Virtual work is growing exponentially in the workforce at the same time that employee engagement is at an all time low. reported that among the employed population, regular work-at-home employees have grown by 103% since 2005. Multiple studies find that employees are not at their desk 50-60% of the time, wasting real estate dollars.  Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their workplace because their employees are already mobile.

Virtual team members are at greater risk of disengagement than co-located teams

Virtual teams often struggle. The National Workplace Flexibility Study found that virtual team members are at greater risk of disengagement than co-located teams. When this happens, leaders tend to blame distance and do not take into account the number one factor impacting virtual team engagement – the manager.

Management practices have changed as well. Today’s employees aren’t motivated the same way as last century’s professionals.  We have found that a leading driver of employee disengagement is the “out of sight, out of mind” sense of isolation.

man_at_tableAs far back as 2008, the New York Times reported: These issues have been observed at I.B.M., where a “mobile workforce” strategy has led to 30 percent of employees working full time from home (as well as a savings on office space that the company estimates at $100 million a year). “We found if you’re working from home and do not have an interaction with someone from work, or a client, or a physical meeting, after three days you start to feel isolated,” said Dan Pelino, who manages I.B.M.’s mobile workforce program. Soon after the company introduced the program in 2001 Dan added, “People have said to me, ‘I.B.M. stands for ‘I’m By Myself.’”

Engagement can be measured by how much workers are motivated to contribute to organizational success by applying discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is defined as going above and beyond expectations.

Today’s workforce tells us they want to be engaged—but aren’t.Leaders aren’t getting across that the effort will be rewarded.   Team leaders must change in order to reverse this disengagement trend.

The Good News

It is simple. Managers need relationship competency.

The Bad Newsline-graph-down-01

Very few organizations understand the true cost of disengagement.   Gallup has found employee engagement impacts bottom line performance in 9 ways. Their 2016 Q12® Meta-Analysis: Ninth Edition – The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes indicates high correlations consistent across organizations.  Business/work units scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly double their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half.  Those at the 99th percentile have four times the success rate of those at the first percentile.

Average differences between engaged and disengaged teams:

  • 10% increase in customer ratings
  • 21% increase in profitability
  • 20% increase in sales production
  • 17% increase in production records
  • 24% decrease in turnover (high-turnover organizations)
  • 59% decrease in turnover (low-turnover organizations)
  • 70% decrease in safety incidents
  • 28% decrease in shrinkage
  • 41% decrease in absenteeism
  • 58% decrease in patient safety incidents
  • 40% decrease in quality defectsshrugging_man-600x400

Do you know what motivates your team members? Do you even know where to begin? You can start by completing The SMART Workplace Team Trust Assessment. Look closely at your own relational practices and understand how you can update “business as usual” habits.  Once that is complete you will have the foundation you need to develop your own engagement competency.

In our next blog we will share Part 26 relational practices that have proven to increase sustainable engagement.


~ Kathy Kacher, Workforce Solutions Expert and Trina Hoefling, Transformation Change Agent, co-founders of The SMART Workplace