In 1990, William Kahn, a professor of organizational behavior at Boston University, introduced the concept of employee engagement.1 He believed people are engaged at work when they can “express and employ their personal selves.” In other words, when they’re free to speak their minds and be their true selves at work.
Today, we know employee engagement is all about the emotional connection and commitment people have towards their work, their colleagues, and your organization as a whole. We also know that higher engagement leads to happier, better-performing team members.2 But how do you keep people connected when they work remotely and never interact in person?
Answer: include team engagement into your organizational strategy and find the right virtual employee engagement platforms to bring that strategy to life. These tools help create a remote, people-first culture where employees feel connected to each other and their work. When used properly, they can also help build an environment where people feel recognized and rewarded.
In this piece, we’ve put together an overview of the top five employee engagement platforms: Switchboard, Bonusly, Lattice, Board Game Arena, and Slack. We also look at what to consider when choosing the best solution for your team.
Want to level up virtual employee engagement?
Switchboard’s permanent meeting rooms help you create an engaging remote team.
What to look for in a virtual employee engagement platform
When Kahn introduced the concept of engaged employees, he explained that how individuals feel at work directly impacts their performance. Feelings come from different factors of working life, from how well you get along with your colleagues to the kind of feedback you get from your manager.
To enhance the employee experience, look for virtual engagement platforms that helps you:
- Collaborate and build connections
- Give recognition and rewards
- Share and keep track of feedback
- Play games and have fun
- Host casual communication
Let’s take a look at those in more detail:
Collaborate and build connections
Effective collaboration builds connections between team members and creates a sense of closeness and mutual support. This helps people feel more motivated to work with others on in-depth or long-running projects—or simply feel supported by their team.
Consider using a remote employee engagement platform that lets you host video calls, share documents, and work on them together live inside the meeting room. Also, look for a tool with permanent rooms that save your apps, tools, and documents. These act as a virtual hub where your team can always find each other and work in real time or catch up on work async. It also allows you to easily pick up conversations and work where you left off, which fosters effective, rewarding collaboration and a sense of connection.
Give recognition and rewards
When introducing employee engagement, Kahn explained that managers were often unaware of the exact causes of employee disengagement. But one common assumption was that employees were not recognized and rewarded enough. This was also explored by behavioral scientist Frederick Herzberg, who identified the link between employee recognition and job satisfaction, in his Two-Factor Theory of Motivation.
When you combine Kahn and Herzberg’s theories, they reveal an undeniable truth: employees who receive recognition for their work feel more engaged.
That’s why it’s important to find a virtual engagement platform with features that make it easy to celebrate your team's wins. For example, shouting them out on a dedicated “wins” channel or adding virtual sticky notes to your online meeting room to track weekly achievements.
Give and keep track of feedback
Although recognition is important, it’s equally crucial for team members to feel challenged. Instead of making your employees feel that everything they do needs to be perfect, give them feedback that fosters their professional and personal growth.
A good employee engagement platform should make it easy for you to provide actionable, timely feedback. Look for collaboration tools that let you collect 360 feedback from peers, managers, and department leaders (open or anonymously). Or one that lets you store career conversations and link historical feedback to employee development plans.
If you want to build a feedback-driven culture, you should encourage people to actively ask their peers and managers to share what they should stop, start, or continue doing. There are multiple ways to ask for feedback, but the stop-start-continue method is one of the easiest ways to structure advice and adopt a growth mindset.
Play games and have fun
Remote teams can be as fun and close-knit as in-person teams, especially if you create a safe space for team members to have fun and relax with each other.
As Kahn noted, when people can be themselves at work, they feel more engaged. An excellent way to achieve this is by incorporating games and activities as icebreakers at the beginning of virtual meetings or holding virtual team-building events.
Encourage team members to share stories about their favorite holidays or use a virtual collaboration platform that lets you use external web apps like Board Game Arena inside the meeting room.
Host casual communication
When you work from home or in a hybrid setting, you need to come up with creative ways to communicate and engage with your team. Choose a platform with communication features that let you do that from anywhere, whether you want to add some motivating feedback to the comment section in your task manager, chat on Slack, or host brainstorming sessions in a virtual hub like Switchboard.
You can also use features on communication platforms to run informal surveys and understand employee engagement levels. For instance, running an anonymous Slack poll can be a quick way to gauge employee satisfaction.
