While grappling with coronavirus stress, it’s easy for your employees to feel disengaged and uninspired. Motivation can be doubly hard to find when you’ve gone from a fast-paced, tight-knit office environment to 2 p.m. Zoom meetings in which everyone’s still wearing their pajamas.
Now more than ever, employees are counting on your strong leadership. It’s critical that you as their manager offer them ways to remain engaged with their work, as 70% of variances in employee engagement are owed to the team’s manager, according to Gallup research. If your leadership style has heavily relied on in-person interactions, your failure to adapt to remote work could lead to plummeting productivity—though that’s far from the only consequence. A lack of engagement can also reduce employee retention, efficiency, and even decrease the employee’s general happiness and sense of well-being.
Employee engagement is also difficult to build in our current climate of shelter-at-home isolation. If you’ve struggled to promote engagement within your own team or organization, you’re not alone. To turn things around, try some of these of-the-moment practices:
- Stick to messaging priorities
You can’t say it all, or rather, you can’t say it all effectively. In troubled times, it’s important to focus on the messaging that matters the most to your organization. Rod Mickels, co-founder and CEO of engagement solutions agency InVision Communications, explains, “Any copy or creative design that doesn’t live in service of a message needs to go; it is noise, and it’s keeping employees from latching on to the meat of your message. Don’t be afraid to trim that fat. It will keep your communication concise and help you demonstrate authenticity.”
For example, if your organization has a dozen guiding tenets or an elaborate set of values, it’s nearly impossible to keep them all top of mind. Instead, cut the excess and focus on the most important three. It’s difficult to whittle down your list of cherished values, but remember that honing your messaging doesn’t mean you won’t still embrace secondary values that follow naturally from your three primary guiding lights. Rather, zeroing in on a few priorities allows your employees to focus their efforts and generate more meaningful results.
- Digitize your community activities
Missing the monthly office happy hour? You can’t get your employees together for drinks these days, but that doesn’t mean they should have to live in complete isolation. Find ways to create digital interactions that remind your employees they’re part of a team. Consider live-streaming a concert or movie on a Friday afternoon and encouraging your team members to message one another during the feature.At PwC, one team started a group art project called Quarantine Days that features drawings and doodles contributed by individual team members. The creative release, judgment-free communication, and positive recognition of individual contributions all combined to make the doodle exercise memorable, fun, and stress-relieving. It brought the team closer together despite physical distance.
- Lean into employee insights
Spoon-feeding directions or announcements to an uninterested audience is the antithesis of engagement. The best way to avoid this unsavory scenario: Tap into the viewpoints and motivations of your audience. Using a variety of channels to implement bottom-up communication, in which employee ideas and perspectives are prioritized in business decision-making, can engage employees by giving them a sense of ownership. For instance, consider enlisting your executive colleagues and managers to host Reddit-style Ask Me Anything sessions through internal communication channels. Externally, use Twitter and LinkedIn to showcase good ideas your employees have contributed.“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, bottom-up employee communication is more important than ever. Keep employees engaged and show your appreciation by encouraging them to use their voice and connecting them with the broader organization,” said Jenna Eastman, head of customer success for North America for workforce communications platform Beekeeper. “This pandemic will pass, but employees will always remember how you handled it and empowered them.”
- Individualize your work rules
The rules that governed work at the office might not make much sense these days, just like the traditional 9-to-5 has gone out the window for many employees working from home and caring for others. Under these new circumstances, it’s important to bend formerly strict rules to fit individual needs and situations. For instance, health tech company Kalderos has offered that its workers can use portions of their education stipends to upgrade their home offices, allowing formerly in-office employees to more comfortably and happily work at home.Flexibility should also extend beyond benefit and budget decisions. Say your company formerly held a mandatory officewide meeting at 9 a.m. every Friday. Only now, parents are working from home with their kids, who are expected to fulfill distance-learning duties. Reach out to your team and make sure the standing time still works. If it doesn’t, put together a poll that allows employees to vote on a new meeting time. If the size of your team makes a unanimous decision unlikely, give employees the flexibility to miss a meeting here and there. While the absences might have a small impact on short-term productivity, your team will be appreciative—and more engaged—in the long run.
We’re all living in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. Every aspect of our lives has been touched, from work and socialization to shopping and recreation, and a return to normal could still be a long way off. Still, even now-remote rhythms of work and productivity can serve to tether our wandering minds and focus us on something positive. To maintain high employee engagement and morale, it’s important for leaders to step up. Start with the four suggestions above and see where your efforts take you.
Written by Rhett Power. Have you read?
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