How to Keep Remote and Hybrid Employees Engaged

At these 5 Chicago tech companies, connection is key.
Written by Tyler Holmes
August 25, 2021Updated: August 25, 2021

Keeping your team motivated is an essential component of success, and understanding how to approach the new hybrid office dynamic can be transformative for productivity.

Employees are no longer just a quick commute away from in-person team huddles and break room lunches. They can be working remotely at their home in the suburbs, across the country or even overseas – so engagement has become more crucial than ever before. Especially when disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year, according to a study from The Engagement Institute.

An immediate impulse might be to offer an upgraded benefits package or implement monthly half-days for employees to recharge over a long weekend. While this may leave employees feeling appreciated in the moment, it requires a more in-depth approach to keep teams engaged, passionate and supported in their work long-term.

Throughout Chicago, tech companies are realizing that a key component to generating continued engagement is connection. Whether through flying employees out for a week-long creative retreat or simply building a Slack channel dedicated to checking in on personal life, bringing teams together for more than just work can help keep internal career flames burning bright.

Built In Chicago caught up with five local people leaders to learn more about their methods for giving employees a jolt of inspiration when they need it most and the software helping keep teams connected, no matter the location.

 

 

Katy Scott
Director of Talent // Focused Labs

What they do: Focused Labs provides a variety of services to enhance its clients’ tech capabilities, which include custom software creation, cloud migration and platform deployment.

 

What is one strategy you use to bolster engagement and productivity throughout your team?

Every employee can participate in “Focused Hours” which consists of manager-approved, dedicated time to explore topics that enhance your passion and reinvest that passion back into Focused Labs. Recently, we had our first company onsite. We flew every employee to Chicago for a week. A few of our engineers created exercises focused on pairing – really demonstrating how each of us approaches problems differently and how to acknowledge and collaborate with others. Later in the day, we had our engineers swap projects to jump into a new tech stack and share perspectives with each other. 

We believe that by giving employees the chance to get creative, we give our employees trust and encouragement to experiment and fail. Through continual, candid feedback and dedicated time, we can create a team where we all acknowledge and approach real problems to bring out the best in each other.

 

Beyond the standard video conferencing and chat software, what tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity?

With the majority of our team working remotely, we’ve been working on building out our Notion pages so that we can more easily share knowledge virtually. We even created a “scavenger hunt” for new hires throughout the Notion page, so that everyone can become familiar with our benefits, best practices, weekly lunch talks and a variety of clubs and virtual social events.  

Our engineers also use programs like Tuple and Pop to help them pair programs by making it easy to screen share. We’ve found that with these tools, it’s easy for our engineers to talk through solutions in real time, learn from each other and build more robust software. 

In addition to these tools, we’ve been using Miro lately for brainstorming exercises to talk through best practices when it comes to how to improve our team rituals and prioritization strategies.

Every quarter, we come together to ensure that we’re holding ourselves accountable to addressing the team’s feedback.”

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive – whether they’re in the office or working remote?

Every member of our team has a $250 annual wellness stipend that they can spend on anything from personal fitness to wellness apps like Calm or Headspace. Plus every employee has a $1,000 home office supply budget so that they can set up a great home office setup. In addition to monetary compensation, each employee has 21 PTO days a year so that they can take time to relax and come back to work feeling refreshed. 

Just as important as our benefits are continual discussions with the team where we share company updates, provide transparency around the business and solicit feedback from every member of our team. Every quarter, we come together to ensure that we’re holding ourselves accountable to addressing the team’s feedback and keeping open lines of communication. With this focus on transparency and trust, we hope to create a work environment where people feel respected and valued to do their best work.

 

 

Julie Fouts
Agile Leader // SpotHero

What they do: SpotHero is a digital parking marketplace that allows drivers the ability to find, book and access off-street parking across the U.S. and Canada offered by parking operators.

 

From an organizational/cultural standpoint, what is one strategy you use to bolster engagement and productivity throughout your team?

I’m an agile leader at SpotHero. I strive to ensure that we’re creating space for life so product and engineering can take risks while continuously improving their skills. When people don’t feel a deep connection with their peers, psychological safety fails.

We recently held our 10th anniversary “All Team Week” in Chicago, where we hosted plenty of fun events, both virtually and in-person, to connect and fuel relationships. One of the events was a talent show where a senior product manager and I showcased our skills of knowing everyone’s dog by memory. To make it even more fun, we dressed in dog costumes to raise $5 per correct guess. We ended up donating more than $800 to One Tail at a Time!

