A buzzword of the business community is “engagement.” We want “engaged customers” and “engaged employees.” But as more business is done online and remotely, what does “engagement” mean now?
An op-ed in Forbes titled The Plight Of The Remote Worker: Mitigating The Engagement And Productivity Impact makes several strong claims:
As a completely remote company, my efforts to provide cohesiveness and positive feedback to the team must cross borders and I believe positive/negative feedback should be voiced more often than in a normal office. This is because we don’t have everyday personal contact.
Again, remote work can be lonely and employees can feel neglected due to distance. Here’s a solution: Properly honor anniversary milestones. Employee service anniversaries are a significant accomplishment and should be recognized publicly. These events are a great way to share employee stories and company history and create a strong sense of culture. You can do this by congratulating these individuals in a yearly team video chat or making them feel special with a small gift.
I do not agree.
It’s true that employee engagement is tremendously important. But that’s not because “employees look for relationships and connection at work”, as the author writes. In fact, people don’t take a job because they are looking to make new friends. They take a job because they want to earn money and maybe create something interesting. If there is a relationship involved in their desire to work, it’s probably because they already have a friend who has a job at that company.
Employee engagement is not about the human-to-human connection, but about being valuable and making a contribution. An engaged employee isn’t one who likes their boss and their coworkers. In fact, you can get along great with people and not really do anything that helps out your employer! Instead, an engaged employee gets things done because they want to, and see doing so as significant.
Feedback is a Lazy Option
We’ve written before about giving good feedback (and also accepting feedback from others). It’s essential to be able to talk to someone who did something wrong and provide coaching, or to be able praise them when they are uncertain.
But in far too many cases, we give feedback instead of doing what we should have done in the first place: hired a qualified candidate, or defined the work sufficiently well. I’m proud that even though most of our team is remote, I rarely send them emails and almost never call them. We don’t have regular meetings. That’s because they are engaged. They know what the company needs because it has been precisely defined, and they do it. Their work is excellent. And almost always when there is a problem, it’s because the scope of the work wasn’t sufficiently defined.
Instead of giving feedback, often what is needed is to better specify the original workflow.
Work Friendships Can Be Dangerous
It’s common advice not to mix friends and money. If you loan money to a friend, you’re likely to have heartache forever. If you pay a friend to help you with a project, you’ll wonder about the price and the work.
So if it’s a bad idea to mix friends and business, should you be friends with your colleagues? In general, you probably shouldn’t. You’re there to get things done. Be careful about anything which might impact your ability to collaborate and succeed.
Remote Is Better, Anyway
A wonderful, often overlooked benefit to telecommuting is that it forces people to focus on results and effective communication rather than what can be done in person. In fact, you should conduct all work as if you are remote. Because then, engagement will be more likely to be genuine, and work will absolutely get done (or be obvious if it isn’t.)
Consider having remote employees. But more importantly, consider what it means to be engaged in your work. That is, to care about more than just punching the clock and getting the paycheck. Being engaged is about doing things that matter and wanting to do good work.
It’s not about other people. It’s about you.