Work Institute 2019 Retention Report, 22% of employees left their jobs in 2018 for reasons related to career development—the leading cause of turnover. This included things like a lack of advancement opportunities, a lack of growth opportunities or a return to school.
Here are some ideas for how you can support your employees’ career development:
- Cover tuition for employees who want to return to school
- Send them to conferences where they can learn more about their area of expertise
- Help them achieve certain certifications that will further their development
- Understand and help them meet their career goals
8. Connect them with a mentor.
Many companies, such as Buffer and LinkedIn, pair their new hires with mentors or “buddies” from day one. That way, any time a new employee has a question, they know they can count on their partner to help them. This can contribute to a sense of belonging in your organization, as well as help them improve their desired skill sets.
9. Host all-hands meetings.
How often do you and your entire company get together? All-hands meetings (as in, “all hands on deck”) are a great way to make sure your entire team feels connected.
As a 100% remote team, Buffer hosts its monthly all-hands virtually, including things like an icebreaker question, celebrations (of birthdays, new pets, engagements, etc.), CEO update, and team building.
10. Let employees shadow different departments.
Each of your teams specializes in different things, but they all need to work together as a cohesive unit. If there’s miscommunication, consider letting your employees shadow members of another team. This will help them gain an appreciation for what they do.
Further, job shadowing can be used as an engagement and retention tool. If an employee in, say, sales, has an interest in engineering, shadowing is an excellent chance to help them further their career and possibly move to another department without leaving your organization entirely.
11. Involve your team in the creative process.
One of the most exciting employee engagement activities you can grant your team is the opportunity to unleash their creative abilities on a new project. When Southwest Airlines needed a new uniform design, instead of outsourcing it, they tapped into the talent of their very own employees to get the project done. They allowed 43 team members from various departments—from Ground Ops to Technical Operations to Cargo—to work together on the new uniform.
For your organization, it might not be about a uniform; you could involve your team in brainstorming new logos, decorating the office or designing a new program brochure. Whatever it is, simply asking for their help on a company-wide creative endeavor does two things: It allows them to think outside of their normal functions and feel like they’re contributing something exciting to your organization.
12. Send them care packages.
Many people working from home during this pandemic feel isolated. Why not send them some love through a care package? You can use an office snack delivery service such as WorkPerks, or package your own custom items. Depending on the size of your organization, this may not be feasible for every employee, but simply surprising team members on occasion with a gift can go a long way in boosting morale and reminding them that, though they may be far apart right now, they’re still very much a part of the team.
13. Find small, unexpected ways to delight your employees.
At one point, Buffer had a dedicated community champion who did things like send handwritten notes, stickers, and other swag to their customers purely to delight them.
I like the idea of organizations establishing an Employee Champion who specializes in employee delight. (In fact, some companies do have Employee Engagement Specialists.)
But this doesn’t have to be an entirely new hire. You could simply assign a couple of hours a week to someone on your team, and have them do little things to brighten others’ day, such as writing thank-you notes or sending small gifts.
Live chat software company Olark has a tradition called “Sweet Support,” where they send candy to two or three employees every month to thank them for excellent customer service.
14. Grant flexible work options.
To feel engaged, employees must feel equipped to do their best work. And yet, many companies still expect everyone to operate optimally on the same 9-to-5 schedule. In reality, some people work best in the mornings, others in the afternoon. Some prefer to work in intense sprints, while others prefer to work in steady, longer sessions.
By granting your team a flexible schedule, you can ensure maximum productivity and engagement. In the FlexJobs 2019 Annual Survey, 30% of respondents said they left a job because it didn't offer flexible work options. What's more, 14% said they considered quitting for the same reason—but decided to stay anyway. That statistic should be worrisome for any employer because those 14% are likely to feel less engaged with their work.
15. Offer virtual workouts.
Getting a workout in with your teammates, even if it’s over Zoom, can result in some quality bonding time outside of strict work. You can ask a member of your team who knows yoga or pilates to lead a class, or even hire an online fitness instructor.
