Employee Engagement Strategies in a Virtual Setting

Employee engagement is one of the most important factors that will help you achieve business success. Implementing employee engagement strategies helps businesses improve productivity and efficiency, foster customer loyalty and improve organisational performance.

According to a Gallup survey in early May, the US employee engagement trend since 2000—when Gallup initially started tracking employee engagement—has surprisingly seen an increase in engagement, with 38% of people polled showing active engagement at work. Those who are more engaged also report lower levels of stress and worry.

At first glance, this data might seem reassuring that there is no reason to panic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. For starters, during the height of the pandemic, more than 30 million people in the US have become unemployed and are not included in the employee engagement index pool of respondents. Even more concerning is that we are still left with 13% of respondents disengaged and 49% “not engaged” stating that they are psychologically unattached to their work and the company.

  • Are we really satisfied with 62% of employees either having miserable work experiences and spreading that unhappiness to others or not putting energy or passion into their work?
  • Showing up and contributing only the minimal amount of effort?
  • Always working with one foot out the door in case a better offer comes along?

Due to the harsh realities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, as stated by SHRM, “..less person-to-person interaction and increasing on-demand technology from chats and texts to social media updates and news feeds, is eroding employee engagement.”

Less time in the office leaves those who are prone to procrastination, negative mindset slumps and poor self-regulation habits without their greatest asset: a reliable workday structure. Some thrive in the flexibility of working from home and setting their own hours while others struggle without consistency.

A research study by the World Economic Forum broke down remote employee struggles into the following categories:


Despite the pandemic, the end-goal for our employees hasn’t changed.

  • You’ve always cared about your employees being committed to the company.
  • You’ve always cared about your employees showing up to work each day.
  • You’ve always cared about your employees putting effort and passion into their work.
  • You’ve always cared about how your employees talk about your company outside of work.
  • You’ve always cared about your company being high performing,
  • What we have to rework is how we get there.

How is employee engagement determined?

According to Gallup and Quantum Workplace, the core driving factors in employee engagement are:

  • Trust and confidence in the leaders of the organisation
  • Feeling supported by coworkers and higher management
  • A clear understanding of their role
  • Connection to a common mission or purpose
  • A clear vision for the future
  • The leaders value people as their most important resource
  • Clear and consistent communication channels
  • The organisation makes investments to help the growth and development of employees
  • Having the right materials to do their job
  • A unified team that is strongly committed to seeing the company succeed

How can I determine if my employees are engaged?

There are ways on how to determine if your employees are engaged. One of the best methods is by developing an employee engagement survey.

Here are the things you need to consider when crafting a survey:

  • Use neutral language that isn’t leading.
  • Questions should be something that can be asked frequently to provide a baseline.
  • When constructing questions, focus on behaviours and try to relate them to customer service when possible. After all, everything we do is to support the customer.
  • Keep the survey length reasonable (under 5 minutes to complete).
  • Be mindful of loaded questions that might feel uncomfortable for an employee to answer.
  • Be specific when you can to avoid skewed results.
  • Allow for a few open-ended questions where employees can write comments.
  • Consider using a variety of surveys with varying depths to get a full view of your company.

What can be done to improve employee engagement and satisfaction in a virtual setting?

When the majority of your employees are working from home it isn’t as easy to just look over and see how they are progressing. Isolation poses a big threat to employee engagement. It is critical for the leaders in their organisations to be transparent and empathetic when constructing a long-term response plan.

According to a recent survey by McKinsey, “Those who say their organisations have responded particularly well are four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to report a positive state of well-being.”

The first step is focusing on safety and security, making sure people and their families are all right. Always check if everyone has the right technology and access to training for programs they are unfamiliar with. Below is a list of key points when addressing the level of employee engagement of your organisation during these unprecedented times:

1. Talk to your people

Find out what is working and what isn’t working well. Determine who are struggling and how you can better support them during this time

2. Lead with empathy and trust

If the productivity of an individual becomes a concern, think of them as a person first and an employee second. Have a candid conversation with them about their performance. Recognise the need for psychological safety for them to feel comfortable enough to express that they are struggling.

While 92% of CEOs feel their organisation is empathetic, only 50% of their employees say their CEO is empathetic. Listen to your employees, they will tell you what they need if you let them.

3. Be aware that some employees may not feel as comfortable coming forward with concerns or feedback in a virtual setting 

Don’t assume that your team is comfortable enough to bring their concerns and questions forward. Even in in-person settings, this can be a hard thing to do. Create the space for a feedback loop, where employees feel heard and can also receive feedback and guidance on their work.

89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work (Gallup).

4. Establish clear objectives and action items

Always make sure you’re establishing clear objectives and action items. Ask the following questions to determine what is needed from you:

  1. Are the task items being prioritised properly or is there misalignment?
  2. Where is your team struggling?
  3. Are the end goals clear?
  4. Do you have OKRs? (objectives and key results)
  5. Do you have appropriate and clear weekly action items?
  6. Are you tracking progress and readjusting?
  7. Does your team have a say in planning the response to COVID-19?

5. Engage your team in planning the response to COVID-19 and work together to create the future “normal workplace” 

Some job responsibilities have decreased or stopped completely, and new priorities have surfaced. Work with your team to re-craft tasks and work schedules.

This situation is affecting them too, so it’s important that you’re empowering your team by giving them a voice and a say in how they construct their workweek.

Job crafting or working with the employee in structuring what their tasks, hours, interactions look like on the job can be beneficial. It helps to empower employees by giving them ownership over their position, working with them to tap into underutilised skills and explore areas they find interesting. Check out the image below to see the breakdown.

According to positivepsychology.com, there are perks in doing job crafting:

  • Enhanced organisational performance
  • Greater engagement
  • Adding more challenges promotes mastery
  • It may help us achieve our ‘ideal’ career status
  • Evidence suggests it makes us happier

6. Ask if your teams are sufficiently connected, camaraderie is still very important

Facilitate interoffice communication and collaboration and look into tools that will help encourage this like Slack or daily meetings. Creating virtual talent shows or peer-recognition sessions can be helpful, too.

7. Bring purpose to life

Share stories of colleagues who are embodying purpose through the crisis. Celebrate and create role models for those who are living their purpose.

Need help with your employee engagement strategies? Head to our Corporate Labs and we will ensure your success in achieving your business goals.

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