The Ultimate Guide for Engaging Virtual Teams

The Ultimate Guide for Engaging Virtual Teams

How do you keep remote workers engaged and motivated to do their best work? This resource is the ultimate guide to leading effective virtual teams, with communication strategies, team-building tips, and more.


Employee Engagement & Remote Teams

If money is the language of business, engagement is the language of motivation — and only through motivation does anything in business get done. When employees are engaged, they are intrinsically motivated to do work that is interesting, meaningful, rewarded and supported.

Leadership is the art of developing effective teams, and engagement reflects what the world’s best leaders do to create powerful teamwork that gets positive results amid competition and market challenges.

For this reason, over the past 2 years specifically, employee engagement has transitioned from a nice-to-have metric to an essential strategy for doing business with the onset of remote work. The prioritization of engagement has moved beyond the human resources department and into company culture as a differentiator for exceptional brands.

Defining employee engagement

Merriam Webster defines engagement as “emotional involvement or commitment” and it is the core action for any and all experiences (although we would add that you can engage people not only emotionally but physically, intellectually, and even spiritually). When you engage customers then you stage a remarkable experience within them, one that they will truly remember. And if you want to create such offerings, then you should give your employees the wherewithal to design, create, and stage them through an employee experience that is likewise personal, memorable, and of course, engaging.

The No. 1 imperative of leaders today is unlocking the potential of their employees

To achieve organic growth, avoid high rates of employee burnout, and persevere through disruption, organizations need more than sufficient work -- they need exceptional performance from their remote workers. And they get it by engaging their employees. Highly engaged teams outperform the rest in 11 business outcomes -- based on the world's largest study of employee engagement and performance.

Happy, engaged teams do better work, are more collaborative and innovative, have lower attrition and higher loyalty, and deliver up to 50% better performance than less engaged teams, according to studies from both Gallup and Deloitte.

What Do Employees Need to Feel Engaged?

A few factors to consider in this area are the company and its leadership. You can’t expect your staff to become engaged if there is no clear and decisive message for them to embrace. Before you can start to measure their level of engagement ask yourself the following:

  • Are your company’s goals and visions clear and concise?
  • Do the employees understand these goals?
  • Is there a clear link between the employee’s work and the company’s goals?
  • Can the employees see how their work ultimately contributes to the success of the business?
  • Is the leadership of the organization present and able to motivate the workforce?
  • Are the managers equipped with the skills needed to lead a team to success?

When all these components are in place, you can begin to look closer at how well engaged your employees are. Taking a close look at the business and its leadership first can also help you further develop employee engagement strategies and practices.

This ultimate guide will take you through the steps necessary to blend an exceptional employee experience with increased employee engagement to create teams that are highly satisfied, happy, and loyal.

Chapter 1

Pay extra attention to the basics.

Managing virtual teams and remote employees that aren’t in the same room changes a lot, but successful execution is usually less about wild new innovation and more about getting back to the basics of good project management and delivery processes.

It’s also a smart idea to establish a well-defined code of conduct for communications: when to use chat, when an email is appropriate, when it makes more sense to pick up the phone, what is the right balance of meetings, and how long should meetings run.

Use digital tools to enhance your connection.

Digital communication is a learned skill as are communication skills in general. Sometimes, it can feel like its own language. The key to helping team members communicate effectively is to be aware of the differences between in-person and virtual meeting. For instance, digital communication tools and apps can mask the intention and humanity of the people involved, so it’s a good idea to allow for some work and social interaction to help build team camaraderie. It’s also helpful to preface digital conversations, such as video chats, with some context. Understanding where they are and what they are doing in the moment helps mitigate miscommunication, and will build trust.

Exhibit good meeting etiquette.

If you think in-person meetings are the bane of your existence, meetings that include remote team members can quickly become even more complex and challenging. When working with a virtual team, it’s even more important to follow basic meeting best practices:

  • Always have a clear purpose and agenda.
  • Be on time.
  • Encourage all participants to be stationary and in front of a computer (versus being mid-commute or otherwise on the go).
  • Be efficient with people’s time—excuse people after they’ve made their contributions, suggest side conversations when appropriate to keep the meeting on course.

In addition, there are a few other guidelines to follow for virtual team meetings:

  • If your organization is working across different time zones, vary meeting times so that no one time zone takes the brunt of too-early or too-late call times.
  • Provide every employee with excellent headphones to improve audio quality, and make sure they are using them instead of depending on the mic and speakers on their computer.
  • Make sure everyone has a reliable internet connection.
  • Define video call etiquette and stick to it—ask participants to mute when they are not speaking, keep their video on, and stay engaged.
  • Be considerate of individual availability. It is easy to end up overbooking people in this virtual environment – being in meetings from the beginning to the end of the day gives them little or no time to step away from their desk. More now than ever, a change of scenery once in a while is vital to keeping people sane.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Use your webcams.

