5 ways to keep employees engaged when working in remote, outsourced and virtual environments

The rise in information technology, changing market and working conditions has meant the workplace environment for some design and construction workers has evolved significantly. More companies are moving away from the traditional workplace settings where they have daily face-to-face contact with their manager and team. It is now more common to work remotely, outsource to other organisations, or work online and from home. These changes have meant that reduced in-person contact is becoming the norm. So with this rise in shifting working environments, how do we keep our employees motivated, engaged and loyal to our organisation if we don’t physically see them on a daily basis? These are questions that continues to be asked in the literature and the answer is not as complex as we may think.

Research has consistently demonstrated that transformational leadership to be positively associated with employee job satisfaction, loyalty, performance and retention1. Transformational leaders create an inspiring vision, communicate it with team members regularly and motivate them to achieve it. They invest time in understanding and developing their people and build mutually beneficial relationships. So how can leaders be transformational to dispersed, remote and online employees? It’s actually not that much different than what they do with face-to-face employees….

Below are 5 ways to engage team members who are not physically in your workplace.

1. Get to know them

Even though they may not be physically present, you can still invest time in getting to know them. The quality of the leader-employee relationship is a significant factor in their loyalty and engagement2. This effort regardless of communication medium builds trust, maintains connection and builds a sense of belonging to the organisation, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and disconnection.

2. Understand what motivates them

Understanding what internally motivates your team member(s) to come to work and do the work they do, enables you to tailor the type of job tasks, level of direction and involvement and work environment you provide to get the best out of them. For example, if you know that someone highly values relatedness, the degree to which they need interaction with others, you can assign them tasks and engage with them in a way that works best with their preferred working style.

3. Reward & recognise their efforts

Just because you can’t physically see their daily efforts and behaviour doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to find out. For example, a team member who is subcontracted within another organisation can still be recognised for their hard work, milestones, and accomplishments. Reward and recognition does not need to stop at your immediate reports. It is important to understand that not everyone will value and be motivated by the same thing. So applying a one size fits all approach is not going to maximise engagement.

4. Quality of Communication

Communication is essential but it doesn’t have to be over the top. When team members are external to the workplace environment we tend to jump towards thinking more communication is the answer – it’s not. Below are suggestions drawn from research1 on how best to engage employees external to the organisation:

  • Keep team members informed of changes and important information that is relevant to them and consider how best to communicate this information for the type of work environment and individual receiving it.
  • Be available for the team member by having a range of communication channels: phone, email, skype, online instant communication channels such as Slack.
  • Set regular catch ups – but also be spontaneous.
  • Involve the team member in events, meetings and social gatherings where possible. Ask them how they would like to communicate, how often and what they need from you as their manager. Not everyone will be the same in their needs of interaction. This shows you value their needs and set mutual expectations upfront.

5. Invest in them

Keep employees connected to your organisation by finding out what they want to work towards and invest in their development and interests. Create goals with the team member that is aligned with their role and the organisation’s direction. Determine what part they play in delivering that purpose and direction.

It is essential that we don’t apply a one size fits all approach to people working in isolating environments – individual differences exist, meaning adaptive leadership is needed for maximising connection, engagement and loyalty to your organisation.


1. Kelly, E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2012). Context matters: Testing a model of remote leadership. Journal of Leadership & Organizational studies, 19(4), 437-449.

2. Borekci, D. Y. (2009). Leader’s information and communication technology usage’s influences on follower’s positive work attitudes via perceived leader-follower relations. Journal of Leadership & Organizational studies, 16(2), 141-158.

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