All companies worry about employee engagement, especially those who work remotely. There are books written (see below) about what a problem it is, and how to better engage with your people. It’s a big deal that will cost you if you ignore it. Turnover and lost productivity are just two of the problems you’ll have to deal with when your people don’t care enough to give that extra effort.

But here’s the problem: At the end of the day, engagement doesn’t come from the employer. It comes from within the individual employee.

Engagement is intrinsic, not extrinsic

Yes, organizations can do things that make it more likely you’ll engage (creating a fun, trusting culture with a compelling mission and vision) or less likely (micromanagement, focusing on activity instead of behavior and a lack of trust). But at the end of the day, you decide if you want to engage or not.

As we discuss at great length in The Long-Distance Teammate-Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere, there’s a lot that influences—and interferes—with how much you care about your job and the people you work with.

People engage when these things they care about are present:

  • The mission, purpose and values of their employer
  • They do work that matters to them
  • They have strong, positive working relationships with their manager
  • They know like and trust their colleagues
  • They see a path to doing good work that develops their skills and offers a path to whatever future they envision for themselves. This means things like training, challenging work, and a legitimate career path (inside or outside the organization.)

Working remotely makes engagement a challenge (but not impossible)

Working remotely can (it doesn’t have to, but it’s more likely to) make it harder to stay engaged. We naturally become more focused on our own tasks and work rather than on the big picture. We interact with fewer people less often, which can erode relationships. Many of us work longer hours for less return, which can be frustrating and lead to burnout…unless we decide to do something about it.

If we decide not to be proactive in maintaining working relationships and networking inside our organization, we won’t reap the benefits. If you don’t ask your manager about training and development opportunities, you are likely to miss out on them and feel resentful or stagnant in your job.

The ball is in your court

We all know people with what we consider horrible jobs (at least with regard to working conditions) who are positive, satisfied, and care deeply about their work. We also know people with good gigs (higher pay, more comfort, etc.) who no longer give a hoot. The difference is that the person decides to be engaged.

The company can have virtual pizza parties, offer coaching and personal development plans, and have all the good intentions in the world. If you choose to crawl into a ball and don’t take advantage of them, it’s your decision.

Here’s a good way to think about it. Say you’re in a personal relationship. One person can buy you flowers, tell you they love you, and get down on one knee with a big old ring. But you’re not engaged until you say yes to them.

It’s the same with work.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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  1. Wonderfully simple and to the point. Well said!
    So happy to finally read an article that doesn’t tell “me,” the manager, that it’s ALL MY responsibility to get my employees engaged. I see engagement as a partnership between me and each employee on my team. We need to keep the lines of communication “open” so we know what’s working and what isn’t. Then collaborate on how to fix what’s not working.
    Thank you for pointing out that “accountability” for your engagement is “owned” by you. As you noted in your final comment – the ownership for the “happiness” in your personal life and your work life is on you.

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