Engaging your virtual organisation


April 2020


COVID-19 is changing the way we work. Instead of having face-to-face meetings and a physical workplace, we are now working in isolation, experiencing fluid boundaries between our work and private lives and adjusting to a virtual workplace. This calls for new ways to engage your team, and it all starts with how you communicate.

Work systematically to build engagement

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 lockdown has dramatically changed the focus of the working population, and as you can see from the figure below, we are all searching for ways to stay motivated and productive from our new home offices.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there are intrinsic benefits to sharing a physical workplace alongside colleagues. Energy, commitment, team spirit, focus and dedication come easier when people around us are similarly engaged.

In a virtual setting, these virtues are a lot harder to come by. Maintaining productivity, delivering high quality and staying connected to colleagues and customers requires firm discipline as disengagement easily creeps up on us.

Communication is the key to maintaining engagement – and it starts with strong leadership. Leaders need to understand where their teams are emotionally, mentally and in terms of their sense of belonging. From here, you can work systematically to build strong engagement through clear communication.

  1. Be visible
    Whether you are a CEO or a team leader, employees need visible leadership in times of uncertainty. Seeing a leader take charge and tackle problems head on creates motivation and reassurance. If you are a project leader, visibility is also about keeping the project top of mind with both team members and stakeholders. Check in frequently, be present and build a weekly communication plan that allows you to take centre stage.

  2. Create a shared focus
    Define a mission and objectives for the short term with full transparency that gives employees something to rally around. Where does the organisation need to focus, and what are the priorities during the lockdown? Create a narrative that engages the organisation and creates a sense of hope.

  3. Build commitment
    It is important that every employee feels important and understands exactly how they are contributing to the organisation’s mission. However, creating engagement only through top-down communication is difficult. Peer-to-peer communication and organising work in small groups help build commitment across the entire organisation while also enabling team bonding over mutual obligations.

  4. Listen with empathy
    Building engagement is about understanding your audience and their thought processes. Active listening and empathy are key to understanding people’s concerns. This means acknowledging fears and concerns irrespective of whether you agree with them or not. As a leader, it is your job to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable opening up and sharing their doubts. You can do this by sharing personal reflections and encouraging any and all questions and comments, regardless of whether they are of a critical or constructive nature.

  5. Share successes
    Demonstrate that you are progressing towards your mission by sharing success stories. Studies show that optimism is contagious – especially when coming from a leader. Be optimistic without being naive. Make sure to take every opportunity to counter any negative sentiment that arises while remote working by highlighting positive perspectives on progress and success.