jazzy illustration of people in the zone

Is your remote team collaborating like a well-oiled machine and getting projects across the finish line? That’s a good sign that they’re engaged in the work they’re doing. But if your team-wide Slack channels have gone silent and checking off tasks has started to feel like pulling teeth, engagement levels could be slipping. 

With so many teams working remotely, engagement is more important than ever. Engaged employees do better work because they feel more motivated to contribute – and the results are quantifiable. Gallup research found that highly engaged teams saw a 23 percent increase in profitability and an 18 percent increase in sales productivity compared to disengaged teams.

For an in-depth look at employee engagement and other remote-team management issues, check out our HR Teams E-book.

The trouble is, engagement doesn’t just happen on its own. In fact, 53 percent of employees admit that they’re not engaged at work. They might feel satisfied in their positions, but they aren’t giving it their all or committed to sticking around for the long haul. 

How to keep virtual teams engaged

How can you ensure your team is happy, committed, and actively invested in the work you’re doing together, even if your people are distributed across the globe?

Well, there’s no easy answer, but it definitely involves more than the occasional virtual happy hour. Here are five different tactics you can put to good use. 

1. Live and breathe your culture and values

Do your employees feel passionate about your company’s core values? Here’s the hard truth: they might not even understand them. Gallup reported that only 23 percent of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every single day. 

To put your culture and values front and center, make sure to:

  • Provide clear definitions. The pillars of your company shouldn’t be a secret. Publish them on your website (like we did) or internally on a shared platform such as Confluence. Schedule time to openly discuss your organization’s values with your team. This will help promote alignment and ensure your values are an undercurrent throughout all of your projects and interactions.
  • Lead by example. If one of your company values is prioritizing work-life balance, but managers are sending emails on weekends and at all hours of the night, your values may be seen as nothing more than lip service. Leaders throughout your team should be the first ones upholding your company norms so that team members can follow suit. 
  • Address cultural conflicts. Similarly, be sure to address situations that contradict your culture head-on. For example, if one of your values is treating everybody with respect, you can’t let instances of bullying, microagressions, or gossiping slide.

Even these straightforward measures go a long way in showing your employees that your values are more than a marketing ploy – they’re something your organization strongly believes in. When you walk the walk, engagement rises. 

2. Connect (and praise) often

Celebrate those little wins to keep your team motivated

69 percent of employees say they would work harder if they felt like their efforts were better recognized. Yet, 65 percent of workers say they don’t feel recognized for their contributions at work.

Don’t underestimate the power of rewards. An unexpected bonus or even a small token of appreciation (like a coffee or a shoutout over Slack) can go a long way toward inspiring great work and retaining your top talent. 

Peer recognition is another powerful way to reward people. For example, any Atlassian can send “Kudos” to a fellow worker. These are small rewards like gift cards or other prizes to recognize a job well done. Bonus: these types of rewards are easy to send and redeem remotely. 

However, keep in mind that 28 percent of employees say the most meaningful and memorable recognition comes from their own manager. 

A good way to keep on top of your team’s accomplishments is by having weekly one-on-one meetings with all of your direct reports. At Atlassian, we encourage managers to use the time to ask open-ended questions, such as: 

  1. What are your priorities this week?
  2. How can I help you?
  3. How are you feeling?

These open-ended questions can also help you quickly identify and address any concerns or blockers people may be experiencing. 

Not sure what types of rewards and recognition would motivate your employees? Ask them. Their feedback will help you pinpoint benefits and perks that get them excited. Plus, you’ll prove that you value their insights and opinions.

3. Connect employees to the bigger picture

Your employees shouldn’t feel like they’re on a hamster wheel. To boost engagement, they need to feel connected to their work and have visibility into how their contributions connect to the broader organization.

Start by setting clear goals. Half of employees admit that they don’t actually know what’s expected of them at work. So, when you set a definitive target for team members, they’ll naturally feel more motivated to achieve it. 

Even with those individual objectives in place, your employees shouldn’t feel siloed or like they’re another cog in a wheel. Show them how even their seemingly mundane tasks contribute to your company’s success. For example:

  • Draw a clear line between a task or project and the broader company goal it supports. If you can’t identify a connection, ask yourself if that task actually needs to be done.
  • Share customer quotes or stories with the team so they can see who their work is ultimately serving.
  • Initiate more cross-functional  projects to give team members more visibility into other areas of the business, so they can see how their puzzle piece fits in.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg. The point is that it’s your job to help your employees feel like they’re part of something that’s bigger than themselves and their own to-do lists. It’s a surefire way to increase employee engagement. 

4. Keep track of how employees are feeling

4 communication styles and how to navigate them in the workplace

It’s important to remember this: employee engagement doesn’t happen without your employees. That sounds like a “duh” statement, yet many companies make the mistake of throwing programs and sentiments at their teams without ever stepping back to ask them what’s working (and what isn’t). 

For starters, your employee retention and turnover rates can be an indicator of general employee sentiment. If you see an alarming trend, dig in and find out what’s happening and what you can do about it.

A good way to keep a pulse on engagement is to survey your employees on topics such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, and benefits. At Atlassian, we use an internal, annual survey called Vital Signs to measure key constructs that foster employee engagement.

We ask employees to rate their agreement with statements like:

  • My manager supports me in developing the skills I need to meet the changing demands of my job.
  • I feel like I belong on my team.
  • I feel safe taking calculated risks, regardless of the outcome.
  • I have a clear understanding of what is expected of me.
  • The executive leadership team has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me.
  • I am able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Once you have this feedback, it’s important to take action by instituting real changes. Otherwise, employees will feel unheard, which can breed frustration and disengagement. Unfortunately, 21.4 percent of employees say employers and managers never do anything with the feedback they receive. 

Share the results of these types of culture and engagement surveys, as well as how you’re going to respond to them. That not only increases transparency throughout the organization, but it also holds you accountable. At Atlassian, we share the Vital Signs results with everyone via Confluence. Then, managers in different areas lead Zoom meetings to go over the finding with their teams, answer questions, and address concerns.

5. Remember that consistency is key 

Employee engagement shouldn’t be top of mind only when everything is peachy, and it also shouldn’t be a priority only when your company is in crisis. It needs to be a constant point of emphasis on your team, and it becomes even more important when your company is dealing with disruptions (like, say, a pandemic and a sudden shift to remote work).

The good news is that focusing on engagement will help your team ride these waves with less stress. A recent Gallup study found that highly engaged teams were more resilient than their peers were during the 2001-02 and 2008-09 recessions. 

Regardless of the hurdles and roadblocks your team is dealing with, continue to prioritize their engagement and find ways to keep them connected. Virtual get-togethers, frequent check-ins, and other surprises (like company swag) can foster a sense of togetherness and keep engagement strong – even when working remotely. 

Employee engagement is brass tacks, not a buzzword

High employee-engagement levels are tied to reduced turnover, improved retention, greater productivity, lower absenteeism, and a whole slew of other fist-pump-worthy benefits.  

To put it simply, when you work to improve employee engagement, your team not only does better work – they actually enjoy doing it.


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