Building positive employee relations in a remote world

Most companies agree that their employees are their greatest asset. But many of these same companies have trouble building positive employee relations.

It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that building positive employee relations is much harder than it looks. Especially in a remote workplace. This is where HR professionals have a chance to make a huge impact.

You understand that an employee who feels taken care of and appreciated is a happier employee. And happier employees are better employees. As the cornerstone of your company’s people opps, you’re poised to help leadership with the relationship-building side of business — making sure team members feel recognized and appreciated, and that the company is invested in them.

With a lot of planning, and a few thoughtful communication techniques at your fingertips, this is an achievable goal. Even in today’s remote world.

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The four keys to positive employee relations

Just like any other relationship, positive employee relationships are built by putting a lot of small things together. The big, attention-getting things usually get taken care of — paychecks go out, policies and benefits get explained, employees have a good grasp of their individual responsibilities.

However, it’s easy for managers and company leadership to get swept up in the tide of efficient operation and let the more personal aspects of strong employee relationships slip away.

A good HR team recognizes this. As you work to build positive employee relations, keep these four key elements in mind:

1. Develop a culture of open communication

The centerpiece of positive employee relations is open communication. And that means communicating more than start times, work standards, and deadlines.

Your corporate culture should feature a focus on two-way communication and creating a safe space for employees to convey personal needs. Employees should feel comfortable expressing themselves to their supervisors, with information flowing up the chain of command just as easily as it flows down the chain.

Help managers and executives keep the lines of communication open by building feedback moments into regular performance reviews and team meetings. Also, coach supervisors on how to solicit feedback and make employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns.

2. Show gratitude (publicly!)

Most people are pretty good about saying, “Please” and “Thank you,” but in a professional environment, gratitude has to go further than the usual pleasantries. Gratitude in the workplace is more about making sure employees feel recognized and appreciated by the organization as a whole.

Even though each manager and executive represents the company, individual gratitude tends to feel confined to the individual level. One-on-one expressions of gratitude are important, but employees are often left feeling like the larger company is unappreciative.

One of the easiest fixes for this is to build mechanisms for public gratitude into the company’s existing processes.

Encourage managers and executives to share thank you messages on the company’s public Slack channels, rather than in private conversation. Or take it a step further by giving leadership a quick kudos video template they can use for lighthearted gratitude moments.

Remind managers to recognize employees while everyone is still on the call during team meetings. Make public gratitude the norm, rather than the exception.

3. Encourage constructive feedback

Managers and executives tend to lean too heavily on critique, both in terms of volume and delivery. Most people simply aren’t great at balancing positive feedback with critique. And it’s tough to give critique without coming off as too critical.

This has the compounding effect of making employees feel like they’re being unfairly criticized, even though that’s almost never the intent. Most of the time, managers and executives just need coaching on how to give feedback constructively.

Here’s an easy-to-implement tactic you can pass on during manager trainings:

Talk about the problem (“This isn’t quite right…”) instead of addressing the person (“You made a mistake here…”), and use “we” to present the correction. This turns feedback into a collaborative problem solving process, rather than a soul-crushing dissection of someone’s performance.

4. Invest in employees

This is a well-established law of business: Any investment a company makes in its employees will be paid back with interest. It’s the money-multiplying piggy bank of the business world.

But don’t just throw out a few training opportunities and hope for the best. Come at this from the lens of employee relations and involve your people in the conversation. Ask employees what they would appreciate getting from the company. Identify the broad themes, then develop a few concrete plans for investing in employees.

Some people may want educational assistance for building their professional skills. Others may just want opportunities for more time off. Develop three to five employee engagement programs to ensure the company makes an investment where it matters most to each employee.

How remote comms are failing us

As you may have noticed, every aspect of employee relations revolves around good communication. And that’s a huge challenge in today’s remote world, where natural opportunities for building relationships are few and far between.

We can’t talk about building strong employee relationships without addressing this elephant in the room.

Whether we mean to or not, modern communication tools — email, Slack, MS Teams, Zoom, and others — tend to make our comms all business. We simply don’t hop on a Zoom call or send an email to exchange pleasantries or give someone a high-five. We use these tools to get things done.

Without the usual chats around the water cooler or coffee pot, all we get from our managers and executives is project expectations and deadlines. That’s not great for building positive employee relations.

Our remote comms methods are failing us on this front. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Using comms tools to improve employee relations

If we’re serious about improving employee relations, we need to rethink the way we use the comms tools we’ve come to rely on for day-to-day business. This means actively creating opportunities to build relationships using these very same business tools.

