NEW YORK—Engagement is a major buzzword in today’s world of work, yet 63 percent of U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their work and are, in fact, struggling to cope with work situations that don’t provide enough support. So says a new study from Towers Watson. Could virtual offices help employee engagement?

According to the employee engagement study, employees are finding it difficult to sustain the kind of positive connection to their companies that yields consistent productivity. That, the firm suggests, is the result of almost a decade of pressure to do more with less and respond to the challenges of global competition, ever-evolving technology and the ongoing need for strict cost management.

"When workers are not fully engaged, it leads to greater performance risk for employers. It makes companies more vulnerable to lower productivity, higher inefficiency, weaker customer service, and greater rates of absenteeism and turnover," says Julie Gebauer, managing director, Talent and Rewards, Towers Watson.

"Without attention and interventions aimed at improving on-the-job support for employees and creating a sense of attachment to the organization, this trend could worsen—and directly affect business outcomes. Companies have known for years that employee engagement is important to business performance. We're now seeing—in part because of the tough business climate—that engagement is quite fragile and will not be sustained over time without careful attention to very specific elements in the work environment."

Could alternative workplace strategies, like telecommuting from a virtual office, drive greater employee engagement? I believe it could in some companies. Allowing employees to telecommute from a virtual office empowers them to take a measure of control over their own destiny and may spark that missing positive connection the Towers Perrin study mentioned. Allowing employees to work from a virtual office displays trust. Employees who feel trusted are more likely to trust the organization and therefore engage at higher levels.