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7 Signs of Disengaged Employees in Remote Teams

disengaged employee unhappy with work

Did you lately receive a call from a client complaining about how your team has been consistently missing deadlines?

Or have you found yourself worrying about your team completing their basic goals, let alone innovating anything?

Are your employees less interactive during daily stand-ups or meeting calls?

Do you think that your company’s culture is going for a toss after you went remote due to COVID-19?

One of the major reasons why the answer to one or more of these questions is a “Yes” is the lack of engagement among your newly-remote employees. 

If your company’s culture is the sum of all shared goals and aspirations that your employees have, employee engagement is the ‘glue‘ that keeps them involved and emotionally invested in the company.

More an employee is engaged and invested in your company, the more they will be motivated to contribute at a higher level.

A study shows that engaged employees not only produce better business outcomes than other employees do; they do so because they are more present and productive; are more attuned to the needs of customers; and they are more observant of processes, standards and systems.

But what might lead to disengaged employees? 

Every decision made at your company can tip that scale towards either engagement or disengagement, leaving employees either satisfied or completely dissatisfied with the work culture.

If you think that the latest changes due to remote working might have impacted them, it is time to look out for the signs for disengaged employees and make the necessary changes to keep them self-motivated and reestablish the emotional connection.

7 signs of disengaged employees in remote teams

employee unhappy with her work

Whether you are an HR manager or the CEO of the company, you should watch out for these 7 signs of disengaged employees to keep your company culture intact even while working remotely.


The first sign to look out for is how often is an employee taking leaves, as absenteeism is more serious than tardiness.

Employees who take a lot of random sick days are either genuinely not keeping well or are just sick of work.

If requesting for leaves is coupled with them consistently ignoring pressing deadlines and targets when requesting days off, they are clearly disengaged.

It can also be because the employees are mentally absent – which means they come to work, but their minds wander.

If this is an occasional occurrence, it will be fine.

But, if you have been consistently calling or messaging them to get an answer, or catch them doing everything but their work, you may be looking at a disengaged employee.

2Withdrawal from team-building activities

not getting involved in team activities

Another sign to look out for is the level of engagement they have while the HR department or you set up a team-building activity.

While virtual team building activities have been a good way to ensure that all employees stay connected beyond work, you cannot know about their success until you measure the impact they are having.

Look for team members who are less interested in participating in these activities, who often make an excuse, or are less proactive if involved. 

But don’t confuse them with an introvert. Introvert employees are likely to be a little hesitant in opening up or mixing with the team. However, if they are just not interested, it is a red flag for sure.

3Lack of communication

Communication forms the backbone of any organization, more so if the teams are now working remotely.

Missing out on important information, staying quiet or less involved during work calls, not eager to share ideas/problems during one on one calls, are a few signs of disengaged employees.

An important aspect to consider here is that employees are less likely to communicate if they do not trust their direct supervisors or senior management.

If they feel that their words are falling on deaf ears, they would eventually communicate less.

Another point to consider is if they interact minimally with management and when they do, they lack spontaneity and rapport, keeping things very formal.

But remember that this could also be because they have not opened up to their seniors or are probably new in the system. 

As much as you care for existing employees, you must also focus on making remote onboarding successful to ensure that employees get a chance to gel well with their managers. 

Red flag: If the employees rely more on gossip than official announcements and guidelines it is a red flag.

This symptom can be contagious as they would then end up complaining and inflating issues, rubbing off their frustration and low morale to their peers or team members.

4Lacking the zeal to shine

Did you hire an employee after being impressed with their passion and zeal to shine in their career only to find them give in to the 9-to-5 schedule?

An engaged employee sees an opportunity and seizes it. They innovate, volunteer and improve processes. 

On the contrary, disengaged employees do not defend their ideas, care much about how their work is going, or are less willing to lead a project and be accountable.

Look for team members who:

  • lag in these aspects,
  • show a lack of initiative,
  • do not try to improve the way things are done,
  • are less participating in meetings,
  • planning sessions or change initiatives,
  • rarely share their ideas.

This attitude often stems from an unfavourable environment.

