7 Ways to Keep Remote Workers Engaged

EPISODE 68 | Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix

What’s the difference between remote workers and in-office workers? Not much, it turns out. Every employee wants to feel motivated, connected and engaged, and every employee requires good communication from all levels of their organization. Remote workers need the same guidance and encouragement as in-office staff, and they can be just as productive (or more so) than the employee sitting in a cubicle if you evolve your mindset and your communication channels to deliver what they need.

In this episode, Sean Matthews talks about the realities of a growing hybrid workforce, specific challenges that Visix has faced and how we addressed them, along with some concrete advice for anyone struggling to engage their remote workers.

  • Learn about the myths and mindsets that pose a barrier to remote engagement
  • Hear how Visix adapted to an expanded remote workforce
  • Understand the benefits of remote work for both employees and the bottom line
  • Get seven practical tips on how to keep your remote workers engaged
  • Explore technologies and techniques for hybrid office communications

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Get more advice in our free Guide to Engaging Remote Employees


Transcript

Derek DeWitt: Obviously, one of the defining things for any business no matter what kind it is, for the years 2020 and 2021 and possibly beyond, will be the fact that many workers had to start working remotely. And now the challenge today is to try and create some kind of a hybrid workplace or set up systems and policies so that workers can work remotely if they choose to, or if circumstances are such that they find themselves suddenly required to again.

It’s been a bit of a headache for everybody involved, especially for the big bosses. So, I have a big boss here. I’m speaking today with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hello, Sean.

Sean Matthews: Hello Derek. How are you, sir? I’m glad you’re having me on board this podcast today. I love this podcast. So, thanks again for having me.

Derek DeWitt: Well, thank you very much for coming on and thank everybody out there for listening.

It’s been a heck of a challenge to deal with this remote work situation, especially as it goes on longer and longer and longer. Remote workers find themselves feeling sort of disengaged from the workplace. Obviously, you don’t see people. You don’t have those chitty-chatty little conversations you would when you’re getting coffee or on your way out to go to lunch, or heaven forbid if you smoke or what have you. So of course, it’s been a whole thing and different companies are dealing with it in different ways. Now, Sean Visix has had exactly the same situation as everybody else, right?

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, you know, we were like most companies just going about our normal business prior to the pandemic. And, you know, fortunately for us Derek, we had about half of our company actually working remotely at least some of the time. Our entire salesforce has been remote for at least a decade. So, we had some experience with this whole remote concept. But, clearly like most companies, we were forced to deal with it at large at the beginning of the pandemic.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure, sure. And my understanding is that you were actually already kicking this around before lockdown happened. You were conducting what you were terming a “stress test” to see about integrating remote work anyway, and then, oh, now it turns out we have to.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. We were in the midst of conducting some tests to assess what our infrastructure looked like and what tools we might need to improve or enhance in order to have more workers remote. And actually, have more successful remote workers in general. You know, we were like a lot of companies where we were using email, we were using intranet, we were using some mobile products as well. But we hadn’t integrated Teams style communications. We weren’t really using video conferencing. We were using things like GoToMeeting, but we weren’t even incorporating a camera requirement.

So, we were just kind of extending the phone call with some desktop sharing. , you know, we were doing those normal things, but we had an opportunity, actually, to conduct a stress test on a single day, literally the Friday before we sent everyone home and did not return for many, many months. And it just so happened that on a Friday, the largest school district in the state of Georgia had a holiday. And we thought it was a great opportunity to send everybody home simply because they would be working from home with kids and all the distractions that might happen on a school holiday. So, it worked out well that we were able to pull it off on a Friday and no one came back Monday.

Derek DeWitt: Or the following Monday or the following Monday.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. Most definitely.

Derek DeWitt: Obviously, so you conducted the test and then, oh, surprise, it’s going to be a much longer test that you thought it was going to be. What were some of the challenges that you had to deal with? Obviously, you were mentioning different technologies. Did you find that you started changing the way that you do things? You started using different software apps?