16. Celebrate birthdays.
Sure, birthdays aren’t work-related, but it’s always nice to know that your coworkers care about you. To celebrate an employee’s birthday virtually, get creative. For example, you could record a 15-second video from each of their teammates and combine the clips into a virtual birthday card of sorts.
17. Reward work anniversaries.
Show your appreciation for another year of loyalty to your company by rewarding employees on their work anniversaries. This doesn’t have to be extravagant. Perhaps you could give them the day off of work, grant them a bonus, or even gather written praise from their coworkers detailing how much they appreciate this person’s work.
18. Use internal social media.
Social media is useful or keeping in touch with friends, but what about coworkers? Many teams don’t feel comfortable adding their colleagues to their personal accounts. That’s why some companies choose to implement internal social media just for their organization as a way of sharing both work and personal updates.
Online travel platform Agoda used Workplace by Facebook to stay connected as a team, even replacing its email updates with this enterprise social network.
Alternatively, if you use a communication tool like Slack, you could create channels based on specific interests where teammates can share fun memes, GIFs, and other updates that are just for fun.
19. Write your company values and mission statement together.
As we saw earlier, purpose is essential to employee engagement. If your company doesn’t yet have its values and mission outlined, involve your team in creating these. That way, your employees get a solid reminder of why they show up to work every day and what they’re working toward.
20. Host AMAs (Ask Me Anything).
An AMA (Ask Me Anything) session can help keep employees in the loop or help them learn about a new topic. During an AMA, people can submit any question they want about a certain topic and one person will answer.
Bonusly, an employee recognition platform, uses AMAs to keep their team engaged while working remotely. Every Friday, employees can submit questions via Zoom chat and the CEO will answer them.
21. Showcase their talents.
Are you aware of the hidden talent in your midst? You might be surprised to find that people in your workforce are classically trained pianists, hobbyist jugglers or just really good at telling jokes.
Both Etsy and Zappos have featured employee opening acts before their all-hands meetings, ranging from musical performances to stand-up comedy. This is a fantastic way to infuse some fun into your work meetings and empower your employees to showcase their talents.
22. Host a virtual company retreat.
Agorapulse, the makers of social media management software, faced a big challenge when their work retreat scheduled for April 2020 ended up coinciding with the global shutdown. They had to scramble to turn an in-person retreat into a virtual one. Using the platform Whereby, they were able to pull it off successfully, with plans to do it every quarter now.
23. Host a competition.
A little friendly competition can go a long way in encouraging team bonding. This can be in the form of a talent show, a pub quiz, or a hackathon.
Cloud software company Okta managed to transform its hackathon into a virtual one for 2020. Focused on creating engagement in a remote atmosphere, Okta shipped T-shirts to teams, held a watch party that featured activities to keep people moving and even invited aerialists, DJs, and magicians to perform! Proof that virtual events don’t have to be boring.
24. Volunteer together.
Engaged employees feel a sense of purpose. To help lend meaning to your team’s work, encourage them to volunteer together. For example, your engineering team could teach children how to code, or your communications team could tutor students in English. The great thing is that these types of activities can be done online. Points of Light has a running list of virtual volunteer opportunities.
25. Connect their purpose with their work.
I’ve saved this one for last because, though it’s broad, it’s also arguably the most important. According to the July 2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness poll, the number one contributor to overall happiness at work is feeling that your work is meaningful.
There can be many ways to connect an individual’s purpose with their work, but it will begin by finding out what their purpose is. Managers should be having these discussions with their direct reports so that, together, they can brainstorm ways to ensure that the work they’re doing truly matters to them. Without that key ingredient, it will be tough to keep your workforce engaged.
Get started on these employee engagement activities
As many teams continue to work from home and people around the world continue to self-isolate, employee disengagement becomes even more of a threat. But thanks to technology, there are many employee engagement activities you can do virtually—and that should be good news for all.