As the world of work continues to evolve, so does the way we manage and engage employees. No longer are businesses limited to workers who live near the office; now, thanks to advances in technology, businesses can hire employees from anywhere in the world. This has led to a rise in virtual employees—workers who complete their duties from home or another remote location.
While there are many benefits to having a virtual workforce—including increased flexibility and decreased overhead costs—there are also challenges that need to be addressed. Three of the biggest challenges are how to keep virtual employees engaged, productive, and collaborating effectively. Without these three key components, a business is likely to underperform or eventually lose the most valuable asset they have – its employees.
According to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report1 only 21% of the world's employees were engaged at work. Only 1 in 4 employees strongly agree they feel connected to their culture. Gallup estimates that employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity. Consider what percentage of your employees are disengaged and how much that is costing you in lost productivity.
So, how can organizations increase virtual employee engagement, productivity, and collaboration? Below are seven tips:
#1 Set Clear Expectations from the Start
If possible, before relocating or hiring a virtual employee, it is important that you set clear expectations from the start—both in terms of job duties and deliverables. It is also important to set clear expectations around how and when employees will be accessible in their new environment. Are they expected to work and be available 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. in a specific time zone? Are they project based, so it does not matter the times they are available and work as long as the project gets done (flex-work)? Are there expectations around background noise and visible family members – especially when working with outside customers?
Setting clear expectations will help ensure that everyone is on the same page from day one and that there are no surprises or missed expectations down the road.
#2 Schedule Regular Check-ins
It can be easy for employees to feel isolated when they are working from home. To combat this, managers should schedule regular check-ins with their team members. These check-ins can be done via video conferencing or phone calls using cost-effective tools like Microsoft® Teams®.
Regular check-ins can provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions, give feedback, and air any concerns they may have. Checking in regularly will also help managers identify any issues that need to be addressed and ensure that everyone is progressing toward the team’s shared outcomes.
#3 Encourage Collaboration
Just because your employees are working remotely does not mean that they cannot effectively collaborate with one another. In fact, there are many benefits of encouraging remote collaboration. The right tools like Microsoft SharePoint allow employees to create tasks, assign deadlines, and share files so that everyone can have access to the information that is necessary for an on-time completion.
You can also encourage collaboration by setting up regular team meetings where everyone can brainstorm ideas and provide feedback on projects. When done correctly, promoting collaboration among your team can lead to higher levels of engagement and productivity.
#4 Encourage Communication and Interaction with Team Members
One of the best ways to keep virtual employees engaged is to encourage communication and interaction with team members. This can be done in a number of ways, such as setting up video calls, establishing an instant messaging channel for quick questions and requests, and sharing secured resources for increased collaboration and feedback.
Create an environment where employees feel like they can openly share their ideas and give input. When employees feel like their input is valued, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to do their best work.
And lastly, consider creating social opportunities for your team members to interact with each other such as virtual happy hours or coffee breaks. Positive relationships in the workplace will increase a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation.
#5 Promote a Healthy Work-Life Balance
When employees are working from home, it can be easy for them to get overwhelmed and start working longer hours than they should. It is important to promote a healthy work-life balance for all employees—virtual or otherwise—in order to prevent burnout.
Consider being flexible with working hours, offering ample vacation days, and giving employees the opportunity to take mental health days when needed. Encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day as well.
#6 Invest in the Right Tools and Technologies
Another important aspect of keeping your virtual employees engaged is investing in the right tools and technologies. There are several tools that can help with things like project management, task management, file sharing, video conferencing, instant messaging and more.
We encourage you to work with users, key stakeholders, and IT professionals to determine the detailed requirements that the tools should address. Make sure that you have the right tools that meet those requirements and that they are properly installed and configured. The more user-friendly and applicable the tools are, the more likely your employees will be to use them, which will lead to increased collaboration and productivity.
#7 Provide Proper Training
Be sure to properly onboard and train your employees on how to use the software. Training must be part of the software acquisition cost. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's often overlooked in the rush to get things up and running. “Learn by doing” will only create frustration and cause users to go back to their old ways.
Also, if your employees are not specifically trained on how to use the software, they will not be able to take full advantage of its features and benefits. According to a study by the Standish Group2, on average only 7 percent of a software’s features are “always” used. 64 percent of the features in an average software application are “rarely” or “never” used. 64 percent! Think of the productivity loss due to the lack of understanding of key features of a software or ineffectiveness caused by including features that will never be used.
This leads us to another important point – your IT professionals can also benefit from training that enables them to properly secure, install, configure, and deploy the tools that employees will be using. Nothing is more frustrating than software that is not set up correctly. Again, improper configuration can discourage a user in that there are not enough capabilities to get the job done or that there are too many capabilities that overwhelm the user. Organizations can also put themselves at risk if the proper security protocols are not followed or set up by their IT professionals. Proper training can ensure that these pitfalls are avoided.
We Are Here to Help
At New Horizons we are here to help as you strive to increase collaboration and provide the tools that will increase effectiveness, productivity, and engagement.
We offer courses on Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint so that users can learn the full capabilities of these productivity platforms. Click to learn more about:
For IT professionals and admins, we provide courses that ensure proper setup, security, deployment, and configuration. Check out these courses:
Virtual employee engagement is essential for keeping your business running smoothly. By scheduling regular check-ins, encouraging collaboration and communication, promoting a healthy work/life balance, and investing in the right technology tools and training, you will be sure to keep your employees engaged, productive, and happy.
New Horizons training gives people the skills they need for improved productivity, such as: enhanced computing, finding hidden software shortcuts, and using tools for greater proficiency. IT Professionals need training to ensure they are administering and implementing products using all the collaboration features available. We are committed to producing the highest training ROI in the market.
Explore our course catalog, and invest in the skills that will keep your business competitive and your employees engaged.