While we all work virtually, having these moments when we can just be ourselves unites us together to enjoy the ride.

 

Beyond the standard video conferencing and chat software, what tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity?

SpotHero is both hybrid and flexible to all working environments. We have some folks who choose to work in the office and others who prefer to be remote. So, beyond having meetings on Zoom and conversations in our JIRA boards, we’ve added new tools for collaboration.

Our engineering teams (dubbed “squads”) host retrospectives at the end of each two week sprint. Previously, our retros were facilitated using physical sticky notes while computers were closed. Now, we leverage GoReflect to host these conversations virtually, something we will continue to use even as folks return to the office.

We also use InVision to mock up prototypes for user testing, which integrates with JIRA to provide access to designs while working with code. Our people team regularly sends out surveys to track employee engagement and gather feedback, including an employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). By doing so, we’re able to get a pulse on how our team is feeling, and what we can do to make our culture even better!

When people don’t feel a deep connection with their peers, psychological safety fails.”

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive – whether they’re in the office or working remote?

At SpotHero, we value curiosity and collaboration, and create space for life. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day deliverables so we carve out time to experiment and learn across the organization. For instance, at the end of every two week sprint, our squads participate in a “Discovery Day” – a dedicated afternoon for the team to dig into something new. These are usually areas of interest for each individual, and are purposefully not business tasks. 

Plus, every quarter, leaders conduct squad health checks, which consist of surveying everyone on the team to gather their unique perspective. This helps us determine how each squad is doing within 12 domains, such as communication, collaboration and ease of development, and to see where we should provide extra support.

From a benefits perspective, we also cover 90 percent of healthcare premiums and 50 percent for all dependents, so everyone can take care of themselves and their families. With our unlimited PTO, we help everyone take at least two to three weeks off every year, regardless if it’s spent at home or on the road. When folks are off, they’re truly off! We empower employees to set themselves away and have a backup plan for while they’re out.

 

 

Jevonna Johnson
Head of Customer Operations // Avant

What they do: Avant’s online lending portal provides customers with personal loans and credit cards. 

 

What is one strategy you use to bolster engagement and productivity throughout your team?

In my experience, engagement and productivity are bolstered by two things. The first is an employee truly knowing how they contribute to the organization’s overall success. The second is the employee knowing that their voice is heard and that the organization values not only their contributions but who they are as people.

We strongly believe that employees should be able to bring their whole selves to work and we are constantly soliciting feedback from Avantees through a monthly survey that we call the Avant Pulse Rating. These surveys cover a wide variety of topics and provide me and leadership with valuable insights into what we can do to improve communication, transparency, work-life balance and a whole host of other areas. Our employees are what drive our culture. The only way we can know how to improve is by listening and leaning into their needs.

 

Beyond the standard video conferencing and chat software, what tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity?

We will be operating in a remote-friendly, hybrid work environment going forward and many of the employees we are hiring now are spread across the United States. Obviously the past 18 months or so have been challenging in many respects but we also feel that we’ve learned a lot as an organization that we can carry forward into our next phase. We’ve continued to build a meaningful community and culture by holding events that reinforce how connected we are to each other. Some of these events include mixology classes, bingo nights, a summer concert series, virtual escape rooms, scavenger hunts and Demo Days – a company tradition that allows Avantees to socialize, meet new members of the organization and give presentations on current projects.

Our employees are what drive our culture – the only way we can know how to improve is by listening and leaning into their needs.”

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive – whether they’re in the office or working remote?

Even before the pandemic, we focused a ton of effort on the overall health and wellness of our people. We believe very strongly that Avantees are more than their roles. The transition to a remote work environment made it even more challenging to understand where our employees were at so we knew we could not just rely on our existing tool kit – we needed new tools.

Our talent team has worked with me and leaders across the business throughout the past 18 months to ensure we have the benefits to match the needs of every Avantee, whether they’re in the office, working remotely or a hybrid. Again, continuous feedback is critically important to make sure we know what our employees need so we can meet them where they are to provide that support.

We’ve also leaned into our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by talking about relevant, diverse topics that educate and promote cohesion in support of all the communities represented within Avant. Examples of this include a panel of women leaders talking about their journeys during Women’s History Month, a series of community conversations to address the violence against Black and Asian people in America and a Pride month campaign focused on education and acceptance.

 

 

Kelly Bentley
Director, Human Resources // CSC Corptax

What they do: CSC Corptax provides customers with technology-based tax solutions including data and entity management, tax planning and tax compliance services.

