“Virtual Shock” – The Tipping Point in Virtual/Work-at-Home Environments When Employees Feel Disconnected and Lonely

Virtual shock is the tipping point when an employee in a virtual/work-at-home environment suddenly has a change in attitude and/or behavior. The employee usually can’t identify that moment, but it can come with a variety of feelings. It can be the lethargic feeling that their work is boring, or they may feel disconnected from their manager or organization. Employees may just feel they don’t “like” their job anymore.  This emotional letdown can cause individuals to not work at their normal productivity or creativity level. They may come to work late, want to use more PTO time than normal, and even think about quitting.

Virtual shock can occur even if the employee has loved their job in the past or enjoys working from home. It takes both leaders and employees by surprise and can ultimately have an effect on employee satisfaction and performance. How can a leader try to minimize this tipping point of virtual shock when an employee starts feeling a little “off” and perhaps a little isolated in their home-based environment? How can leaders help make working at home a little more personal so that individuals feel emotionally connected?

As leaders, we must make a conscious decision to reshape our leadership style to adapt to the environment and practice that new style till it becomes a natural part of how we lead our business units. This takes practice. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Connect with them so they know you “see” them. Say good morning first thing in the morning to everyone individually in your team chat. Mention something specific about each of them after saying good morning—something positive about their work, such as thanking them for being on time or for their participation in a team meeting. You could also mention how you noticed them helping the team, their completion of a project, or their off-the-chart performance. You can also mention their son or daughter’s Little League game or their anniversary if they had mentioned that to you and the team the day before in the chat room. Say something to acknowledge that you take an interest in their lives.
  • Check in with them individually midday—by phone. Ask if they have any questions that you can help with OR ask them a question: “How is the team feeling today?” “Do you notice anything going on with customer trending today?” “Other teams are noticing customers asking questions about ____________. What are you hearing today?” Perhaps you ask for good news from the floor and see what they come up with. Always remember to validate their comment by virtually connecting with them again with a thank you as you use their name. If you do utilize chat or text, make sure you aren’t just copying and pasting the message, because they will ultimately find out, and that will have the opposite effect on them than what you intended.
  • Intermediately and throughout the day, congratulate people by name right in the group chat. Mention specifics. But don’t do it all at once. Sprinkle your interaction throughout the day. Set the timer on your phone to stop and engage in the group chat so your team feels your presence as the day goes along.

Increasing your interaction with your team is important when you have employees working virtually. When you take these three concrete actions, employees will feel more connected while they work, minimizing that tipping point of virtual shock and helping your employees feel productive so they perform better at work.