Speaking of video and staying engaged, make good use of your computer’s camera to maximize face-to-face time with meeting participants. Up to 10,000 non-verbal cues can be exchanged in one minute of face-to-face interaction; and all that information is lost without a video interface. Having people on video has many benefits:

  • Encourages people to listen more attentively
  • Removes body language detractors
  • Adds positivity to the experience through human interaction
  • Improves communication by adding access to body language
  • Reduces the potential for multitasking during meetings
  • Increases team bonding
Chapter 2

Get creative with communication.

Virtual teams have to be excellent communicators, and this can be a lot easier with the right management tools and culture. Tools like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams provide a great opportunity to strengthen day-to-day and long-term communication. In addition to those digital conversations and formal meetings, you might also consider scheduling informal office hours and breakout sessions that provide employees with a chance to talk without any specific agenda. While efficiency is obviously a goal of any team, there’s also great value in giving employees the time to get to know each other both professionally and personally. It doesn’t always have to be about the deadline at hand; sometimes it’s great just to learn more about people’s interests and what motivates them.

Find ways to connect with team members individually.

A number of variables play vital roles in shaping a team member’s workplace experience – from generation to gender to career. Organizations should know the talents and needs of each employee, and will benefit from timely check-ins. Here are some facts and figures to keep in mind:

  • Workers at the beginning and approaching the end of their careers tend to be more engaged than those in the middle of their careers.
  • Millennials are the most likely to say that they’ll leave their jobs in the next 12 months if the job market improves.
  • Women have a slightly higher overall engagement than men.

Focus on and develop employees’ strengths.

Building employees’ strengths is far more effective than trying to improve weaknesses, and it boosts engagement - especially in virtual environments. Gallup says that emphasizing strong points can nearly eliminate active disengagement, and could double the average of U.S. workers who are engaged. People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.

Chapter 3

Extend and intensify the engagement level of new team members.

Employees are as engaged as they will ever be during the first six months of their tenure at an organization. To increase this level early on, consider pairing a new hire up with a workplace friend or mentor who can show them the ropes and provide plenty of recognition for their early efforts. This plan can also develop a strong sense of teamwork in your group as well.

Recognize your team and their hard work.

A manager recognizing and acknowledging a job well done is an essential motivator when developing employee engagement best practices and encouraging employee retention. To be a successful manager, it’s good to understand what form of recognition works best for your staff. Words of encouragement can go a long way in this regard. A ‘good job’ or ‘thank you’ in regards to a task may be just what that employee needed to push forward, or to continue do just as well on the next project. Taking it a step further, consider holding an employee recognition day, or, if the company can, try offering a monetary bonus to those who truly go above and beyond. Recognition helps to foster positive attitudes and healthy behavior in the workplace which is a key factor to elevating the levels of employee engagement.

Listen to and act on employee feedback.

Listening to what your customers have to say is important, but so is listening to your employees. Having regular meetings to determine what areas of your work environment or workflow need improvement is an important part of keeping the employees engaged with the company. By using a company survey, or even a monthly meeting, giving your staff a voice is vital in making them feel like part of the company. If there is a situation within the internal workings of the company that goes unnoticed or unaddressed by management, it sends an unfavorable message to your staff. If they know that management cares, and hears their concerns, they will continue to maintain a high level of engagement instead of becoming despondent and disengaged.

Chapter 4

Create a workplace environment free of fear.

So many business and companies tend to operate in a performance-based environment. This sort of atmosphere is a favorable environment for fear and uncertainty to grow in, so keeping employee engagement steady is especially important. Allowing your employees to make choices without having to run everything up to the chain of command, allows them great moments within their career. Coincidentally, these performance-based environments can also lead to the fear of getting reprimanded if their decision falls flat. Managing a business where employees are punished for mistakes or a wrong choice is a sure-fire strategy for staff to become disengaged and unwilling to take the risks sometimes necessary for success. This is another opportunity to choose a kinder, more positive approach with your staff that can still be effective, without diminishing their levels of engagement.

Motivate, inspire and coach your employees.

Creating community cohesion starts with happy employees, but doesn’t end there. The tone is set by leadership from the beginning, and a good way to achieve a positive tone is to be more than just managers and bosses; be the best coaches they could have. If you see an employee struggling with a task, approach them to see if you can help in any way. Whether it is a virtual pat on the back and words of encouragement urging them to keep trying or offering guidance on policy and procedure, they will see your willingness to help as a concern for their state of mind and well-being, as well as the company’s success.

Adaptability is critical to business success

Many organizations have been naturally evolving toward a more dispersed workforce model, as they have been thrust into this new paradigm as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Short- and long-term success depends on a well thought out and intentional approach to this new way of working. Taking the time to understand the different dynamics that come into play when managing a virtual team is a great place to start. From there, you can build out your team structure, workflows, communication strategies, and everything else you need to ensure your team’s ongoing success.

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