 

What is one strategy you use to bolster engagement and productivity throughout your team?

One way we bolster engagement and productivity is by creating opportunities for employees to feel informed, connected and included. We want to strengthen camaraderie and foster fun among employees, so everyone feels valued, welcomed and respected – wherever they work.

For example, our Hypes and Happenings program supports employee connectivity by bringing people together in virtual group activities. We celebrate employee achievements such as work anniversaries, recognize new hires, and more. We use an intranet platform to foster engagement and keep team members informed. While working remotely during the pandemic, we started offering fun virtual gatherings like bingo and trivia nights for employees and their families. We also spotlight the Living Our Values (LOV) recognition program, which acknowledges colleagues for their contributions by awarding badges for demonstrating service, teamwork, tenacity, agility and being genuine, and ensuring those achievements are visible to leaders.

 

Beyond the standard video conferencing and chat software, what tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity?

As part of the larger CSC® organization, we have a strong technology infrastructure, including network redundancy to ensure access to critical data and software, as well as a deep level of security. This allowed us to easily shift our workforce practically overnight to a 100 percent remote model in March 2020, while supporting our employees in their continued engagement and productivity. 

For example, Microsoft 365 tools and integrated apps, as well as Microsoft Teams, assist us in supporting our fast-paced, flexible, and innovative environment.

In addition, we used Microsoft Teams to launch employee resource groups that we introduced as Global Employee Teams (GET). These employee-created groups include individuals across the organization who share ideas. Some examples of groups are Sharpen the Saw (leader development), Outdoor Adventures, CSC Runners and The Mom’s Connection.

We continue to enhance the virtual onboarding experience for new hires, as well as leader learning and mentorship programs. All employees have access to online classes, such as LinkedIn Learning to support their career growth and continuous education.

We want to strengthen camaraderie and foster fun among employees so everyone feels valued, welcomed and respected.”

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive – whether they’re in the office or working remote?

We strive to make our people, partners, customers, and communities better off tomorrow than they are today. This starts with happy and healthy teams. We support teams across the organization by providing easy access to resources on our company intranet, and we frequently communicate to ensure awareness about:

  • Health and wellness resources, including healthy eating and ergonomic tips
  • Mental well-being, including first-person employee stories
  • Productivity suggestions
  • Leadership resources for leading remote teams

We aim to support employees and foster productive experiences for all. “Relax, Refresh, and Recharge” is our disconnect campaign asking employees to share stories, photos and videos highlighting how they spend their time off and balance work and life.

Our new “Flexibility within a Framework” program offers teams the ability to work collaboratively to align work arrangements with the needs of the individual, the team and the customer. We’ve always been flexible – many employees worked remotely or had hybrid schedules before the pandemic. 

 

 

Colette Boynton
Manager, Training and Development // Ensono

What they do: Ensono provides hybrid IT solutions, including cloud infrastructure, and mainframe service and support.

 

What is one strategy you use to bolster engagement and productivity throughout your team?

Within our training and development team, we have always strived to find ways to be more engaged in our training offerings as well as in our own team interactions. With the shift to fully virtual, this was an added challenge; however, we have used our passion and creativity to work around that. Within our own team, we have set up regular online meetings for collaboration. Some focus on our work updates, others we use for social interaction such as online games. This has kept us connected as well as productive.

 

Beyond the standard video conferencing and chat software, what tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity?

Within our team meetings, as well as our training offerings, we have included as much engagement and interactions as we could. We have a corporate account with Kahoot, which is an online activity platform that allows us to keep our team and our learners actively involved in meetings as they answer questions and respond to polls. We have also utilized the breakout room options so we can spend time in smaller groups where it is easier to get everyone’s input and then pull back to the larger meeting to share. These types of engagement tools have ensured our team and our learners are actively participating and not simply logged in and staring at the screen.

We’ve established trust within the team and encouraged all to take time when and if needed.”

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive – whether they’re in the office or working remote?

We are a global team and although we are all currently remote, even prior to the pandemic, we had frequent communication to keep connection across the various regions. Our team has a group chat set up that is related to work, but is also used to share fun stuff and keep up with each other. We are fortunate that our company offers health and wellness support through an app as well as support services associates can access at any time for mental and physical health.

Most importantly, we’ve established trust within the team and encouraged all to take time when and if needed. Spending all day on the computer in your home can really be draining and make it difficult to separate work from home. Feeling free to set up time off when needed has been critical to keeping the morale up.

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