Employee Engagement in a Remote World

Employee Engagement in a Remote World
Sarah Woods

Chief Operations Officer

Sarah Woods

When I was offered a position at DockYard, it was my first 100% remote role. I wanted to be as prepared as possible so I tried to find articles on remote work best practices, but I found very few that offered actionable ideas. I realized I would have to learn and adapt as I went along, and thankfully the existing leadership team had already put some tools in place that gave me a great starting point. DockYard benefits from:

Regular One-on-Ones

Managers and employees schedule regular one-on-ones on a frequency that makes sense for them. This scheduled time allows for progress reports, career discussions, or sometimes just talking. From an Employee Engagement and HR perspective, I try to hold one-on-ones with each employee a few times a year. While employees are encouraged to reach out any time, I find that regular check-ins keep me connected with my employee group and allow employees to discuss anything that’s on their mind.

Company Meetings

These are structured meetings on a weekly basis that provide project updates, business development news, internal updates, employee recognition, and announcements. We also record these sessions so employees who are unable to attend can review them later. A few best practices we’ve learned are to keep cameras on during this meeting – as new people join, it helps put a face to a name, and we also avoid the chat function during these meetings to ensure people pay attention.

Unofficial “Watercooler/Coffee Breaks”

A brilliant idea that I unfortunately can’t take credit for was the unofficial watercooler/coffee break. Each week before our company meeting, we noticed people joined the call early and talked about anything and everything outside of work. We give employees the opportunity to join our company meeting ½ hour earlier than our scheduled time. These have been popular with our employees and it’s a fantastic way to stay connected on a personal level.

Company Events

DockYard schedules one all-employee retreat per year and each department also holds their own annual retreat. These get-togethers allow us to socialize in person, have fun, and connect. We do discuss work, but we try to have a lot of unstructured time to let employees focus on connecting with their coworkers. Our next company retreat is scheduled for the Bahamas while our Design team is meeting in the mountains outside of Denver and our Engineering team is heading to Boston.


As leaders, sometimes we get busy in our work and forget to check in or reach out to our team. We assume they know we think they’re doing a good job and that people will feel “no news is good news”. What I have learned during my career is that absent information, people will sometimes create their own stories, which aren’t always positive. Things such as a meeting being pushed out or cancelled with no notice, or the appearance that their manager seems annoyed or on edge during a call can make a person feel that their manager is somehow unhappy with their work. It is imperative that we over-communicate with each other, clarify meaning either by paraphrasing or sending an email recap, and being cognizant of our face and other nonverbal cues and how we may be perceived. Especially in a videoconferencing environment where it is difficult to gauge whether there is some sort of distraction, the other person is truly irritated, or whether it appears they’re looking off into the distance when they may just have multiple monitors and be watching you on one while the camera is facing their side.

Recruitment & Onboarding

As a professional services firm, we have a phenomenal group of exceptionally talented employees, who also happen to be great people with whom to work. We want to make sure we continue to hire well and therefore, we include employees in the interview process. This not only allows our employees to help pick their future coworkers, but it gives candidates the opportunity to get to know the kind of employees they would be working with. We also partner new hires with existing employees as needed during onboarding to ensure the new hire is engaged from the moment they start.

Mentorship Program

DockYard has many people with passion and a desire to continuously develop and grow, so we’ve implemented a Mentor/Mentee program wherein we pair those people based on their skills and interests. Not only are we knowledge sharing and upskilling individuals, but we are pairing people who may not normally work on a project together, further forming bonds and expanding their networks.

Diversity Group

We also created a group with a focus on increasing diversity at DockYard and ensuring an inclusive and respectful work environment. This group meets regularly to discuss topics, creates training, identifies ideas on attracting more diverse talent, and provides best practices to the company. This allows cross-functional collaboration on a very important aspect of our culture.

We’re very proud of the culture we’ve created at DockYard, and we’re protective of it. Through experimentation, we’ve adopted practices that really work. Nothing listed here is revolutionary–these are all simple, almost obvious actions we can take to ensure an engaged team.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering exceptional user experience, design, full stack engineering, web app development, software, Ember, Elixir, and Phoenix services, consulting, and training.


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