5 best platforms to engage your remote employees
Kahn's theory on employee engagement covered three dimensions: physical, cognitive, and emotional. In other words, for employees to do their best work, their bodies, minds, and hearts need to feel engaged. For example, playing games with teammates engages your mind, which is the cognitive dimension, while getting recognition makes your heart happy. Ok, the physical is a little more tricky in a remote setting, but there are always ways to get people up and moving. For example, you could host a scavenger hunt around the house or promote walking 1:1s—join from your phones and walk around your block while participating in the meeting.
To achieve remote employee engagement, you may also need more than just one tool. Let’s take a look at five virtual employee engagement platforms that work well together to boost engagement through employee rewards and recognition.
1. Switchboard - best for collaboration and building connections
Switchboard is a browser-based collaboration platform that, while designed for hosting meetings and projects, can also act as a virtual employee engagement platform. Switchboard lets you work together on documents and apps inside a virtual room—without having to share your screen. It’s designed to foster team connection, collaboration, and productivity through intuitive meeting rooms.
Switchboard lets you communicate in real time with video, audio, and chat. You can also work side-by-side allowing everyone to scroll, type, and browse the same document at the same time.
You can create cloud-based virtual rooms for brainstorming, host spontaneous meetings with your team, and connect with clients in an interactive space.
Throughout the meeting, you can explore any file in the room, moving around and viewing whatever you want without getting in the way of others. Best of all, Switchboard saves all your files after every meeting, so you never need to download anything or repopulate the room again.
- Shared online workspace and rooms for recurring meetings
- Web-based canvas to add multiple apps, websites, PDFs, and images side by side
- Persistent rooms that save your work
- In-meeting video, audio, and chat
- Secure, fast multiplayer browsers for instant collaboration
- Screen sharing for native apps
- Presentation mode
- In-app support
- Google Calendar integration
- Unlimited rooms for 1:1s, meetings, and projects
- Meeting recording
- No integration required for web-based apps—they all work
- Room permissions for members and guests
- Sections to organize documents and apps
- Host not required for members to enter a room
Switchboard is currently free with all features included. It plans to introduce pricing tiers in mid-2023 and there will always be a free option.
Switchboard is currently designed for remote and hybrid companies (up to 50 people) who want the feeling of working together in the same room. It's a great option for teams who need a dedicated, interactive virtual hub for meetings, projects, and async or real-time working.
Pro tip: Switchboard works with any virtual employee engagement app, like Bonusly, Lattice, Loom, Board Games Arena, and Slack, so you can use it as the bedrock of your company’s employee engagement tech stack. This saves a ton of time jumping back and forth between tools to find siloed information.
2. Bonusly - best for recognition and rewards
Bonusly is a team engagement platform that allows you to recognize and reward your employees. With Bonusly, anyone can shout out anyone else in the company for embodying company values, acing a meeting with an external client, or going the extra mile on a complicated project. The platform gives each employee a certain number of points that they can give to others as a reward for hard work or success. Rewarded employees can then collect those points and exchange them for gift cards.
Bonusly also makes celebrations fun as people can add gifs, memes, and emojis to their recognitions. It also integrates with team communication apps like Slack for easy sharing.
- Monthly allowance per employee
- Shared bonus feed
- User-friendly interface for people to add points or comments to recognitions
- Wide pool of rewards from popular and global brands
- Customized rewards
- Analytics reports
- Hashtags for reporting purposes
- Birthday, anniversary, and milestone celebratory bonuses
- Mobile app
- Open API
- 14-day free trial
- Core plan: $2.70/month per user
- Pro plan: $4/month per user
- Enterprise: custom priced
Remote or hybrid teams that want a repeatable, standardized process for recognizing and rewarding team members and fostering a culture that celebrates team wins.
3. Lattice - best for gathering feedback
Lattice is a people-success management platform that helps you achieve your organizational goals. It empowers you to have better relationships with your team members and help them meet their targets, grow, and have clear career expectations. Lattice also promotes a feedback-driven culture that boosts engagement.
Lattice lets managers track career conversations, work toward achieving objectives and key results (OKRs), and manage compensation. You can also review all the historical data on the analytics dashboard, so people can have clear expectations about growth and how they can reach their full potential.