Sean Matthews: Yeah, we did. As I mentioned, we were using products like GoToMeeting, which is similar to WebEx and there’s other technologies that are out there. But we weren’t really taking advantage of integrated communication systems that provided for more ad hoc communications. Because when you think about these technologies where you often have to schedule a meeting or ensure that someone’s available, in fact you might even call them on the phone first and then say, hey, let’s set up this thing so we can share this document, what have you. So, we really did not have any sort of Slack, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp type on-the-fly communication tools. So we’re primarily a Microsoft shop anyway. So, the very first thing that we needed to do was not only deploy and integrate Microsoft Teams was our choice, but then, you know, ensure people knew how to use it and then how to take advantage of it properly given the new circumstances. That was certainly the first thing.

And then, you know, we had things like intranet, and we were using SMS messaging, that kind of stuff. But we weren’t really truly taking advantage of our intranet. So, during town halls and line-level communications between managers/employees, we were encouraging people to make the intranet their homepage. But the internet wasn’t very interactive. And what I mean by that is we weren’t encouraging people to comment on posts, you know, really engage the internet. So that was one of the first things that we did to improve that experience. So at least there was some more fun communications. So we would mix in, you know, fun quizzes or quotes of the days or life experience questions with other information related to insurance, open enrollment or overall productivity, that kind of stuff.

But I also think, man, that the most difficult thing for a company, not just ours but lots of companies, is dealing with camaraderie and culture when everyone is spread out not just here in the United States, but around the world. Our marketing team is, you know, on the other side of the Atlantic. So creating camaraderie beyond town hall meetings that we conduct every month, it was difficult to try to interject online bingo or things that, you know, could create some fun or excitement. Like, we did a gingerbread cooking competition during the holidays. And it requires effort by individual managers and really all the way to the top of an organization to plan for and make those types of events happen, which is a change.

Derek DeWitt: I think it’s a challenge initially more than later. I think a lot of it is really just a mindset change. You know, you have to kind of get into this, oh, this is another way to do things. Because when you’re using, like you said, you made the intranet being a bit more, honestly, a bit more like social media. People use social media every day and they absolutely feel engaged. And so, just by adding those tools, it fundamentally changes the way that people are communicating, but they are communicating. I think once that mental shift happens of, oh, this is how we’re going to communicate now. I think it maybe becomes easier or does it not?

Sean Matthews: Well, I mean, I think it certainly becomes easier. I mean, unfortunately for those of us here in the United States, you know, we’ve grown up in a world of institutionalized presence. And what I really mean by that is since kindergarten, we’ve gone to school, right? And so, we believe that we engage better, that we learn better, that we have more social development by going to school. So for the first 12 years of your academic life, you know, after kindergarten we’re socially ingrained to go somewhere to be more productive, to be more socialized. And I think that that certainly bleeds into organizational structures in corporations and other institutions that things are quote unquote better if we’re in person. And so, to try to undo that in very short order I think has been quite the challenge and I honestly believe that there are some people that will never be able to let go of that sort of institutionalized, ingrained philosophy.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I think that’s absolutely true. And yeah, I’m going to say, a lot of it’s going to be a us old fuddy-duddies, you know, certainly the boomers and even the older gen Xers like myself. Because we know that right before this happened, there were studies and things from 2018, 2019, and even early 2020 before the pandemic really hit, where a lot of the millennials and even the gen Zers who were starting to enter the workforce, they live so much of their personal lives online that they really were pushing for, hey, we want more. This is what we consider to be an aspect of better work-life balance is we want to be able to work from home more. So, we started seeing, I mean, there was something like 5-6 million US workers already working from home at least part-time, which is a huge number compared to say, you know, five years previously, or even 10 years previously. In many ways, it almost seems like the pandemic sort of was an accelerant for change that was already occurring.

