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How to Keep Virtual Teams Engaged

3 min read

Technology and logistical arrangements get a lot of attention when it comes to planning for remote workers’ success. But don’t overlook one of the most important factors in any employee relationship—engagement.

It’s tough to pin down just how many employees are working remotely, but one thing is certain: The numbers keep going up. In their 2019 end of year survey, Owl Labs concluded that workers in the U.S. work remotely full-time 66% more frequently than the global average.

Technology and logistical arrangements get a lot of attention when it comes to planning for remote workers’ success. But don’t overlook one of the most important factors in any employee relationship—engagement.

Most studies show virtual workers are typically no less productive than their office-bound counterparts; in fact, they’re often more productive. But without the regular in-person contact with their managers and other colleagues, they can begin to lose their sense of belonging and passion for the team and the broader organization.

Adding to the problem: When you don’t have the casual hallway conversations and visual cues of regular face-to-face communication, it’s hard to get a temperature check on what your manager is thinking or even what the significance is of organizational changes or other key events.

This might help explain why a Stanford University experiment found that while remote workers were more productive and judged to be happier than those in the office, they were also promoted at just half the rate of their non-remote colleagues.

If you’re managing a virtual team, it’s all too easy to let out-of-sight turn into out-of-mind. But be aware: Ignore them, and they’ll go away.

Ultimately, both the manager and the employee share responsibility in making and maintaining those critical, authentic connections that drive higher engagement.

If you manage virtual employees or teams:

  • Schedule regular “temperature checks:” When you can’t count on bumping into the person in the hall or dropping by their office, you have to be deliberate and plan these communications.
  • Monitor the virtual signals you’re sending—and receiving: Especially when there are no visual cues, tone, vocal style and pacing can speak volumes. You also have to be more aware of how your messages are landing. Did the nuances come through? Is the message resonating? Pause for a check-in to make sure.
  • Encourage virtual employees to initiate reaching out to you and others: Suggest that they make an effort to connect with their colleagues for the sake of keeping in touch. This could be in the form of calling with birthday wishes or asking someone to be a sounding board for an idea. This is a great opportunity to help your employees build their confidence and presence by taking ownership of their engagement.
  • Include virtual teams when planning company events and activities: While they may not be able to attend activities in the office, you can still find equivalent alternatives for your remote staff to participate in and feel a part of the culture.

If you are a virtual employee:

  • Stay tuned in: It’s up to you to be present in the moment and also be aware if you’re feeling disconnected or isolated. If you are, take a moment to reach out.
  • Communicate expressively. Because you won’t always be able to rely on face-to-face interactions when you have ideas or concerns you want to get across, your ability to communicate in a clear, compelling way is more important than ever.
  • Take advantage of the tools: Email is great, but don’t let it be your sole method of contact. Schedule opportunities for verbal (phone) and visual (Skype/web conference) communications when possible.
  • Don’t let your imagination get the best of you: Without context there’s a tendency to “fill in the blanks” of what’s going on. Any time you notice that happening, it’s a warning sign that you need to reach out and get into conversation with others.

How do you stay engaged while working remotely?

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Virtual Presence Guide: How to Help Virtual Teams Create Authentic Connections

Download this guide to discover tips and best practices to help your teams be productive and engaged when working virtually.

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