4 Ways to Keep Virtual Teams Engaged

If you manage virtual employees or teams, keep in mind that it’s all too easy to let out-of-sight turn into out-of-mind. And that can lead to employees leaving the organization.

How to keep your virtual teams engaged is likely on your mind, considering that most organizations are continuing a remote workforce strategy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the best ways to do so is to ensure virtual team members are building a respectful and collaborative culture, which necessitates excellent communication and leadership skills. Since very few people naturally have these skills, enrolling in targeted corporate training to hone them is a strategic move.

Remote Workers vs. Office Workers

Most studies show that virtual team members 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 colleagues are thinking.

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 also were promoted at just half the rate of their non-remote colleagues.

Tips to Keep Virtual Teams Engaged

If you manage virtual employees or teams, keep in mind that 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. To keep remote workers engaged, be sure to:

1. Schedule regular “temperature checks”: When you can’t count on bumping into team members in the hall or dropping by their office to check in with them, you have to be deliberate and plan communications with them.

2. Monitor the virtual signals you’re sending—and receiving: Tone, vocal style, and pacing can speak volumes, especially when there are no visual cues. With virtual communication 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.

3. 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 remote team members to participate in and feel a part of the culture.

4. Share tips for making working remotely a great experience with virtual team members: Ultimately, both you and the remote team members you manage share the responsibility of making and maintaining the critical, authentic connections that drive higher engagement in virtual business settings. Encouraging remote team members to do the following will help them build their confidence and leadership presence by taking ownership of their engagement:

  • Stay tuned in: It’s up to remote team members to be present in the moment and also be aware if they’re feeling disconnected or isolated. If they are, they should reach out.
  • Communicate expressively. Because remote team members can’t rely on face-to-face interactions when they have ideas or concerns they want to get across, they should communicate in a clear and compelling way.
  • Take advantage of available tools. E-mail is great, but remote team members shouldn’t let it be their sole method of contact. They should schedule opportunities for verbal (phone) and visual (Skype/Web conference) communications when possible.
  • Don’t let imagination get the best of you. Without context, there’s a tendency to “fill in the blanks” of what’s going on. Any time remote team members notice this happening, it’s a warning sign that they need to reach out and get into a conversation with others.
  • Initiate reaching out to others. Encourage remote team members to 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.

Virtual teams provide many benefits, including increased market reach and cost savings. Keeping them engaged results in their working harder, being more productive, and staying with your company longer.

Elsa Strong, vice president, Solution Strategy at Ariel Group, utilizes her experience as a performer, manager, and coach to understand and respond to clients’ unique communication and leadership needs with tailored training solutions that improve business performance.