Sean Matthews: Things like this, these forced events, you know, they have the potential to make, you know, create cultural change almost overnight. So, you would see three to four years’ worth of cultural change shift in a matter of months or certainly a year simply because it’s a forced behavior. And, you know, I know you’ve heard these arguments about wearing seatbelts in the United States. If you go back to the 70s and the NTSB was encouraging people with public service announcements to wear their seatbelts. But it wasn’t until the federal government got involved and one day dictated to all the car manufacturers that you will have the seatbelt alert notices in every car that you produce by this point in time, if not, your car will not be certified to be on the road, or however that mechanism works. And, you know, it was a forced change and magically, everyone puts on their seatbelt because their car won’t stop dinging at them, you know.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, boy, it’s irritating too. I mean, some, I don’t know if this technology is still around, but there were certainly some cars for a while that it was automatic. It was on this kind of a track, and it would just, you sat down and it just kind of did it for you.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t think you see that very often anymore.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I think they broke a lot.

Sean Matthews: And it’s a little intrusive. You know, it kind of comes over your shoulder into your neck kind of thing.

Derek DeWitt: I mean, you know though, I can understand the argument, however, of, wow, that’s a little bit nanny state. You know, come on guys. I mean, why do you care if I wear a seatbelt? Why do you care if I come into the office? What’s the big deal? It sure, it worked for my father, and you know, my mother. And so, it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. We’ve been doing this kind of stuff for decades. It’s what made America great. Why the big change? And the answer is there are lots of good reasons. Certainly, from the organization’s perspective, it’s cheaper for them to have a hybrid office, to have people working from home at least some of the time.

Sean Matthews: We have the issue of how much does it cost to have a desk in a building, right? And so, if you look at high rent cities like New York, let’s say in LA, there’s some stats out there that indicates as much as $18,000 per seat per year. And I read somewhere on average that, you know, companies save about $10,000 a year for every employee that’s out of the office about half the time, right? So there’s lots of things that factor into that. But not only is there the physical space of what does it cost, there’s all the distractions at work. You know, you mentioned it earlier, people that want to take a break to walk outside. Well, if they have to walk down the hall, get on an elevator, go down 10 floors, get out to the street, to walk across the street.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. You’re working in a non-smoking building and you’re a smoker, and you’re on the 15th floor, you know?

Sean Matthews: Yeah. In fact, you might spend more time going to take that break than you do actually in a productive work state of mind, right? So, there’s all those costs, but then also there’s the cost to the employee too. I mean, I live in Metro Atlanta and, you know, we have some employees here that were coming into the building and driving an hour one way.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah.

Sean Matthews: I mean, that’s if there wasn’t a big accident or it wasn’t pouring rain, you know, delaying traffic even further. And so not only is there that cost in gasoline and wear and tear on the car, there’s environmental costs. But there’s also just the stressful costs of employee anxiety because they know they’re late for a meeting because they’re stuck in traffic, which is beyond their control. And it just creates anxiety that really maybe doesn’t even need to be there.

Derek DeWitt: So, I understand you have seven, lucky number seven, tips for organizations on how they can sort of keep these remote workers engaged.

Sean Matthews: I think number one, the most important thing, is you have to have a clear policy in place. It has to be clearly stated. What does our work from home policy look like? What does it feel like? What does it include? What does it exclude?

Number two, it’s critical that your managers are enthusiastic about work from home. You cannot have someone who basically is kind of like, well, I’m forced to do this. So yes, you can work from home two days a week. They have to embrace it, engage it and be a part of it.

Number three, you have to have clearly defined goals for the remote workers. Like what should they be doing? When should they be doing it? And when is their work due? What’s the expectation behind its delivery?

Derek DeWitt: Right? What does success look like?

Sean Matthews: Yes, sure. Most definitely. Number four, you’ve got to have the right technology in place. And I alluded to it earlier. We had some things in place, but we didn’t have everything. And honestly, it took us months to work towards ensuring that everyone had what they needed and take away the cost barriers from those individuals.

Number five, you’ve got to rethink your communication channels. I mean from top to bottom. It can’t just be email. It can’t just be phone calls, right? You have to embrace all of the mediums that are out there.

Number six, you’ve got to communicate more often, but you have to keep it short, right? You can’t be in the habit of delivering these large novels that people are required to read in order to get through a simple task.

And then of course the last one is, no matter what, you have to find ways to bring people together, whether it be the occasional meeting, the collaboration session, the, I don’t know, the social vehicle. And there’s several different categories of what you can do there, but either in person or virtually, is one of the best ways to keep people engaged.