- Customized employee surveys
- Social feedback portal
- Sentiment analysis
- Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) analytics
- Highlights of 360-degree and peer reviews
- Links performance and compensation
- Shared strategic business goals (team and individual OKRs)
- Performance management + OKRs and goals: $11/month per user or:
- Performance management: $8/month per user
- OKRs and goals: $8/month per user
- + Engagement: +$4/month per user
- + Grow: +$4/month per user
- + Compensation: +$6/month per user
- Enterprise plan: custom priced
- Small and enterprise-level businesses that need a platform to gather, track, and link feedback to personal career plans.
4. Board Game Arena - best for fun and games
Board Game Arena is an online board games platform that lets you play with teammates. You can play any of its 601 games on your phone or directly from your preferred browser.
With Board Game Arena you can play games in real time as if you were sitting across from each other in the office. You can also play turn-based games async with team members in different time zones—so it’s great for teams that are spread around the world. This helps bring people together and boosts engagement and productivity.
- Multilingual games
- Cross-platform sync so you never lose progress
- Accessible and easy to follow rules
- 3D views
- Ad-free website
- Free to use with limited access to games
- Premium plan: $5/month
- Teammates who want to have fun during lunch breaks, to kick off meetings, or as part of a team building activity.
5. Slack - best for casual communication
Slack is a popular instant messaging and collaboration tool that lets remote and hybrid teams quickly and easily share information. Users can organize conversations based on topic or function, automate routine tasks or communications, and connect to talk over video and audio. You can also set up virtual huddles or audio chat rooms to cowork and have spontaneous conversations.
Slack is easy to use: just log on, look up the channel or colleague you want to message, and drop them a line so they can respond when it suits them. It also helps boost engagement through casual communications and dedicated “fun” channels for water cooler conversations, shared interests, etc. You can also share videos and funny GIFs or create custom emojis.
Also, since Slack organizes conversations by topics (known as channels), you can also add team engagement apps like Donut, which automatically creates a channel and sends daily topics to start water cooler conversations among your team.
- Internal and external team communication
- Huddles, clips, and one-on-one meetings
- Integrations and apps
- Documents, files, and voice note sharing
- Desktop, mobile, and browser-based web application
Free basic plan
- Pro Plan: $8.75/month per user
- Business plan: $15/month per user
- Enterprise: custom priced
Distributed teams of any size that need organized, central spaces for conversation, file-sharing, and remote workforce collaboration.
How to choose the right virtual employee engagement platform for your team
Now that you’ve read our breakdown of virtual employee engagement platforms, you’re hopefully in a better position to make a decision about which is the right platform for you. But, first, here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Find the gaps. Identify what you need to do to improve employee engagement before investing in a new platform. For example, do your teams need a space to connect with each other or do you want a platform for recognizing employees’ efforts?
- Choose one or two tools that meet your needs. You don’t need to get every tool on this list. Instead, choose a couple that will help you achieve your goals. For example, you could use Switchboard as a workspace that helps build close connections between team members plus another tool that you can use within Switchboard.
- Define your budget. How much can you afford to spend per employee per month? Do you want to invest in a new platform or can you achieve the same goals with an existing tool? Remember to think about how to calculate the return on investment (ROI) as well.
- User’s skill levels and user experience. Think about how tech-savvy your people are. If they struggle to pick up a new tool, you’ll want to go for something that’s easy to use and integrates well with your existing tech stack. Otherwise, you could invest in an exciting new tool only to find it gets neglected.
- Multipurpose. Many tools are single-use, but a virtual collaboration platform like Switchboard lets you achieve several objectives, from hosting regular team meetings to running games and setting up dedicated project rooms, so you get more bang for your buck.
Virtual employee engagement platforms: Build connections and a positive company culture
It seems obvious today, but when William Kahn first described employee engagement in the ‘90s, the business world was shocked to hear that an employee’s emotional connection to their job could improve their performance.
Since then, companies have worked hard to create a culture where workers feel connected to each other and supported by leaders. And it’s not just all about work either: We now know that teams that have fun together are more engaged and productive.
But engaging people can be challenging when they’re spread across different time zones and may rarely, if ever, interact in person. That’s why leaders need to create a people-centric culture using a virtual employee engagement platform to help employees feel connected to each other and their work. The best of these, like Switchboard, Bonusly, Lattice, Board Game Arena, and Slack, also make it easy to give and receive feedback and reward or recognize people when they do well.
When you use a digital collaboration workspace like Switchboard, you can create a people-first culture through an interactive space where your teams can work side-by-side, have fun, and build closer connections.
Want to level up virtual employee engagement?
Switchboard’s permanent meeting rooms help you create an engaging remote team.