Pro tip: Recognize your employees’ ideas and enthusiasm, make them feel heard, acknowledge their efforts, and provide the right tools and resources for remote working. Absence of a positive work atmosphere can also be a cause for disengaged employees. 

5Decline in the quality of work

As humans, it is inevitable to not make a mistake, however, making avoidable mistakes can be a sign of disengagement.

Disengaged employees do not aim for maximum quality or meeting expectations.

They might just be doing enough to not get fired!

So, if you find an employee’s overall quality decrease or stagnate, it may signal low engagement.

However, instead of viewing subpar performances as one of the many red flags, make certain that it is not a result of inefficient processes, insufficient resources or unrealistic targets.

As the HR leader or CEO of the company, it is important that you look for additional signs when you consider the quality of work.

6Showing signs of burnout or exhaustion

burnout and exhaustion can lead to low productivity

Has an employee recently complained about how they are tired or exhausted all the time?

Or does any of your employees now have the added work pressure since they have to manage children, families, etc. due to remote working and the lockdown?

Having too much on the plate, often without getting any time to settle in with a new routine, can often result in physical fatigue.

If you find an employee falling ill more than usual, or who is always tired, talk to them about the same to understand how you can help them while they get some breathing space to rest or adjust to the new work from home routine.

Help your managers set the right expectations and distribute work better.

7Conflicts with co-workers

Having conflict in opinions is no new thing between employees, as long as they reach a conclusion. 

However, since disengaged employees are not interested in solving problems and making progress, they often express their lack of engagement through open frustration and aggression.

They are either at odds with someone or resist new initiatives or their manager’s instructions.

This negativity can be very damaging for the overall morale of the team and the company.

It is time to have an honest discussion with someone who is: 

  • being impolite more than often,
  • being more argumentative as time passes,
  • using rude or foul language, or showing similar signs.

What leads to a disengaged employee?

It is unfair to look for signs for disengaged employees without introspecting what you are doing differently.

While an employee might just not be interested in their work or have a personal crisis, it is critical that you consider a few points here to ensure that you have got it right.

1Lack of recognition

Recognition is a key factor in employee engagement.

After all, who would not like a few motivating words of appreciation, even for the smallest of tasks.

As a manager, while you look for signs for disengaged employees, it is time to also look if your company culture encourages remote employee recognition.

This can be as simple as giving frequent feedback that helps someone get better at their work, or sending occasional formal letters, or informal gifts to keep their spirits high.

It is after all, never too late to look for new ways of employee recognition to keep your team members motivated.

2Lack of growth opportunities

One of the reasons why employees seem disinterested in work or look for opportunities elsewhere is when they do not get the right resources and the chances to grow.

Are your employees armed with helpful digital resources that allow them to complete their work on time?

Are they getting enough training and growth opportunities to aim for better positions and salaries?

Providing remote employees with an abundance of training opportunities to help them learn and grow is another highly effective way to engage remote employees. 

Employees today value continuing education opportunities and make career growth a priority.

If they do not see that happening in your organization, they are likely to look outside for companies that would offer them the same.

3Confusion over processes to be followed

Remote working is new to your employees, just how it is new to you.

As the leader of the organization, it is vital you have all processes and protocols in place and have them communicated to the right stakeholders too.

Chaos and mayhem in professional life is the last thing your employees want, especially in the COVID-19 induced stressful environment we all are living in.

What you should do?

A research found that only 19% of employees self-identified as very engaged, with 35% declaring themselves as somewhat engaged, and these percentages may have actually gone down since the lockdown.

Managers play a critical role in keeping employees engaged as they directly affect all of the aspects of a job. 

As the saying goes, “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses”.

As social distancing protocols continue to be in effect, it is essential that you remain connected with your remote workforce and be interested in their lives and problems to provide them with the right solutions. 

When you stay empathetic, have honest and open dialogues, and extend help whenever required, your employees too will feel free to communicate and be more involved in sharing your dreams.

Having regular one on one meetings is another way to ensure that you get and give ample opportunities to your employees to help them feel involved. Ensure that you make optimum use of these one on one sessions to strike a friendly bond with your team and make them feel safe enough to open up to you.

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Simply put, when you start engaging with your remote employees, you will have engaged remote employees who will pay you back in kind.

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