So, we can go back to any one of these, you know, we can start at number one.

Derek DeWitt: Let’s start off with number one, because I think the policy, it’s interesting that you put that first, because I do think that that’s, for the organization, they’ll consider all these other things and then they’ll craft their policy. But when you’re presenting it to the employees, to the remote workers, the policy really has to be clear and pretty comprehensive, but it also needs to be flexible because as you said, it took months to figure this stuff out and things may change.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. So, I think number one, you know, it has to be crystal clear. Who can work from home and when, right? Because even a company like ours has some employees that on occasion, they have to come to the office. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where paperwork still moves around. We have invoices and other things that have to be filed for tax purposes for up to seven years. So, we do have some roles where people have to come to the office.

Number two, we have employees that simply cannot work from home, meaning they don’t have an environment that’s conducive to working from home, whether it be children or animals, or they just may not have a space because they also have a spouse that works from home. So, they may have to come here. But, you know, it’s important to understand, even with those employees, when they’re going to be here and when they’re not going to be here. And to your point, it does need to be flexible because if we’re seeing the benefits of being able to work from home because it provides you flexibility, then we need to ensure that that flexibility exists. And it’s important that they are involved in that discussion about when they’ll be in the office and when they won’t.

Derek DeWitt: And, of course, some people just for whatever reason, maybe it’s they could conceivably work from home, but they just, for whatever reason don’t want to.

Sean Matthews: Yean, I mean, you know, I think that the situation where people don’t want to work from home and there’s lots of different reasons why. That rolls into managers being enthusiastic about work from home. Because you could have that group of people that basically says we want nothing to do with offices, right? And they don’t even understand why an employee is going into an office, right?

And so, I think it’s just one of those environmental cultural conditions everyone needs to embrace and be enthusiastic about that sort of flexibility. Because the old-fashioned sort of mindset of requiring people to, you know, sort of card punch, certainly in the technology environment, it’s pretty difficult to prove that workers who are writing code or designing creative works of art, that they need to be sitting at a workstation, surrounded by people who are interrupting them, just to check in on, hey man, what are you doing for lunch? Or, you know, whatever. So, the people that are going to be most challenged with this managerial are those that really subscribe to that line staff diagram, that sort of Napoleonic era stuff that means that, you know, I’m a line staff manager, a frontline manager, and I need to walk over and check on your productivity.

Derek DeWitt: I’m old enough to remember the boss key. The boss key, which for those that don’t know what this is, let’s say you’re playing solitaire or whatever, because you just have a down period 20 minutes where you don’t have anything to do. So, you’re playing solitaire on your computer. But the boss walks over, you hit the boss key, which was usually the escape, and it created a fake work sort of wallpaper that looked like you were actually working, even though you weren’t.

Sean Matthews: Right. And you know, we’ve all seen this, with the idea of people putting mirrors on their monitors so they could kind of look over their shoulder to see if someone’s standing there over them. I mean, I get that there are businesses that require people to be at work, right? If you’re in the manufacturing space, if you’re in the, you know, healthcare or hospital space, even municipal governments in the court system, that they have to have workers at work, right? And you know, that’s just part of the world we live in. We don’t live in a completely virtual world all the time. There’s a physical component to the world that we live in.

But you know, I think that when we get back to our list here of defining what those goals look like for the remote workers, you know, you’re basically taking what would be the physical presence and moving it somewhere else. I mean, there’s still physical people in physical environments. They’re just not in a space that you can walk over to. But with the appropriate technologies, you can check on them. You can check on how they’re doing, hey man, how far along are we in solving this problem?

Derek DeWitt: The thing is because that’s always the argument is, well, people will slack off. First off. If they’re going to slack off, they’re going to slack off. They’re going to slack off whether you’re physically there or not. It’s not like you have a, let’s say a lazy worker who really doesn’t like their job, and that the only reason that they’re productive at all is because you’re physically near them. That doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And I mean, you know Derek, for many years, we’ve had remote salespeople, not just Visix, but companies have had remote salespeople all around the world because you want those people living in the areas where they’re selling. Those are where their prospects or their clients are, right? And it’s always been easy or relatively easy to have remote salespeople because the numbers don’t lie. You make this number of calls or presentations or quotes, and you close this percentage of those, and they turn into sales, and these are your sales numbers.

