Building engaged virtual team. It is easier than you thought!

Building engaged virtual team. It is easier than you thought!
2020 brought us a tremendous change not only in private lives, making us stay at home more often, but also revolutionized our office reality. This unusual time was a kind of a test for shared service centers and outsourcing providers.

Luckily, most companies were able to quickly switch their services into remote environment without being severely compromised. Although it's relatively easy to implement necessary tools, managing, motivating, and supporting employees from the distance requires much more effort. During a year of such geographical isolation, a lack of face-to-face meetings with co-workers, and difficulties of work coordination, many team supervisors noticed how huge an impact on employee engagement and productivity it can make. Indisputably the employee engagement is a workplace attitude that is ensuring all of the company to give its’ excellence every day, commitment toward the organization's goals and values.

The importance of employee engagement cannot be overstated. Raising engagement strategies has been proven to reduce staff turnover, improve productivity and efficiency, and in the end, make more company profits. What is most important, engagement at work can bring employees happiness also in their private lives. (Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement. Dan Witters, Sangeeta Agrawal, October 2015).

According to the American Management Association, engagement levels can be improved, even during times of crisis, if a company cares and makes the right decisions at the right time. According to the study, higher engagement levels improve productivity both in good and bad times. (Employee engagement practices during COVID‐19 lockdown. Nisha Chanana, Sangeeta, October 2020).

People managers are persistently evolving innovative practices to engage their employees in the most efficient way during this unusual time.

What is virtual team building?

Virtual team building is the process of strengthening relationships between remote workers. Both in real and virtual life, there is a strong focus on improving skills like communication and cooperation, together with promoting friendships. There is no obstacle to bring online team-building games to regular online meetings. No matter which way you choose, the goal is always to improve collaboration and communication, which leads to increased job satisfaction. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more companies invest in virtual team building, which resulted in the increase of such interest up to 2500% worldwide. The top 3 countries with the highest online team building interest are Singapore, United States, and Australia, whereas for Europe those are Ireland, United Kingdom, and Netherlands. (Team Building Statistics & Facts, Michael Alexis, January 2021). According to a Gallup survey, feelings of employee isolation reduces productivity by up to 21%. To boost productivity, team-building actions occur to be inevitable.

Activities that you can implement as a team supervisor to keep virtual employees engaged

Clear direction during tough times is extremely important. Organizations should be fully transparent as such openness builds trust among the employees to the company (Keeping employees engaged during tough times. J. Matkin, December 2016).

GRAPHIC 1. Areas to support employees working from home (A new coronavirus associated with human respiratory disease in China. W. Fan, S. Zhao, Y. Bin, Y. Chen, W. Wang, Z. Song, 2020)

Areas to support employees working from home_Adaptive Group

People insight states that During COVID-19 lockdown, UK organizations enforced efforts to sustain employee engagement and support their people through rapid change. The survey data shows that overall employee engagement went up by 7% from April to September 2020. Among powerful employee engagement activities, keeping employees entertained and caring about their wellbeing, deserves special attention.

GRAPHIC 2. Employee engagement activities during remote work. (7 employee engagement ideas to support your team during lockdown. E. Burtley, S. Newton, 2020)

Employee engagement activities during remote work

As engaging employees is a fundament of today's management, establishing own actions supporting teams would surely be a dream in this current situation of prolonging lockdown.

GRAPHIC 3. Tips on how to keep your team connected while working from home. Best practices implemented in Adaptive SAG.

Remote 1to1 sessions

Investing your time to conduct 1to1 sessions at least on monthly basis is the key to monitor your employee's progress, work on their motivation, strengthen your relations, and show that your subordinates are your highest priority. One of the benefits of working remotely is flexibility. Some dose of it leads to high productivity, but enough is enough, and especially for 1to1 sessions you need to set some ground rules. To do so, set the agenda which will allow you to have constructive as well as small talk:

  • How are you? What’s going on inside and outside work?
  • What have you accomplished according to the agreed plan? What are you the proudest of?
  • Is anything blocking you?
  • What are your top priorities right now? Are we aligned?
  • What can I do to support you?
  • Anything else you’d like to talk about today?

Knowing what you expect is the key to a successful and fruitful remote session with your employee. Do not forget to come prepared for the meetings. That is also crucial to make necessary notes and highlight action points after the session. Track the progress to show the real value of your meetings. You can use prepared action points to start the next meeting as an overview of agreed achievements. Store your action log on a shared location, update it whenever needed and encourage your team members to do the same. Do not underestimate a meeting just because it is not driven face to face. People can easily feel that you are not engaged enough which is highly demotivating for them. This is why it is extremely important you commit 100% of your attention to that particular meeting.

Celebration of success

No matter what team you manage, it is always important to find a moment to enjoy even tiny victories. Once we got used to remote management, there is also the area for the remote celebration of successes. Do not forget about recognizing the win, as words have huge power, no matter if they are spoken face to face or during a call. 79% of employees leave their job because of feeling under-appreciated. (A New Benchmark for Initiating Employee Engagement, Retention, and Results. O.C. Tanner,  2020). If your team members delivered what or beyond you expected, there is always a good idea to highlight it with gratitude. You can also add some gifts to your words: send the team a box of candies, buy lunch or send awards, like gift cards. Going further, you can even organize an online party. Try to build your celebration on the AIR acronym, standing for Action, Impact, and Reward. (How to Celebrate Success at Work: A Guide for Managers., 2020).

GRAPHIC 4. Model of building the celebrations with employees.

Model of building the celebrations with employees


The 2020 crisis for sure was the test for GBS organizations, both highlighting strengths but also revealing their weaknesses. It was beneficial as it pushed shared services and outsourcing centers to improve and seek new solutions. After several months of global lockdown, companies exchanged their experiences and it turned out that introducing 100% of the remote work model went smoothly for most organizations. Employees got used to periodic remote work, have the necessary tools and appropriate mindset. As far as Eastern European countries (such as Poland) are concerned, the switch went quite undisturbed due to strong contingency plans, appropriate technical solutions, and management trained in case of such incidents. Moreover, for a few years now, there is a rising trend of introducing the hybrid model in the organizations, dividing the work into office and home-office for all employees. It is feasible for such processes as example Finance and Accounting, Master Data, Reporting, Customer Service. In SSC, GBS sector, there is a common understanding that digitalization is the key to success that is why investing in communication tools was very common long before the pandemic. Of course, there is always something to learn from each crisis. Some crucial lessons for SSC, GBS have already occurred. We understood that remote working mode should be included in the crisis plan and we can expect that the pressure on digitalization will be raising after the crisis. What is reassuring, the outsourcing model occurred to be highly resistant, which strengthen its role as a provider of administrative and contact services.

Indisputably, the basic key to this success is having engaged employees. As Jorge Paulo Lemann (Brazilian billionaire investment banker and businessman) said, "The greatest asset of a company is its people." Let’s keep them engaged and we will all succeed.


Agnieszka Sadowska - Janik Project Manager, Senior Consultant Adaptive SAG

Article originally published in the Outsourcing & More magazine, issue 58 (pages 18-20).

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