Engaged employees are your strongest asset. In times of disruption, this is even truer. According to Gallup, engaged employees consistently outperform their colleagues by solving new problems, innovating, and creating new customers. Overall, engaged employees are 17 percent more productive and 21 percent more profitable.

Gallup recommends companies prioritize engaging employees to create sustained growth. Making sure you have a workforce that isn't distracted can be difficult to achieve, but it must be core to your business strategy to remain competitive.

Here are a few ways to do it in the coronavirus age.

1. Maintain clear and consistent communication

During this time of upheaval, employees have more on their mind than day-to-day activities, which can cause them to lose focus. To keep them grounded at work, maintain a constant and open line of communication--whether through regular updates over email or Slack, or semi-regular town hall meetings. This allows employees to keep productivity high and reassures them during an uncertain period.

2. Create connection with employees

Laurie Schultz, president and CEO of Galvanize, kept a CEO diary that she shared daily with employees for the first three months of the outbreak. In the diary, she detailed her perspective on the business landscape as well as anecdotes about how the outbreak was affecting her personally.

For example, Schultz shared in one entry, "As terrible as this situation is, I do find myself feeling very bonded with the world as we unite together to do the right thing." 

Schultz says, "People want to feel safe and secure. Daily, authentic, and human communication allows you to build trust--reassuring people through regular check-ins--rather than having them fill in the blanks."

3. Upskill your employees

Successful upskilling, or reskilling, focuses on innovation and is seen as both a technology and a human capital investment. Mohamed Kande, PwC's U.S. and global advisory leader, explains, "When it comes to innovation, it can't come from just leadership, it comes from everybody."

A few key areas to upskill employees include relevant emerging technologies, investing platforms, and the cloud. "This enables companies to deliver a better digital experience to customers and ensure employees have the ability to use these newly implemented platforms to drive true value," Kande says.

Kande also recommends looking into new technologies for training, like virtual reality, which was found to improve employee's confidence in new skills by 340 percent. 

4. Learn to lead with empathy

Unhealthy stress can wreak havoc on everyone, inhibit productivity, and lead to detached employees. "When an employee is showing signs that they're struggling in some way, the best thing a manager can do is encourage them to discuss any fears or concerns, empathize with what they're experiencing, and help them outline what needs to be done to address the challenges head-on," says Billie Hartless chief human resources officer of Mitel. "This is what good humans do for each other and it strengthens the employee-manager relationship, which is essential to fostering long-term engagement and high performance," Hartless says. 

5. Redeploy your workforce to give customers more value

Redeploying your workforce is one way to engage employees. Yet you need to be strategic in how you do this. For instance, you should focus on redeploying employees to give more value to your customers.

Kande explains, "The first step is determining how value is defined for each customer." For instance, is value related to lower cost? Is it related to a more holistic set of services or better experience? When value is defined, decisions can be made to positively impact customers and deploy talent in areas that will drive change in specific areas and for the organization as a whole."

By following these tips to engage your workforce, you can improve the productivity and profitability of your organization. Though it can be tough with a distributed workforce, the key is to come back to providing consistent communication, improving manager engagement, and offering new opportunities to learn.

And always remember to put your people before profit. As Schultz shares, "Our focus has been on employees first, customer retention second, and then financials, on the belief that the first two will lead to success on the financial front."