By Val Cambre, Partner, Bedford Consulting Group
Remote working in these uncertain times highlights the importance of employee engagement for leaders and their organizations more than ever. The merging of professional and personal lives is challenging leaders and managers to keep their teams motivated from a distance; while at the same time, learning to adapt and adjust to this new reality themselves.
Employees must be empowered with resources, technology and support to maintain their morale and feel they can continue to contribute. This emphasizes the need for leaders to be empathetic and proactively connect with their people. Actively committing to strategies to keep employees engaged will ensure organizations successfully navigate through COVID-19, continue to thrive and flourish beyond it. These include:
Communicate Clearly with Compassion and Consistency
In a recent report released by Buffer entitled “The 2020 State of Remote Work,” communication, collaboration, and loneliness were cited as the top challenges for remote workers. Social and physical distancing has increased these feelings of isolation requiring leaders to consider ways to keep their teams connected and engaged.
People by nature need to feel a sense of belonging and community and the workplace often serves this invaluable purpose. Keeping people connected requires a dedicated commitment to clear and consistent communication. This means leaders need to intentionally check-in with their teams more frequently and use the right platforms to make the most of each conversation.
This is the time to demonstrate care and understanding; that their work is appreciated; that the organization is committed to their well-being; and if they need support or guidance, there are people and resources they have access to. Be sure to:
- Keep communications simple and clear
- Balance difficult messaging with compassion
- Implement a regular communication cycle – so people know when information will be provided
- Act fast on what you know and what you can share
Stress and anxiety are understandably at heightened levels for many employees and that may persist for some time. That is why it’s necessary for leaders to be attentive and provide their people with the resources they need to manage their mental health and well-being.
Many organizations have Wellness or Employee Assistance Programs which offer confidential online resources to assist employees with counselling services for everything from personal stress, to financial challenges. By encouraging employees to use their EAP, leaders can provide avenues for their people with tangible tools.
Leverage People-Focused Technologies
If there has ever been a more critical time to leverage technology for people engagement, it’s right now. Consider the mediums, online tools and platforms that work best for your teams, solicit their input and aim for balance between face to face time on platforms like zoom, versus getting on the phone for a call. Run a quick pulse survey to get a sense of how they are feeling and gather ideas for possible innovative solutions going forward
Listen to your employees to understand what works well, what does not and what can be improved. Take a critical look at the work-day schedule and consider establishing a schedule that allows for off-screen time (days with no meetings) to balance the demands of ever-increasing email traffic.
Re-Establish Work Plans and Expectations for the New Reality
The COVID-19 virus struck the usual ebbs and flows of work with force. As the adjustment settles, it’s integral for employees to find a flow of work routines, even if that routine is vastly different than what it was a few weeks ago.
Aim to ensure your employees have clear work plans with opportunities to provide regular updates. Consider adjusting objectives to ensure employees are productive and feel they are contributing:
- Make sure expectations are clear
- Provide tips and suggestions on how to work from home effectively
- Circulate your current policy or establish a new policy for working remotely
- Set up a process to check in on each employee’s virtual set up – cascade through management to make sure there is attention to each person’s needs.
Be Flexible and Understanding
With entire families working and learning at the same time in close quarters, schedules and routines are in an ongoing state of flux. As employees adapt to this new reality, the need to be collaborative and flexible is now. Take time to consider the varying scenarios where employees may require meeting schedules adjusted due to childcare responsibilities or caring for a loved one.
Everyone is contending with a situation that is changing each day. Be kind and be flexible.
Communicate openly and often. Articulate and reinforce the organizational purpose. Show genuine empathy and maximize technology to make their working lives as comfortable as possible. In time, they will find their groove and by keeping them engaged and positive now, you will have more loyal and productive workforce.
Consider how this challenging time can bring out the best in you!