Having trouble engaging your virtual employees? Try these 6 techniques

Tuesday September 10th, 2019

The world is going remote.

More and more, businesses are ditching commercial office space and formal on-site requirements in favor of virtual workplaces.

But with physical distance separating colleagues and bosses from staff, does employee engagement risk dropping off?

It doesn’t have to.

There are numerous technologies and techniques companies in every vertical are using to humanize and energize virtual employees.

1. Video conferencing 1:1 and as a team

Two-thirds of companies have remote workers, but “remote” can quickly devolve into “forgotten” or “rarely heard from.”

Virtual workers should regularly engage with their peers through some level of facetime. Slack channels and messaging boards may get the job done in a macro sense, but nothing beats putting faces to names.

Use a video conferencing system like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Webex or GoToMeeting to bring off-site and on-site staff together for a common purpose. Video conferencing should also be used to intro and onboard new staff members. Too often, remote workers converse with existing staff but never get introduced to newer employees because of the geographical distance.

Making video a central channel for collaboration and daily communications can help virtual teams feel less like avatars and more like humans.

2. Home-office or nomad spend

In some cases, virtual workers prefer and enjoy the solitude and autonomy of being solo. But just because they’re not physically in your office doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be forced to subsidize their own workspace costs.

Desks, chairs, office supplies, internet connections, wireless mice, headsets, speaker phones, hard drives and various other items go into making many jobs successful. So earmarking a percentage of HR or department budget to go toward virtual workers can help them cover these expenses.

Even if workers don’t have their very own home office, they may prefer coffee shops or co-working spaces, environments that can incur costs as well.

3. Frequent pulse surveys

Pulse surveys are quick, templated and automated mechanisms for soliciting feedback and compiling points of action.

Pay extra attention to virtual workers, relative to in-house teams. Pulse surveys can provide a balanced source of real feedback with the benefits of on-site engagement and rapport filtered out. In other words, how satisfied would your employees be if all the work events, lunches and company parties weren’t in play? This is what virtual workers face every day.

4. VIP recognition and digital rewards

Appreciating and recognizing employee wins should be done out in the open. Using a public forum to spotlight employees and their work allows other staff members to familiarize themselves with those working remotely. It also keeps the entire company in the loop on top performers, ongoing projects and new initiatives.

Tying recognition to rewards, too, can elevate employee engagement. This can be something as simple as using a scoring or upvoting system to reward employees with gift cards or other perks - no matter where they reside.

5. Platform-centric communication and collaboration

Pulse surveys, rewards systems and general teambuilding can be accomplished via a centralized platform.

This may be a bespoke project management tool, a messaging app or an HCM software, for example.

Allowing all employees to gain visibility into concurrent workstreams, communication channels and digital meetups creates a feedback loop of positivity and transparency. It also empowers HR managers and team leads to have a wide grasp on the daily goings on at work, with regular status updates and progress reports.

6. Productivity - not timing - requirements (aka what not when)

With 25% of Americans allowed to work from home on occasion, work is becoming less time-oriented and more outcome-oriented.

If you can complete all your daily tasks in the same amount of time as someone else, you’re equal on paper. But what if one of you signs off at noon and the other at 9 p.m.?

It shouldn’t matter all that much, provided clients are satisfied.

Instead of micromanaging how virtual workers spend every minute, focus on their output. This gives them the freedom to create custom work schedules that best suit their professional demands and their personal needs. Not everyone is productive at the same time, so use this latitude to your advantage with a relaxed policy on work hours.