In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, companies across the United States are transforming how and where they work. Within just a few weeks of the pandemic hitting the nation, an estimated 16 million workers had switched to working remotely.

At Gateway, in less than two weeks, we went from having 40 people working from home to over 1,300, forcing us to look for new ways to keep our remote team members engaged.

One issue plaguing remote employees is the lack of personal connection. According to research from Slack, nearly half of employees say working from home has negatively affected their sense of belonging and work satisfaction. I’ve personally found this to be the case.

Through all the unknowns, it’s important for companies to adjust to the greater level of communication necessary to remain engaged with remote workers. Our mission was to try and create opportunities for our team members to stay connected to one another and to the Gateway mothership.

We started by creating a company Facebook page called “A Day at Gateway.” The page was purely meant for engagement and fun and not full of company announcements or COVID-19 protocol. It is dominated by work from home pictures, cat videos and the occasional contest. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Because not everyone is active on the Facebook page, we also poured energy and resources into making our intranet more compelling. We started sending companywide “BreakTime” videos once or twice each week to encourage employees to pause their work for a couple minutes and have a laugh. It may be counterintuitive, but it seems like our remote workers tend to work too much, rather than not enough.

I’ve also learned working from home successfully is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially me. I crave social interaction and am easily distracted, which is a double whammy considering I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my wife, who also works from the house.

Oh yeah, and I have two very disruptive cats: Harlow and Haberdash!

Thankfully, our human resources team sends out a bi-monthly newsletter with great tips about working from home, many of which have helped me get into a better flow.

Because working from home can be very stressful and isolating, it’s important for companies to check in on their employees’ mental health.

Gateway invited a mental health/life coach professional to host a webinar for the whole company about reducing stress and how to move through this season with purpose and come out strong on the other side. We figured a couple hundred folks would join the webinar, but we were wrong. The high level of participation almost overwhelmed our system network.

While we do a lot of fun communications, it’s also important to disseminate timely, pertinent company information to keep everyone up to date. We started holding monthly Town Hall meetings via video call, and they have been well-attended.

More than 80% of our workforce watched the video calls live and had the opportunity to ask our CEO questions. After each meeting, a link to the recording was posted on the company intranet so that those unable to attend the live video event could still have the full experience.

Our CEO, Scott Gesell started off each town hall call by giving shout-outs to a handful of deserving team members, which I think boosted participation.

In this time of social distancing and telecommuting, you have to work harder on company culture and increase communication.

We’ve learned that by keeping people engaged, companies will discover that a remote workforce can be just as efficient and productive as ever.

Hobie Higgins is chief fun officer at Jenks-based Gateway First Bank, where he is responsible for employee engagement and all things culture. He has been with Gateway for more than 15 years and holds the honor as being with the company the longest out of over 1,300 employees.


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