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Identifying whether or not an employee is engaged isn’t always easy, especially when you’re not working in the same physical space. If you pass by a colleague’s office and they have their feet propped up on the desk with their chair leaned back and their eyes closed, it might be safe to say that they’re not as engaged as you’d like them to be. But when working virtually, you don’t know what is happening on the other end of the computer screen — or do you?
As a leader, it’s important to spend time to identify not only how engaged your team is, but to also continually monitor this level of engagement over time. As we’ve seen with the recent crisis, things can change quickly, and expectations and communication need to follow suit. When there is a disconnect between these areas, you might find yourself with a disengaged team.
Before we discuss how to identify what disengagement looks like or how to work through it, let’s break down the varying levels of engagement, as defined by Gallup (engaged, disengaged and actively disengaged):
- Engaged employees are involved in, and enthusiastic about, their work.
- Disengaged employees may be satisfied but are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are less likely to put in discretionary effort.
- Actively disengaged employees are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace and jeopardize their teams’ performance.
These levels of engagement highlight the concern that an actively disengaged employee could bring down the quality of other members of the team’s work as well. So, what does disengagement in any form look like in a remote workforce?
- Lack of communication with leadership and/or colleagues
- Easily distracted during virtual calls, meetings and conversations
- Lack of interest to learn and grow
- Drop in productivity and quality of work
- Does not help, celebrate and/or support others
- Withdrawal from team building activities or other virtual organization initiatives
- Increase in days off and/or consistency of work hours
- Naysaying ideas and opportunities suggested by others
Once you know what to look out for, it’s much easier to observe and gauge where your employees are and what they may need from you and your organization. Here are suggestions to help you monitor the engagement of your team and make adjustments before one person impacts the overall morale of your group.
Reflect on previous performance
For the most part, employees start off engaged. They’re excited and eager to be a part of the organization and want to perform. Over time, this can change and lead to decreased work performance, increased complaints and overall drop of morale. Right now this might be hard to judge as employees get acquainted with their new virtual setup and additional responsibilities. You could see an increased lag time in between communication as compared to before. Although this might not impact their long-term engagement, it can still lead to missed deadlines and poor work performance in the short term.
As a leader, it’s important to reflect on how your team has (or has not) changed as a result of going remote. Reflect on communication patterns, attentiveness to detail, engagement during virtual meetings of all team members and note any changes that have occurred. If there is a drop in engagement for the group as whole, consider doing some internal reflection to see what might have been missed in terms of expectations and communication on the leadership side. If it appears to be an issue with a few employees, take note and address it with them specifically.
An employee might not realize they’re becoming disengaged. Things that used to excited them just don’t anymore, or they believe they’re balancing home and work well and don’t recognize the impact of their performance on the team. But by keeping track of their change in behavior, you can share specific examples of how their performance or communication has changed and remind them of their old ways without causing an issue.
Have one-on-one conversations
Taking the time to speak with your team is even more important in a remote workforce. It not only helps to get you and your team on the same page with expectations, but can help build important workplace relationships. In fact, managers account for up to 70 percent of variance in employee engagement. However, creating this relationship and developing trust is not as easy online. In person, we have more opportunities to have informal interactions, whereas in an online environment, leaders need to proactively create these conversations. Using a video platform allows for observing body language and other non-verbal cues and can feel more personal.
When having a one-on-one conversation, it is essential to listen carefully. Many of the questions below do not require a direct response but do require a leader’s attention, potential follow-up and willingness to hear feedback. Some disengaged employees feel their ideas or opinions aren’t being taken seriously. While it’s important to ask these questions, it’s equally (if not more important) to listen to the answers. Notice the change in their tone, attitude or interest in providing the answers.
- What is one thing you’ve done this week, month, quarter that you are proud of?
- What support do you need from me that you are not getting?
- What fires have you had to put out lately or foresee coming in the next week, month or quarter?
- What is your biggest challenge right now?
- What skill or experience are you looking to have or enhance in the near future?
- What is something you think we can do to improve our product, service or other offering(s)?
- Are there any projects that you would like to be a part of?
Send out an engagement survey
Collecting data from your team can be valuable, especially during times of change. But don’t send out a survey if you’re not planning to do anything with the information. An easy way to keep an employee disengaged is to ask them for feedback and then doing nothing with their response. If you’ve given a survey in the past, do a follow-up and review the data to see what has changed (especially if your employees were located in the same physical space and are now remote).
Use a project management application
There is no shortage of platforms that can help you and your team track your virtual progress on a particular project or assignment. When everyone has access to the same information, it is much easier to see who is following through, where things are stuck and who needs to step up that hasn’t. Look at the progress of your team on multiple projects and see if there are trends, things that stand out or other areas of concern that need to be addressed with disengaged employees.
Although employee engagement can change at any time, leaders have the opportunity to get a real-time pulse of their virtual team. This requires consistent and ongoing communication, a clear set of expectations and a willingness to make adjustments along the way. This proactive behavior can make the difference between an engaged and actively disengaged team.