Email

Email will always be part of our communications infrastructure. However, when it comes to employee relations, it has serious limitations. Emails are often bland. They get buried in busy inboxes. And it’s nearly impossible to track the engagement rate for email.

Also, email is a text-based communication medium. It takes a lot of text to communicate complex ideas. And, for things like expressing gratitude, text lacks a personal touch.

But despite these limitations, email still has a place in improving employee relations.

  • Covering big concepts with embedded videos: Get around the limitations of text-only messages by embedding videos in your emails. A video can quickly cover big ideas much more effectively than text. Consider turning complicated comms into a video like this one:
  • Expressing gratitude: It’s easy to lose the nuance of your message in text. Video elevates your message and retains the non-verbal cues that make gratitude more sincere. It’s the next best thing to giving praise in person.

Messaging apps (Slack, MS Teams, etc.)

Messaging platforms are excellent for sharing digital information in a way that mimics a real-time conversation, similar to text messaging. These apps do a great job of bridging the gap between email and phone calls (more immediate than email, but not quite as disruptive as a buzzing phone).

Unfortunately, these channels often get forced into performing duties for which they’re not designed. They quickly get overcrowded, especially when people send large chunks of information. And relationship-building messages are easily drowned out by more pressing work messages.

As with email, use messaging apps thoughtfully.

  • Sharing collaboratively: If you have a resource to share, send it in a message or on a team channel. This also works well for giving quick notes and info about ongoing projects. In the spirit of open communication, keep everyone in the loop while avoiding email inbox overload.

  • Delivering video feedback: Advise managers and executives to send short videos privately to team members in messaging apps. Giving critical feedback in a text message tends to sound overly aggressive. A video message enables supervisors to give remote feedback gently.

  • Elevating mission-critical messages: As with remote feedback, we recommend video for most mission-critical messages delivered via messaging apps. Video communicates a lot of information without taking up much space in the messaging window. It also grabs attention as people scroll through their messages.

Zoom calls

Zoom is an excellent communication channel for having real-time conversations and efficiently making decisions. It’s one of the best stand-ins for face-to-face conversation that we have, and it’s ideal for remotely handling issues that would ordinarily be handled in person.

Zoom is an especially useful tool for managers and HR professionals, who often need the responsiveness of a visual two-way conversation.

Where Zoom falls short is that it’s not quite as engaging as an in-person conversation. People’s attention tends to wander during long Zoom calls.

Use these strategies to get the most out of your Zoom calls:

  • Set clear meeting parameters: Just like in-person meetings, it’s important to come with a clear agenda and expectations. This is even more important with Zoom, because the longer the call goes, the less attention everyone involved will have.

  • Send background info ahead of time: For big decisions and important conversations, put together a package of info for participants to review ahead of time. This helps keep your calls concise, allowing you to get to the meat of the conversation before Zoom exhaustion sets in. Shortening performance reviews and tough conversations in this way also helps keep people from feeling berated or overwhelmed.

  • Use video to deliver prep info: Help meeting participants retain background information more effectively by delivering it in the form of a short video or package of videos. Use presentation templates to keep your informative videos on track and add animations to visualize data.

Loom videos

Loom is a brilliant tool that lets you create quick videos with a screen capture and an embedded front-facing camera video. It’s a great tool for delivering information when you don’t need a response (asynchronous communication, for those who like the big technical words).

Loom is an outstanding tool for delivering short explanatory videos.

Need to do a quick document review, pointing out things that are done well and what still needs work? Loom is the way to go. You can show the document and point things out with your mouse.

However, it’s easy to lean on Loom too much. It feels like a great way to show and tell people what you’re doing or looking at, but Loom videos tend to meander, especially if you have a whole lot of information to cover.

When it comes to using Loom, follow this rule of thumb:

  • Use Loom for simple messages: Use Loom for short review videos, highlighting parts of a project that really shine, and outlining very simple processes. If you can cover everything in two or three minutes, a Loom video will work.

  • Use scripted videos for anything complex: For reviewing large documents or outlining complex work processes, it’s much better to create a scripted video.

This can easily mimic a Loom video by using screen sharing. Or, elevate your message by creating a polished, succinct video using only text and animations. (Try it with Biteable. It’s easier than you think!)

If you use Loom where it works best, your Loom videos will do a lot of work for you. And if you use planned videos for tackling bigger processes and giving good feedback, these important messages will shine.

Build employee relations on a foundation as strong as video

Adding video to your toolkit greatly improves your communication and helps you build strong employee relations, even with teams that are entirely remote.

Implement video the easy way. Use the Biteable online video maker to create videos without derailing your day. Start with a professionally designed template, then customize your video to craft a message that truly shines.

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