Ever since the summer of 2020, there’s been an ongoing conversation around returning to the office. You’ll find heated perspectives on both sides of the issue – and employee engagement is always a part of the conversation. 

Many teams think that returning to the office will fix employee engagement. They may be right…but that’s certainly not always the case. Before you rush to bring everyone back to the office, consider these points. 

Ask Yourself WHY You Want Teams to Return to the Office 

If you’re planning on bringing people back to the office – or wondering whether you should – make sure you know why. 

For 99% of leaders, this has something to do with culture, engagement, and morale. 

But if you’re doing it to improve employee engagement…are you certain that this will fix the issue? 

In my experience, remote work always plays a factor in engagement issues, but is rarely the root cause. 

If you have strong leaders at every level, your teams will be engaged – full stop.  

But bringing people back to the office won’t fix engagement if your company’s leadership is missing a key piece – relationships! 

One of the most common drivers of disengagement is leaders and teams who don’t take the time to build real relationships with each other.  

Relationships are the glue that binds any team together – whether you’re remote or in-person.  

You work harder for someone if you know they care about you. 

You work harder for someone if you consider them a friend. 

And you work harder for someone if you know they want to see you succeed! 

These are all elements that you only get if you actually have a relationship with someone – which is the foundation of high employee engagement. 

It’s Harder to Engage Remote Teams – But the Blame Goes Both Ways! 

In remote environments, both team members and the leader have to put in extra effort to build relationships. In the office, it’s easy to stop by someone’s cubicle to chat on your way for coffee or stay after a meeting to catch up.  

But in remote environments, it’s all too easy to stay isolated and go days or even weeks without having a face-to-face conversation. 

As a leader or employer, you can’t control how much effort a team member puts in here. Try as you might to engage someone remotely, there may come times when someone just isn’t making themselves available. 

But you can control who you hire, how you train your leaders, and how much effort YOU put into relationships…and that’s more than half the battle. 

Whether you go remote or not, these are essential steps for engaging your teams! 

2 Simple Steps for Better Team Engagement 

While employee engagement is a big topic and there are a lot of different problems you may need to address, there are really two big steps that any team can take to drive engagement. 

The first is the one we already covered – building real relationships with team members. 

Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, many leaders are afraid to “get too close” to their teams. 

They’re worried about getting hit with a lawsuit or finding themselves in an awkward position if a team member needs to be fired, or is underperforming. 

But if you keep your teams at arm’s length out of fear, you’ll always have issues around engagement and turnover. 

So get to know your people – and show you care! Ask questions – learn whether someone has kids at home, what their goals are, what they like to do for fun, and try to find common ground. Call them just to catch up and see how they’re doing. 

It may seem unimportant, but these sorts of conversations are exactly what will motivate someone to go deliver their best work. 

Clearly Outline Your Expectations 

The other big key for driving employee engagement is outlining expectations. 

Have you ever confronted someone about poor performance, only to realize they have no idea what you are talking about? 

This happens all the time in business. 

You may think they’re sandbagging, but if you didn’t clearly communicate expectations, you are partly to blame. 

Make it clear what you expect team members to perform by when – and what will happen if they don’t meet expectations. Oftentimes, that’s all a team member needs to deliver the right results. In the event they’re not delivering the right results, you’re in a better position to have a direct conversation about why they’re falling short since you’ll be on the same page. 

Don’t Blame Every Engagement Issue on Remote Work 

There’s no question that it’s harder to engage remote teams. But you shouldn’t blame every engagement issue on remote teams either. The reality is that if you bring your teams back to the office and expect it to magically fix performance, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. 

Strong leadership is about a lot more than the two steps outlined above – but they will create a very strong foundation to get you started!