But the reality is, and in performance across the board, the numbers don’t lie. You know, what’s the customer satisfaction rating for you as a person who’s working on our help desk, or what have you, based on the feedback that clients provide, right? What is the productivity of you as a software developer, based on the volume of code that you sell, the quality, or that you produce, the quality of that code? How fast does it make it through QA? Did it meet the objectives that were set forth in the scope of work that was presented to you in advance? You know, the numbers just don’t lie. If the goals are set out clearly in advance, then there’s absolutely no reason that that remote worker cannot be as successful as the person who is sitting in a workstation 42 feet away from you.

Derek DeWitt: Well, I mean, that kind of comes right into the whole idea of getting the right technology. An organization may not have had in March, first week of March 2020 tools in place to be able to measure in that way. But I kind of feel like now, here we are, we’re in the summer 2021. I kind of feel like if your organization hasn’t at least taken some steps in this direction, it’s high time because there’s no guarantee that this thing’s over or that there won’t be another one. And so, I think it kind of behooves us all to get that technology in place, test it, be constantly on the lookout for improvements and new apps and new technological solutions. And just kind of start assuming that this is going to be the future.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, you know, you mentioned the fact that this could not be over or something else could happen in two years. We obviously can’t completely control the world around us, right? So we can obviously influence it. But I think, you know, beyond those natural disasters happening in the future, there’s also just the reality that there are people in certain occupations that are going to ask employers questions in advance about what their remote work policy looks like and what technologies do they have in place to support them. Because there are people that are not going to take certain jobs because certain employers do not allow work from home. So, you know, you’re going to put yourself at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t have those tools in place. And the reality is you might even pay more money to try to attract that person because they really would prefer to have some flexibility and these other tools in place to work remotely.

Because let me just give you one example here, Derek. I think this is, you know, from a cultural change perspective. If you roll back like 30 years ago (and I could be off on three decades), but we used to have what was called sick leave and vacation, right? The idea of PTO didn’t even exist, paid time off, right? So you actually, as an employee had to choose, if there was something that you needed to do, like let’s say go renew your driver’s license. You could take a vacation day, which, ugh, that’s terrible to go get your driver’s license renewed. Or you can take a sick day because you might have some in the bank, right?

So, there were some studies back in the late 80s that were addressing the subject matter of sick time and the negative impact that it has on productivity after you return. Because I took a sick day to go get my driver’s license or take care of my kid or whatever. So, I showed up at the office the next day and you know, my supervisor asked me the question, hey man, are you over that stomach bug? How do you feel? And I, I actually behave as though I’m still sick because I’m recovering from this ailment. So my productivity, the day after I already missed a full day is less than what it would have been if I could have just taken the day to get my thing done. So, you know, I think that having these technologies in place, right, to help this communication, I think, you know? Then beyond having technology, I think you have to rethink the entire communication channel set that you have, you know.

We try to use everything that we have. We’re using video, we’re using intranet and part of the video is Teams, but also it has chat built in. For those people in the office, of course, we’re in the digital signage business. You know, we’re delivering content to any channel that we possibly can. We’re also using SMS. And of course, we use some social channels, but really our intranet has become our social channel. Because everyone else has, you know, their own preference, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, you name it, right. All that stuff is out there, WhatsApp for their other communications.

So, you know, having a more omni-channel approach with the same message across multiple platforms, you know, makes it easier for the employee consume information on the platform that he or she prefers, right? But it is tough. I will say that it is tough to really integrate as many channels as possible and deliver them again to those endpoints that the individual prefers. It does take energy and effort to make that work.

I mean, you know, the ultimate goal is engagement. You want to make it easy for people to engage, but there’s no way you can accommodate every personal preference. And the reality is businesses have not been able to accommodate every individual personal preference in the workplace environment throughout time. I mean, it’s just not possible. I mean, that’s part of us, you know, being social creatures. We realize that at some point, you know, we do more together than we do alone as a group. But by coming together, we all have to give up a little bit in order to see the success and benefit of our collaborative efforts.

