How to improve employee engagement within global businesses
A simple and effective guide on how to improve employee engagement across remote, international, and in-person teams. Overcome challenges to employee engagement with six expert tips.
For both domestic and international businesses, working with remote team members and overseas contractors is increasingly becoming the norm. This brings with it a plethora of benefits for businesses, especially those seeking to expand their operations globally.
Increased diversity of culture and knowledge can help to inject new ideas and solutions into a company, whilst expanding the recruitment pool internationally also heightens your exposure to the best available talent. However, managing remote and international teams also has its fair share of challenges.
The challenges faced by managers of international and remote employees
The primary challenge is determining how you keep employees engaged in their work, and with their team, when they work remotely; or across different time zones; or even in different languages. Fostering and maintaining global employee engagement can prove critical to the success of your business, especially during an international expansion.
This article presents team leaders, HR executives, and business owners with six fundamental ways to improve employee engagement virtually and in-person.
Why focus on improving global employee engagement?
The benefits of improving employee engagement across your in-house, remote, and international teams cannot be understated. A Gallup study updated in 2022 revealed that businesses with a highly-engaged workforce were around 23% more profitable than other businesses, reporting 10% higher customer ratings on average, as well as 18% more sales.
Just as importantly, the study found that highly-engaged employees were around 14% more productive, and between 18% and 43% more likely to stay in the job. Higher employee retention, we know, also reduces business costs, since it is far less expensive to retain an employee than it is to recruit and train a replacement.
Whose job is it to improve global employee engagement?
There is no one-size-fits-all trick or secret to improving employee engagement in a global team. Each team is different, each individual different, too. Ultimately, the job of fostering employees’ healthy engagement with their work comes down to the combined efforts of management. From the business owner and CEO at the top, all the way through to line managers and team leaders. Everyone in a position of authority has a role to play in increasing global employee engagement.
How to improve team engagement virtually and in-person
Let us now walk through the six most effective ways to improve engagement in your in-house, remote, and international employees, as curated by Mauve Group. We’ll explore each ‘tip’ in a broad sense, before applying it to each of these three distinct employee scenarios.
Tip 1) Open and honest communication
Good communication lies at the heart of every successful, sustainable business, and when it comes to employee engagement it is just as important. When employees are scattered across time zones and different working environments, communication and collaboration is the most effective means of helping individuals feel connected to each other.
Embedded within quality communication is a culture of reward and recognition for hard work. Make sure to schedule regular meetings, catch-ups, and social calls in which you make a point of celebrating individual employees’ hard work – whether or not the work led to a “success” or not.
Whilst applicable to every employer-employee interaction, it’s important to create open, free, safe spaces for employees to share their thoughts and opinions, concerns and critiques. When we feel heard and our opinion valued, we are likely to want to engage more with our work – i.e., if our feedback matters to our bosses, then we have a genuine stake in the company.
One of the major difficulties attached to remote working is the lack of physical interaction. As social creatures, we rely heavily on body language for effective communication. Indeed, as much as 55% of all communication is nonverbal. Employees working remotely miss out on all of the little physical nuances which have made working in office environments the effective norm for so long.
One way to overcome this challenge is to hold regular video calls and conferences, rather than conducting business via emails or phone calls. Another is to involve all the employees in a department or team in a group social chat, e.g., on WhatsApp, or to implement a remote socialisation initiative like the highly-effective ‘Coffee Roulette.’
International employees face the same non-physical challenges as remote workers, but with the added complexities of time, language, and cultural barriers. You may, for example, be based in New York, USA, but manage a global team of employees across Europe, Africa, and Asia. In such a scenario, your employees could be operating on a dozen different times, in a dozen different languages, and be entering your workplace with a dozen different understandings of what workplace culture should look like.
Though simple, one of the most singularly effective ways to increase international employee engagement is just to be aware of those differences, and to make room for them in your communication channels. People from a culture of work which revolves around turn-based discussion may experience great difficulty asserting their voice in a work culture where individuals contribute and reply in a more fluid manner.
You can accommodate international differences by redefining workplace communication in the same way you would to make it more inclusive to women, disabled, and neurodiverse people – three groups which have historically been made to play second fiddle to able-bodied men.
