Digital Employee Engagement: How To Be A Great Virtual Leader

connected employees across the globe on a map

An old friend of mine used to work for Coca-Cola Enterprises in the UK. Every year, thousands of employees would get together in an enormous event arena to learn about the business, celebrate what it meant to be a Coke employee and get excited about what the future had in store.

I saw pictures from a couple of these events. They looked more like a festival than a corporate conference, and you can bet your life that the budget was astronomical. But all the statistics said they were extremely effective at improving employee engagement levels, inspiring necessary change, encouraging better understanding and communication between business divisions, and reinvigorating staff productivity.

Today’s employee engagement conundrum

It’s getting harder and harder to achieve these sorts of outcomes today. 

Business events and team activities are a proven tool for staff engagement. There’s something incredibly powerful about getting everybody together under one roof with a common goal. But for the majority of organisations, it’s completely impractical and cost-prohibitive. Plus, an employee engagement event might happen once a year, once a quarter, or even once a month – but what about Monday to Friday?

Today’s teams are spread out, in multiple locations, offices, cities and countries. With more virtual and distributed teams now than ever before, understanding how to best manage, motivate and connect with your team on a daily basis is fundamental for leaders today

And since 93% of communication is non-verbal, you need to learn how to make an impact without physically being in the same room as your audience. Developing your teams communication skills for the new ways of working will help you connect and collaborate better – increasing your success.

communcation

4 ways to motivate distributed and virtual teams

1. Build clarity, trust and vision

Clarity, trust and vision are 3 of the most important outcomes of an employee engagement event. They’re the essential components that, as a leader, you need to build within your team. 

When leading virtual or widely distributed teams, consider how else you can deliver clarity, trust and vision. Clarity comes about through effective communication. What are your teams unsure about or unfamiliar with – do you even know? You might request feedback through a survey, asking poignant questions that get to the heart of where there are disconnects or misconceptions in employees’ minds. This gives you a great starting point for internal communications. 

Or you might hold a virtual CEO Q&A as a video conference or through a text medium like Slack. The important thing is that everybody that’s working for you gets an opportunity to find clarity where it’s currently lacking. This also generates trust. By being accessible and transparent, you’re sending a clear message to employees that you’re one team. And by sharing your vision for the future – what you’re trying to achieve with the business – your team is more likely to support you on that journey and invest in the same goals. 

2. Invest in enabling technology

This is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Presumably, if you have team members that telecommute, you’ve already got some of the technology in place to allow this. However, there’s more to it than providing a VPN if you really want to boost your employee engagement

Consider every aspect of your team’s daily operations – what differences might there be if everyone was under the same roof? Those are the gaps you need to bridge with technology. In today’s world, there isn’t a single aspect of the ideal working environment that can’t be achieved digitally. You just need to discover and invest in the tools that are going to enable the outcomes you want.    

3. Foster personal connection

Going back to point number 1, developing a personal connection with your team members is a powerful way to build trust. And it becomes much harder when there’s a screen or thousands of miles between you. So it’s important to make a point of getting to know your workers on a deeper level than their name and professional experience. 

Maybe you set up an employee quiz that uncovers their personal likes and dislikes, favourite food, things to do etc. Use that information to create a mentoring program or personalised employee birthday initiative. The internet allows us to reach people wherever they are – you just need to think creatively about how you use it to generate more personal, human connection.

4. Learn and encourage effective communication

The principles of effective communication are really going to help you if you’re communicating with your team members digitally. Teleconferences can be awkward, with nobody knowing whose turn it is to speak, long pauses, people talking over one another and no body language to read – not to mention the challenges of signal dropping out.

Planning is key. A clear agenda, with cues to each staff member when they’re expected to contribute, is so valuable. Structure is also essential. Make your points in concise terms. Move from one to another in a logical manner so people don’t get lost. Loosen up and play around with movement while you’re talking. This will relax you and you might even find that the words come to you easier, you can think clearer and there’s more conviction in your voice. Better yet – try to use video conferencing so that you can at least see the other attendees and build more of a rapport.

If you’re managing disparate teams, good team communication is critical – not just for you as the leader, but for everyone. Nikki Lustig, Director of L&D at GitHub, believes that training shouldn’t be treated as “just another perk or benefit,” but “an investment in building a great team and a talented workforce.”

“The challenge with a distributed workforce, especially one that is global, is making sure that you meet the unique needs and learning styles of each region you have workers.”

Perhaps you could consider offering an annual learning and development stipend to employees so they can learn what, when and how they want. And you could incentivise training that improves team collaboration and communication.  If you want to find out more about how you develop and elevate your teams comms skills to be more effective you can find out more here.

Stories are a unique method of communicating that is capable of transcending cultural and physical boundaries. We find it so effective here at The Colin James Method®, that we’ve written an eBook about it. Download our How To Use Storytelling In Business eBook now to discover why storytelling in business is one of the most important strategic leadership skills to master, how to use stories to persuade and influence in your workplace, and how to deliver your story with polish. When it comes to virtual employee engagement, it’s an absolute must.

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

Alison Carter

Alison Carter is a facilitator and coach at The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd, a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She is a qualified Chartered Accountant who has spent over 15 years in senior financial and communication roles. She now loves to share her passion for the design and delivery of effective and engaging communications.