Derek DeWitt: True. And you know, when you have these multi-channel platforms like Teams, Teams is the one that you guys chose, sometimes I think it can mimic that omni-channel approach. It’s like, look, there are multiple ways to communicate using something like Teams. The trick though, is you’ve got to make sure if you decide this is what we’re going to do, because this is going to be acceptable to the largest number of people that we’re communicating with. But you gotta make sure that they’re trained well on it because, you know, it’s like, gosh, you guys had a private conversation on Teams, how do you do that? So, you have to make sure that your people are well aware of all of the options and new features and things like this.

Sean Matthews: And, you know, not only do you have to use those channels, you’ve got to communicate more often. You’re going to have to keep it short, which is an important aspect I mentioned earlier. You can’t send out these monologues that are multiple pages long every day or even every week. You know, I’m sure there’s plenty of people who believe that they’re the greatest writers ever and they might be, but, you know, I may not be the greatest reader ever, or consumer of the written word. So, I need little pulses of information and a little blips of information and, you know, keeping it short, but often, you know, really, really helps.

I did go through a period for several months where once a week I was sending out a bulleted list of accomplishments via email, because that was a medium that everybody could still consume, but I at least made the conscious effort to keep it in a bulleted format so that they weren’t reading paragraphs. They were just notes. And, you know, I tried to keep the text as clear as possible so that we either improved or fell short based on the subject matter I was delivering in that line item.

But you know, another piece of this, of communicating more often and keeping it short, is using even classic mediums like the phone. You know, instead of sending everything…

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Sean Matthews: …everything via chat, pick up the phone and call. Because I can hear the inflection in your voice, and I can determine whether or not you’re really struggling on this project that we’re working on. Or you have it under control, you’re like perfectly happy. So, I may be able to understand that better in a voice conversation and certainly adding video to it, which we require of every conversation, helps us engage as humans. We like to see the reflection in the person’s eyes, their smile, their physical presence helps us understand with those visual cues what’s really going.

Derek DeWitt: And I’ll also say, when you send out that, you know, three-page report once a week, and I think a lot of people intend to read it, but they put it… I do this, I get a big, long thing. I put it aside fully intending to look at it later, and then I just forget about it.

Sean Matthews: Yep. Yeah, I think that happens all the time. And I, you know, that’s why I think these short little conversations and particularly adding the video element just helps bring people together. You know, it’s a virtual experience, but you know, you start to feel isolated when you’re out and away way from the society, participating in it.

And, you know, I mean, think about this. You hear of people kind of coming out of the pandemic and lots of people really, you know, isolated themselves out of fear or necessity. It doesn’t matter. And they are now coming out and you hear lots of stories about feeling isolated. And so again, humans are naturally social creatures, even though some people want to act as if they’re not. We actually, you know, collaborate well as little societal units. And it helps when you bring people together, even if it’s virtually. Again, that’s why we use the video piece all the time. And when we conduct town halls in our building here in our office, you know, we move it around so that it doesn’t look like the same boring place. There’s digital signs in the background or written words on the wall or, you know, we just, we move it around so that it becomes, you know, part of our meeting space, even though it’s virtual,

Derek DeWitt: You know, it occurs to me that, again, even before the remote work and remote workers situation came about, we’d already seen the physical office start to change. Fewer meeting rooms, more huddle spaces, little spots like this where people could just have a quick 10-minute meeting. And a lot of companies and organizations that adopted those sorts of physical spaces found productivity went up. Because it turns, you know, it’s like, well, I don’t need to book the meeting room and this, I just need to have a 10 minute conversation with five people. We can do it standing around at the on-site cafe, having a coffee, get the work done, and then go back to our tasks. And so, a lot of this is really just using this remote technology to mimic the in-office experience.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And I think that, as you noted, organizations were already starting to see the value of hoteling and hot-desking versus these permanent spaces. And it makes more sense often for people to come and go, particularly in environments where let’s say, quote, unquote consultants are coming into an office. They don’t need a dedicated space when they’re only there four or five days out of an entire month. So that was already in play. And there were tools and technologies around booking those spaces and using digital signs or ink paper outside of those spaces to let people know who was going to be in that particular space for whatever period of time on what days. And you know that stuff was already happening and, obviously this just accelerated that.