For example, you can create a culture which encourages employees to “call out” inappropriate language, such as misgendering, sexist terminology, or talking over someone else, in a constructive manner. Alternatively, you can, as team leader, actively engage more introverted or neurodiverse employees whilst on the call, providing them a quiet and respectful platform to share their views.
Tip 2) Quality onboarding and expectation-setting
Employee engagement begins during the recruitment and onboarding process. Setting clear expectations, defining the employee’s role, and ensuring they know who and where to turn to for assistance helps to make new recruits feel comfortable and confident in their job, which in turn increases their engagement.
International onboarding can be daunting, what with myriad rules and regulations to comply with and the virtual nature of the process. Engaging the expertise of an Employer of Record with experience in global onboarding can free up your time so that you can better concentrate on increasing your new employees’ engagement levels.
You will likely already have a well-established onboarding process for your local, in-person or in-office workforce. To ensure fairness, you should use this framework to create a uniform onboarding process which can be applied across your global operations. As such, it’s crucial that you get in-person onboarding right.
Here is where you instil your company’s values, goals, and mission in new employees, clearly defining where they fit within these realms. You should use onboarding to set clear expectations of the employee, whilst providing the space for them to query these. Equally important is ensuring that the new recruit is aware of their team’s structure. This will help them to develop a clear idea of how they may, in time, progress within the company, as well as shedding light on the roles of their colleagues so that they know where to direct their questions as they learn and grow into their new position.
Following COVID-19, many office workers who were forced to transition to a remote or hybrid-work model have found that prefer to stay working that way. A 2022 study by Forbes found that as many as 86% of employees preferred remote and hybrid working to being based in the office full-time. Onboarding remote team members should take into account the main factors which make remote work culture so enjoyable and rewarding, namely:
- A better work-life balance
- Reduced friction with colleagues
- Greater flexibility in the employee’s working schedule.
Onboarding remote employees can include a productive discussion of working hours and flexibility, to establish a schedule which gives the employee the best possible work-life balance whilst ensuring they can still meet the company’s expectations for their work. If onboarded properly, remote workers can be just as engaged – if not moreso – than their office-based colleagues.
Flexibility, including asynchronous working practices, is equally key to the engagement levels of international employees. However, here it is worth looking into some of the deeper complexities involved in the global onboarding process. For one, international onboarding must take into consideration differences in culture and cost of living.
Culturally, it should be made clear in the onboarding process how the company will accommodate the new international recruit’s religion and/or cultural beliefs. This can include allowing time for prayer during the working day, offering flexible time off for religious and cultural holidays, as well as collaborating with the employee to discover how they can be best engaged during specific periods of ritual – such as the fasting practiced by Muslims during Eid.
With regards to cost of living, employees in different economies will benefit differently from your remuneration and benefits packages. To ensure equitable equality throughout your workforce, and thus improve your international employees’ engagement, use onboarding to illustrate how you plan to account for different economic situations in regard to salary. For example, a USD$30,000 p.a. salary would be of a much higher equivalent worth to an employee living in Venezuela than it would be to a British employee in the UK.
Tip 3) Make your employees’ health and wellbeing a business goal
It is by now widely understood that a healthy, happy, less stressed workforce is more productive and engaged. Yet mental health at work is still a major hurdle for many employees, who often feel unseen or marginalised because of their mental health. Knowing how to increase global employee engagement by promoting mental health and well-being starts with understanding workplace stressors. According to the World Health Organisation, the most common workplace stressors to mitigate against include:
- Under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work
- Excessive workloads or work pace
- Long, unsocial, or inflexible hours
- A lack of control over job design or workload
- Unsafe or poor physical working conditions
- A company culture that enables negative behaviours
- Limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision
- Violence, harassment and bullying
- Discrimination and exclusion
- An unclear job role
- Under or over-promotion
- Job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development
- Conflicting home/work demands.
One of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to stay on top of employee well-being is simply to schedule regular one-to-one meetings between individual employees and their managers. The focus of these meetings should be to check-in with employees on a personal, compassionate level – in other words, to avoid turning the meeting into an evaluation or assessment of their work. Use the discussion to touch on the stressor points listed above, and actively listen, considering ways in which you can help your employees solve and overcome issues and challenges.
