4 Best Practices to Engage Distributed Teams

January 06, 2023
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Checkr Editor

America’s workers are more dispersed than ever and changing attitudes pose new challenges for HR professionals.

Nearly three years after the onset of the pandemic, America’s workers are more dispersed than ever. As some employees return to the office, changing attitudes pose new challenges for HR professionals.

Many employees who worked remotely during the pandemic discovered they were happier, healthier, and more productive working from home. Employer’s also saw benefits in hiring  dispersed teams. Almost three-fourths (73%) of managers in a recent survey said employee productivity and engagement had either increased or stayed the same with remote work compared to working in the office.

Despite these advantages, some employees struggled with feelings of isolation when working remotely. For others, blurred boundaries between work and home life contributed to burnout and disengagement. A 2022 GoodHire survey reports 44% of American workers would prefer to work from home than return to the office, down from 68% in 2021. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents would also be willing to go back to the office full-time.

With a possible recession on the horizon, employees’ changing attitudes may be motivated more by worries about job security than by personal preference. Consider these survey results from GoodHire:

  • 59% of workers worried that they would be excluded from important team meetings and projects if they were not consistently in the office. 
  • 68% were concerned that their manager would view full-time office workers as high performers and full-time remote workers as lazier.
  • 84% think they might be overlooked for promotions and pay raises in favor of people who worked in the office.

Regardless of the work environment, productivity is important for business outcomes. But recently, worker productivity has plummeted, and “quiet quitting”—or doing the bare minimum of work required—has become a worrisome trend. Economists aren’t sure why productivity is down. Ask employees, however, and causes including frustration, burnout, and not feeling valued come to light. In the face of ongoing recruiting and retention challenges, employers that offer flexible work will have a competitive advantage.

4 tips to increase productivity by building a more engaged team

Most of corporate America has become flexible. While some employees must work in-person full-time, many have the freedom to choose the remote or hybrid format that best fits their needs. This newfound flexibility has benefits for both employers and employees, including shortening commutes, expanding hiring pools, reducing costs, and improving work-life balance.

However, managing blended teams creates new challenges for HR teams. In an October 2022 survey by The Conference Board, workers reported their sense of engagement at work had decreased in the past six months. Thirty percent of remote workers, 30% of in-office workers, and 31% of hybrid workers reported this decline. No matter where individual employees work, a distributed workforce requires extra attention to ensure that all company policies and practices support every worker equitably. Here are four tips to help you engage your team – no matter their location.

1. Offer flexibility in a variety of ways

Allowing employees to choose flexible schedules, flexible locations, or both can improve employee morale and increase productivity. Flexible locations could mean offering employees the option to work remotely, from the office, or a hybrid of the two environments. In a recent survey, however, employees said offering flexible scheduling was the number-one change that would improve their work environment.

Flexible scheduling might mean instituting a 4-day work week or a 9/80 schedule in which employees work 80 hours over the course of 9 days and take a day off every other week. (Some 54% of surveyed employees said they would prefer a 4-day workweek in the office to a 5-day remote workweek.) Another option is setting “core hours” when all employees must work and letting employees schedule their other working hours around these core times.

By enabling employees to better manage personal matters, such as childcare or health concerns, flexible schedules and locations can increase focus and productivity during work hours. In fact, one survey found that employees with flexible schedules work 1.4 more days per month, on average, than those working standard office hours.

The Conference Board’s survey also discovered that women, millennials, and lower-level employees were more likely to feel disengaged than men, older workers, and executives. Flexible hours and locations also make it easier for mothers of young children, people with disabilities, or those caring for aging parents to work, which can support diversity, equity, and inclusion at your company.

2. Prioritize communication and inclusion

Remote or hybrid employees can feel left out of company communication. Companies with a fully-remote structure suffered a 40% drop in collaboration time, and 42% of employees said remote work made them feel less connected to co-workers, a Microsoft study reports. When you can’t walk down the hall to ask a colleague a question or brainstorm around the water cooler, other communication methods become more important.

Companies can prioritize communication by using the many technology platforms available, such as Zoom, Slack, or Gatheround and giving in-office and remote workers the same opportunities to connect. For example, HR professionals should ensure that in-person training or meetings have online components. Developing clear communication and collaboration guidelines is also essential. Enlisting your employees’ input in creating these rules helps to increase adoption and ensure your processes fit workers’ needs.

To ensure that all procedures are fair to every employee regardless of how they work, HR professionals should review company policies—from compensation structures to promotion processes and in-office vs. remote stipends—for inclusivity and accessibility. Are you providing equal stipends to both remote and in-person workers? Do all employees undergo the same annual review process? The answers to such questions can guide which areas need improvement.

3. Embrace new ways to build a strong company culture

Building social bonds with co-workers creates a sense of belonging that improves employee satisfaction, which can boost productivity. Socializing is especially important for younger employees working remotely, who would naturally befriend coworkers if they worked together in person.

Creating opportunities for employees from different departments to interact socially is key to fostering belonging, according to Gallup research. You can build company-wide bonds by publicly recognizing employees’ achievements and holding regular social events, both in-person and remote. Even a fully remote business can bring employees together once a year for team building and socializing.

HR professionals can get out in front of underlying issues by holding regular check-ins with employees and using your HRIS to track as much data as possible. Monitoring and analyzing data can help to uncover hidden problems, such as in-person workers getting promoted faster; lower retention rates for remote workers; or uneven pay raises. These insights can help HR professionals proactively address any potential problems.

4. Learn from and act on feedback

Companies keep customers happy and engaged by continually working to improve the customer experience. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to the employee experience? HR professionals can use employee experience (EX) software to develop anonymous employee surveys and collect and assess the results. KPIs may vary depending on your business and which aspects of employee engagement matter most to its success.

Collecting qualitative information is equally important. Regularly talking to employees and maintaining an open-door policy (both physical and virtual) can reveal areas for potential improvement in your employee experience.

Once you’ve gathered feedback, be sure to act on it. When employees see that their input results in action, they’ll feel heard, valued, and engaged with their work.

The tech that supports the candidate experience is where building engaged teams begins

The future of work may look different from one company to another, but as you craft your policies for distributed teams, be sure to consider how your recruitment, hiring, and onboarding processes may need to adapt. For example, you may need to develop new systems for interviewing remote workers or best practices for onboarding members of distributed teams. A streamlined, simple background check experience starts new hires off with a positive employee experience and first impression of your company, before onboarding even begins.

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Nothing in Checkr’s Blog should be construed as legal advice, guidance, or counsel. Companies should consult their own legal counsel about their compliance responsibilities under the FCRA and applicable state and local laws. Checkr expressly disclaims any warranties or responsibility or damages associated with or arising out of information provided.

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