I think it is going to be very interesting to see what happens to the commercial real estate market over the course of the next three, four or five years. And, you know, when you read the current data, lots of people, you can already say that, well, there’s really been no change to the commercial real estate market. Well, also there hasn’t been a lot of time for leases to expire or, you know, organizations to consider moving to new different types of spaces. I mean, you know, us as an organization, we’re going to create an environment in the current facility or the next facility that we go to that is smaller, that is more efficient. It is more decked out with the types of technologies that we need to serve, you know, the flexible work environment both remote and in our facilities, and create spaces that work towards those people that want to come and go based on the flexibility that they need.

I mean, you know, Derek, I think when you circle back to this whole idea of, do you work to live or do you live to work, right? And when you just ask that simple question, and it depends on who you’re asking, you need to be able to help both sides of that equation so that the people that need to pick up their children after school, you know, they need different work hours and from different locations. A part of the challenges that we know about working from home is that employees never cut it off. So, they pick their kids up and they go home, and they feed them or whatever, but then they’re working at 10 and 11 o’clock at night, right?

Derek DeWitt: Right. Which is not great.

Sean Matthews: No, it’s not. I mean, in fact, we know this. We were already starting to feel that work never ended, you know, about a decade ago when the smartphone really started to come online. Because email was showing up in your palm while you were watching, you know, the precursor to Netflix 10 years ago, you know? So it was already happening. And so, it’s important for everyone to be disciplined about how much time people are working so that they can maintain that balance in life. Because people that maintain balance in life are happier, and happier people are more productive.

Derek DeWitt: This is very true. Speaking of happy, there is this other aspect of utilizing these technologies to keep remote workers engaged. And that’s this kind of notion of doing fun things. Like, I know you guys have done, like you said, you did bingo. You do these questions on the intranet. I remember you guys had a Halloween costume contest because Debbie spent a really, an inordinate amount of time preparing for that. And what do you think? What’s been the response to this? Because in some ways it seems, yeah, that sounds like a really good idea. And it’s kind of fun. Though I could also see someone thinking, boy, that’s hokey, or, you know what, you’re going to make me have fun now or something like that. So how do you balance that out that need for interaction, doing something that isn’t purely work, but not coming off like a bunch of dorks basically.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, honestly, Derek, it’s difficult to do. It’s a change and it’s a managerial change. It’s a cultural change. It’s a change in how you think. And like anything you have to put forth effort. And if you don’t put forth effort, it’s not going to be successful. So, you have to put yourself out there and try to do things that engage people. Because I mean, the employee experience is important, right?

I mean, it’s, you know, 68% of internal communications professionals say that the employee experience is discussed at the C-suite level. And it’s important that the C-suite actively gets involved in these types of events. Because if you don’t, you’re just not going to be able to maintain some sort of cultural integrity if that’s what you’re concerned about. Because again, we’re back to the statement of not everyone is going to come back to the office. They’re just not, not on a full-time basis. And you have to figure out as a manager, as a CEO, as a president, you name it, you have to figure out how to maintain that cultural integrity and that employee experience using all of the technologies you have. And you’re going to have to get off of your little comfort train and try something different. You just have to.

Derek DeWitt: What do you think about this idea of ask your people. Ask them, hey, would you like to do some fun things online? Just like you ask them, what, how would you prefer, would you prefer email? Would you prefer messaging? How would you prefer to be communicated with? Same with these other things. What would you like to do? Because they know. If you ask them, it seems to me that they would probably be more engaged.

Sean Matthews: When you get down to the fundamental definition of internal communications or corporate communications, the word communicate does not mean dictate, right? Those are two different words. So, if you’re not asking those kinds of questions, then you’re basically just dictating. And as a result, you’re probably going to get dictatorial success. And, you know, we can read throughout time, you know, that yes, some dictators are successful for some period of time, but it’s impossible to, you know, maintain a level of excitement and energy and productivity while you’re dictating to everyone below you.

