How to increase employee engagement, virtually and on-site

Take a moment to imagine what your ideal company culture looks like. Is it an environment where burnout is prevalent, employees struggle to stay productive or brainstorm creative solutions, and people are routinely disengaged during meetings? Of course not!

Most likely, you’re picturing a tight-knit team where everybody feels a sense of purpose in their work, people are empowered to find new solutions to challenging problems, and managers inspire their employees to develop new skills and become better professionals.

However, the current state of employee engagement in the U.S. means there are many company cultures that more closely resemble the former example. Survey data from Gallup shows only 32% of employees are engaged at work and 17% of employees are actively disengaged. While creating a perfectly utopian work environment is a tall order, companies who find ways to increase their employee engagement outperform less-engaged organizations.

Why should you prioritize increasing employee engagement?

The benefits of high employee engagement are numerous and nuanced, though the quantitative data alone is quite striking. In a meta-analysis of over three decades of business data, Gallup examined the relationship between employee engagement and company performance.

When comparing highly engaged business units with their less-engaged counterparts, they found high engagement leads to an average of 23% greater profitability, 18% better productivity, and employees who were 66% more likely to say they’re thriving at work.

For better or worse, employee engagement ultimately affects every company’s bottom line. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce 2022 Report, low employee engagement costs the global economy $7.8 trillion per year. For organizations who want to reach the top of their industry, the question is no longer whether you can afford to invest in employee engagement—it’s whether you can afford not to.

What drives employee engagement?

Before you can make a plan to increase your employee engagement, it’s important to understand the variables driving it. A great holiday party or fun company retreat may leave people with a temporary sense of connectedness, but these are fleeting moments compared to the cumulative effects of your overall organizational culture. While every individual is wired differently, these big-picture ideas are critical factors in keeping employees engaged over the long term.

Having a purpose at work 

When employees feel like the work they do matters to their organization—and the work their organization does matters to the world—they’re motivated to get results and more likely to stick around. A study by McKinsey showed 70% of employees say their purpose is defined by their work, suggesting that leaders and managers and managers who help employees find and live their purpose will get the most out of their talent.

Transparent, effective communication

Closely related to people’s desire to feel a sense of purpose is their desire to understand what’s happening around them. When company leaders and managers openly communicate strategic decisions to their workforce and gather input from throughout the organization, people feel a sense of ownership when they see how their insights are being incorporated. Similarly, effective communication within teams and between departments is important for creating a collaborative and inclusive environment.

Professional development opportunities

What started off as a dream job can eventually become a soul-crushing bore without opportunities to develop new skills, take on new challenges, and grow within an organization. Studies have shown career development opportunities have a major effect on both job satisfaction and employee engagement.

A good relationship with their manager

The old adage holds true—people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. A 2022 survey showed 82% of employees would be willing to leave their job due to a manager they couldn’t stand. Research from Gallup also estimates at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement is determined by how well managers and company leaders are doing their jobs.

Recognition for a job well done

For employees to stay motivated and connected to your company’s mission, they need to be recognized and rewarded for going above and beyond. A Harvard Business Review analysis of employee survey data showed recognition of top performers was the top factor in driving engagement.

How to increase employee engagement 

The above drivers of employee engagement are a great place to start strategizing specific steps to improve your company culture. When you consider what they all have in common, they’re mostly concerned with making people feel seen, heard, and needed—all things everyone wants from any relationship! That’s why the most effective engagement initiatives prioritize whole-person wellness. If you want your employees to stay committed to your organization long-term, they need to feel like you’ve got their best interest in mind—personally and professionally.

We’ve covered employee engagement ideas and strategies in the past, so this time we’re focusing on specific steps for remote teams and on-site offices.

Ways to increase employee engagement virtually

Ensure everyone has an equal voice

While video meetings are useful for dispersed teams, they sometimes favor people who are most comfortable speaking up in a crowd. When gathering input from a group, real-time or post-meeting polls are useful in deciphering the overall consensus rather than giving undue weight to the loudest opinions. And offering opportunities for open-ended responses can lead to insights you might have missed otherwise.

Facilitate social interaction

Whether it’s a quick icebreaker before a meeting or something more structured like a remote coffee or cocktail club, finding ways to share laughs and spark conversation gets everyone’s brain going and builds connections between teammates. Especially for virtual teams who don’t have as many opportunities to interact, finding ways to bring colleagues closer encourages candid and empathetic communication in the workplace.

Prioritize your onboarding program

Great onboarding cultivates a sense of purpose among new hires, assimilates them into your company culture, and sets employees up to succeed. It also makes a massive difference in employee retention. When people understand what they’re supposed to be doing and learning from their first day on the job, they feel like part of the team rather than an outsider left to fend for themselves.

Utilize regular surveys and 1:1s

When employees work in different locations, understanding how they’re doing requires more proactive planning and structure than walking past their desk a few times a day. Encourage managers to schedule regular 1:1 meetings with their team members and develop an employee survey strategy to measure engagement levels and spot trends over time.

Encourage work/life balance

While adequate time to unplug is important for everyone, the lines between work hours and personal hours can become especially blurred for people who work remotely. Establish strict no-contact hours based on each team member’s time zone and embrace the beauty of silenced notifications. When employees can see you value their personal time, they’ll be more willing to go above and beyond at work.

Ways to increase employee engagement on-site

Make meetings two-way conversations 

Even the most dedicated employees will struggle to stay focused and engaged during long meetings, especially when the presenter is droning on in front of a large group. Finding ways to engage your audience by incorporating interactive elements can turn meetings from mundane time-wasters into energetic collaboration sessions and keep employees actively participating in company-defining decisions.

Get enough natural light

Human beings aren’t designed to sit under fluorescent lights for endless hours at a time. Exposure to natural light is important for our sleep patterns, immune systems, and overall well-being. While not everybody can get a corner office, simply keeping in mind the benefits of natural light while arranging your workspaces can create a more welcoming environment by making the most of the light you have.

Create spaces to relax and interact

You don’t have to be a tech giant to create a space that brings people together. A well-equipped kitchen, patio, or break room is within reach for even the humblest startups. While a ping pong table or espresso machine aren’t necessarily company-culture silver bullets, creating opportunities for genuine interaction is the key to stronger relationships between coworkers and departments.

Encourage employees to move

And we don’t mean relocating—unless you count the move to an exercise mat. Whether it’s a yoga club or an afternoon walking group, encouraging employees to get some physical activity during the workday is a great way to reduce stress and increase brain power. Steve Jobs was well-known for hosting walking meetings, as he was convinced people did their best thinking while in motion.

Prioritize safety and security

Whether your office is in a busy metropolis or a sleepy suburb, adequate on-site security measures are important for your employee’s physical and psychological safety—your front-desk receptionist shouldn’t have to double as a security guard. And for organizations with frontline or manufacturing employees, maintaining the highest possible safety standards shows your employees you value their well-being as much as their contributions.

By finding ways to increase employee engagement, you can build more productive and collaborative teams and ultimately improve your organization’s results. Poll Everywhere makes it easy to design and distribute custom polls and surveys so you can stay connected with your staff and how they’re feeling about your organization.

If you’re searching for additional ideas about how to create a more committed workforce, check out our employee engagement ebook for useful insights about building a stronger company culture and keeping your employees connected to your mission.