NEW YORK—This week we’ve been talking about the emerging employee engagement crisis. Only 63 percent of U.S. workers are fully engaged, according to the latest Towers Watson study. But my contention is that virtual offices can help in some cases to drive employee engagement higher.

The study uses a specific set of questions to measure and classify respondents as to their level of sustainable engagement. Overall, the study showed that:

37% of U.S. workers are highly engaged in a sustainable way.
27% are classified as unsupported, meaning they display traditional engagement, but lack the enablement and/or energy required for sustainable engagement.
13% are detached, meaning they feel enabled and/or energized but are not willing to go the extra mile.
23% are completely disengaged, with less favorable scores for all three aspects of sustainable engagement.

Could allowing employees to telecommute from a virtual office, at least on an occasional basis, help? I believe so.

The study points out that the most significant factors unsupported workers cite relate to how their supervisors support them on the job, their levels of stress and the severity of their workloads. Allowing employees to telecommute from a virtual office could show supervisor support while also lowering stress levels. Although the severity of the workload may not actually decrease, the productivity gains workers see through virtual office technologies could help balance the equation.

"Many companies are still operating in a traditional mode, with processes and programs designed for an era that has effectively disappeared," says Laura Sejen, global practice leader, Rewards, Towers Watson. "Employers need to consider the dramatic changes occurring in the employment relationship, and they need to address the elements creating this situation. The consequences of maintaining the status quo may be more problematic than before, given the level and pace of change."

Virtual offices are not a panacea for employee engagement. But I believe implementing an alternative workplace strategy with various options for flexibility, including virtual offices and mobile work, could help drive up the all-important  sustainable engagement of which Towers Watson speaks.