So, I mean, asking questions about communication is important. And so, asking whether or not people find this interesting, it too is important. And, you know, I’ll just say this. We’ve asked for years employees to contribute to town hall meetings before they go live, and it’s very rare that somebody actually submits something that they want discussed or clarified during channel hall, no matter how often we encourage it. But when we conduct surveys later about whether or not we should continue to conduct town hall meetings, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. So even though they’re not communicating or contributing in advance, they appreciate and enjoy what is delivered in those meetings. And it helps them feel more connected to the group at large, whether we’re in person or remote.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. And just, heck, whether we take advantage of it or not, just to know that I have the option to weigh in. That in itself is a benefit.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, most definitely. Because, you know, if not, then you’re, you feel lonely and isolated out on your little island and feel like you can’t communicate quote unquote upstream. That’s not a healthy, productive environment where people feel comfortable collaborating. So, you know, you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage there if you cannot create that collaborative communication environment,

Derek DeWitt: Right. Like you really have to be careful. Don’t silo, not just departments and things like this, but don’t silo the individual employees either. Because like you said, there’s really, so they’re not physically in the office, but that is literally the only difference. They’re still the same person. They still have the same likes and dislikes. They still have the same work style. They still have the same difficulty or not difficulty meeting deadlines. That person hasn’t changed. They’re just physically in a different place, that’s it?

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And you know, there’s a whole body of work about treating remote employees different than those who are in the office. And, you know, I think that unfortunately over time, they’ll certainly be labor law disputes about how organizations treat remote employees versus those on site. And it is going to be difficult because I think it’s easy to believe that those who are in the office are more dedicated than those who are not, right? But if you can separate the reality of real productivity, then it becomes apparent that those workers are equal and they’re equally important in the growth of your business and what it looks like in the future.

Derek DeWitt: So, the challenge of keeping remote workers engaged continues, and it is a constantly evolving and shifting landscape. But the era of remote work is certainly upon us, I think it’s safe to say.

My guest today has been Sean Matthews who gave us seven tips for keeping remote workers engaged. To recap them briefly, they are:

  1. Have a clear policy in place.
  2. Make sure your managers are enthusiastic about the whole work-from-home culture.
  3. Clearly define the goals for those workers.
  4. Make sure you have the right technology in place and that you’re open to experimentation.
  5. Rethink omni-communication channels and using different kinds of communication methods.
  6. Communicate more often, but keep it short. You might argue, that’s making things a bit more like social media, but so what? People like social media or else it wouldn’t be so popular.
  7. And also try and find a way to bring people together. For example, consider saying, look, unless there’s a good reason for it, yeah, for the meeting, use your camera so we can all see each other and remind each other what we look like.

Sean Matthews: Yep. So Derek, I think if everyone just does those seven things, they’ll see a dramatic improvement in their work-from-home effectiveness as we go forward in this next era.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, it’s quite exciting. I have to say, I find I like working from home, so I don’t have a problem with it. Because you know the in-office experience for me through much of my life has always been like, oh, the boss is around quick, busy. Because I don’t have anything to do. I’ve literally done all my tasks. There’s nothing to do. But you know that whole concept of doing busy work, that stuff used to drive me up the wall. And when I work at home, I don’t have to.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, so let’s all move forward and not waste any time on busy work and just do the real productive work that makes us all more successful.

Derek DeWitt: All right. I’d like to thank Mr. Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix for talking to me today about this very important aspect of the zeitgeist and the times that we’re living in. Thank you very much, Sean.

Sean Matthews: Thank you, Derek. Again, I always enjoy being here and I look forward to getting the next invitation.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Well, I think I may have one queued up in the near future. Again, thank you everybody for listening. Don’t forget you can check out the resources section of the Visix.com website for a transcript of this conversation. And if you prefer video, there is a video version. It’s not us talking. It’s just a bunch of logos and things. But still, if video’s your bag, you can also check us out in the Digital Signage Done Right playlist on the Visix YouTube channel.