The coronavirus crisis has fundamentally changed the way we work, with the latest statistics showing that 40% of UK employees are currently working from home. And this shift won’t be temporary — a Deloitte survey recently revealed that a quarter of Brits are now likely to work remotely for good.

There are many benefits to this both for employers and employees. Businesses can make advantage of reduced office running costs, less absenteeism, and access to a larger talent pool with less reliance on physical location. Meanwhile workers can enjoy greater flexibility, improved work-life balance and the cost-saving impact of having no commute.

However, it’s not all positive. Employee engagement has been the second biggest challenge for UK employers during lockdown. Disengaged employees can have significantly lower job satisfaction, which can diminish their productivity and contentedness, and ultimately cause them to leave the company altogether.

So, what exactly can your business do to prevent staff from becoming disengaged, both now and in the future?

1.    Mix up employee workloads

One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic is the monotony of day-to-day life, with domestic routine becoming an easy framework to hang things on while everything is closed. And if somebody’s job is just as repetitive as the rest of their life at this moment in time, it’s easy to see why they might become disengaged. That’s why it’s important to mix up your employees’ workloads. Giving them different responsibilities and new opportunities to unleash their true potential is a surefire way to keep them interested and engaged.

You might want to take inspiration from Google’s 20 percent programme. This gives staff a percentage of their allotted weekly schedule to create new products they think will benefit the company, as opposed to continuing to work on their regular projects. Google’s scheme led to innovations like Google News, AdSense, and Gmail. Other ways to mix up employee workloads include letting them shadow staff from other departments, getting them to run training sessions for others, and gamifying tasks.

To manage your staff’s workload accordingly, invest in a resource management system that ensures the right balance is struck between blue sky thinking and your team’s regular workload. Resource management tool Precursive is one example that incorporates utilization tracking and management, allowing you to see where employees are overutilized and where they may have availability to switch focus to different projects or opportunities.

2.    Create a culture of connectedness

Another reason remote workers become disengaged is a lack of interaction with colleagues. Humans are social creatures after all, and most of us want to build healthy relationships with those we work with. When you can’t just walk over to another person’s desk for a chat or spend your lunch breaks together, it’s all too easy for these connections to fall by the wayside. This is why you need to do everything possible to create a culture of connectedness among your remote team.

The key is to incorporate social elements into an otherwise corporate schedule. During team meetings, don’t just dive straight into the project at hand. Encourage light-hearted conversation that maintains camaraderie between peers. When you’re not in meetings, ensure staff have an instant messaging tool like Slack or Google Chat available, helping to keep regular conversations going, even if they’re not face-to-face. And finally, be sure to organise fun team activities to enjoy over video chat. Why not pencil in a weekly slot for things like a group quiz or to play multiplayer online games such as Pictionary Drawing Contest or The Deserted Island Scenario together?

3.    Offer continuous feedback and recognition of efforts

For any worker to succeed, they will require regular feedback from their superiors to help them see where there’s room for improvement. This can also be neglected in a virtual environment when your staff aren’t right in front of you, often leading to a stagnation in their output, and ultimately disengagement.

Recognising their efforts is just as important. Regular check-ins help in ensuring employees feel valued and connected to wider business goals. This in turn motivates them to keep working hard in the future. But, as with feedback, it’s all too easy for senior staff to let up on praising staff when working remotely.

Consequently, it’s essential that you keep up one-to-one check-ins with your employees to talk through their work. It also works both ways, since getting their perspective can be invaluable for you too, helping you to see certain business matters in a different light. But talking to your staff isn’t the only way to show your appreciation. Little things like individualised gifts for good performance, a bit of money to spruce up their home offices, and celebrating employee birthdays can also go a long way.

Adopting these basic techniques can help you to overcome the challenges of managing remote teams, particularly during a pandemic. Remember that communication is at the heart of most disengagement or motivational issues, so keeping in regular contact with employees is paramount during this time.