One of the greatest challenges faced by those managing staff in the current remote work environment, is how to keep virtual teams engaged and productive.
Remote work in Australia has been steadily growing for years, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has seen a massive jump in employees working from home. In fact, June 2020 research from Roy Morgan concluded that a staggering 32% of Australians have been working remotely since the outbreak of COVID-19, and it is expected that many employees will continue to work from home for months or years to come.
Logistical arrangements, technology and workplace health and safety receive a lot of attention when businesses plan remote work, however, one aspect of remote work that is often overlooked is employee engagement.
Many 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 organisation.
And when you don’t have casual kitchen or hallway conversations and the visual cues of in-person communication, it’s hard to get a feel for what your team is thinking, or even the significance or impact of organisational changes and other key events.
If you’re managing a team working remotely, one of the greatest challenges is how to keep your virtual teams engaged. Employee engagement is critical for employee performance, job satisfaction, team culture and staff retention.
Ultimately, both the manager and the employee share responsibility in making and maintaining those critical, authentic connections that drive higher engagement.
Tips to Keep Virtual Teams Engaged
If you manage virtual employees or teams:
- Schedule regular “temperature checks:” When staff are working remotely, you can’t rely on casual conversations, team lunches, or office ‘drop-ins’, so you need to be deliberate and plan these communications.
- Monitor the virtual signals you’re sending—and receiving: With virtual teams relying more on email and messenger communication, you can easily miss clues provided by face-to-face communications; tone, vocal style and pacing can speak volumes. Even if you are using video technology such as Zoom or MS Teams, you 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 reach out to you and others: Schedule a regular one-on-one check in with your team and 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.
- Continue to hold ‘virtual’ company and team events and activities: While you 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. Enjoy Friday afternoon video team drinks, or a modified version of whatever other fun social activities that you normally enjoy.
- Celebrate Your Successes
Continue to celebrate your team successes like achieving targets and completing projects, and continue to recognise the contributions of your team as you would if you were in the office.
- Be conscious of the mental health of your team
Working remotely can be an isolating experiencing for some employees, especially in stressful and uncertain times like the COVID-19 pandemic. Be conscious of employee well-being and encourage staff to access company counselling and other mental health services if you are concerned.
- Undertake Virtual Team Engagement Training
There are some highly effective virtual courses available to managers and leaders to help guide you how to effectively lead and engage a remote team. They cover topics including how to manage remote teams, how to facilitate virtual meetings, and how to effectively interact and influence a remote audience.
Managing and keeping a virtual team engaged can be a challenge, but there are many things you can do to create and maintain a productive and enjoyable working environment.