The meeting method outlined above should of course be carried throughout your workforce, including both remote and international workers. With regard specifically to remote workers, however, one of the biggest mental health challenges they face is the disconnect they can feel from their colleagues and workplace. To help them overcome this, try to arrange for in-person social gatherings which they can attend, or suggest a hybrid remote/office working schedule.
For international employee engagement, physical meetings are, typically, out of the question. Instead you could tailor a series of health and well-being packages which accommodate the various cultural norms of employees in different cultures. For example, such packages could include:
- Accessibility to mental health therapy and counselling services
- Gym membership offers and deals
- Regular wellness information seminars which you or a professional hold virtually
- Reimbursement on tuition fees and materials required for company-approved educational courses.
Tip 4) Develop in-house talent with learning and development programmes
You might have noticed that one of the leading stressors causing poor mental health and disengagement in employees is “poor investment in career development.” Most employees (though importantly, not all) desire progression along their chosen career path. A sticking point for many is the feeling that there is no room for upwards progression within their company, which can lead to ‘quiet quitting’ or worse, resignation.
Strategic workforce planning is an effective practice for upskilling, reskilling, and internally promoting members of your existing workforce. Presumably, you’ve hired the best people for the right roles in your company. As such, why look elsewhere to fill management vacancies when instead you could promote from within?
It may cost to develop your in-house talent to the point at which they can make the move to management, but doing so shows employees that opportunities for progression exist if they want them, consequently increasing both employee retention and engagement.
It becomes harder to encourage the sense of potential for upward mobility in remote and international teams, often because the lack of physical interaction can limit the quality of relationships formed between employees and their employers. Knowing this, management must be more vigilant and actively inclusive of remote workers in the development process.
Oftentimes, progression and promotion within a company may require the relocation of employees. ‘Global mobility’ is the framework and readiness of a company to relocate its employees internationally, be that from HQ to elsewhere, or from elsewhere to HQ. You may wish to consider global mobility when it comes to engaging overseas employees through development and promotion.
Tip 5) Foster equitable equality, diversity, and inclusion
Employees are more engaged with their work if they feel that their identity and background are understood, accommodated, and respected both by their employers and colleagues. Fostering equitable equality – AKA relative equality; consider the Venezuelan vs. UK salary question from before – diversity, and inclusion in the workplace is a must for employee wellbeing, satisfaction, and engagement.
Office-based diversity days can include seminars and workshops aimed at educating employees on each other’s differences, as well as celebrating these differences. EDI should also be baked into your recruitment and onboarding process, making sure you comply with EDI employment laws wherever in the world you operate.
It can be harder for remote employees to feel part of a truly diverse and inclusive team, given they rarely see their colleagues in-person. Managers must construct new ways of communicating with remote workers and including them in their teams; ways break down the non-physical barrier. Having remote workers take part virtually in diversity training days is a good start; restructuring the day to be conducted entirely virtually may be even better.
It's also important to remember that remote work can actively be a means of fostering greater employee diversity and inclusion, since it may be a much more accessible form of work for disabled and neurodiverse people.
Opening your prospective talent pool to the world makes fostering a diverse team easy. The hard work comes with ensuring that diversity is treated fairly, equitably, and inclusively. One means of pushing inclusivity is to pursue celebration. Different employees will celebrate different occasions, holidays, and so on. Where appropriate, you can introduce these celebrations to the wider team to foster better interpersonal connections whilst making the employee feel more involved, and thus more engaged.
Tip 6) Partner with a global business expansion solutions provider
Improving global employee engagement can be complicated, since in an international business engagement must be fostered on three levels: in-person, remote, and overseas. Nevertheless, increasing employee engagement is always worthwhile. Happier, healthier, more engaged teams are proven to be more productive, to generate more profit and sales, and to have higher retention rates, ultimately improving your bottom line.
By partnering with a global business solutions provider, the most daunting aspects of fostering employee engagement are taken care of for you, leaving you to focus on the creative direction and leadership of your team(s).
Make employee engagement your focus, without the hassle, with guidance from the experts in remote team management.
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