Updated: Feb 17
As worries about the coronavirus linger, frustrations with the status quo are continuing to grow. The problem is that not everyone is on the same page and frustrated with the same things.
Some are worried about the virus and others are over it and want to move on. The conundrum for HR professionals and business owners is that no matter what they do, not everyone is going to be happy. With the inevitable choice of upsetting one group over another, too often the decision is to make no decision at all. By the way – that doesn’t make anyone happy.
As frustration levels rise, so does employee disengagement. Now is the time, more than ever, to reengage your workforce. But how?
Here are three steps to move your organization forward.
1. Engaging a Remote Workforce
We are at least six months into our “two weeks to slow the spread” campaign. Life hasn’t returned to normal like we had hoped, so we need to find new ways to engage. Initially, engagement included happy hours over Zoom, increased use of instant messaging and products like Slack and WhatsApp, and more planned touch points throughout the day with employees working from home by their manager.
However, the attention span and interest of employees varies greatly, and people get bored with the same thing much more quickly. It is critical to continue to find new ways to engage these employees…and it must go beyond the manager and employee daily connection points. When employees are working in the same office and walking by each other regularly, collaboration, innovation and a sense of belonging are continuing to be developed. We miss out on those opportunities when we don’t physically see each other every day.
Companies will lose their sense of culture if they don’t adapt to the new way of working. Better said, the culture of a company may drastically change, and not necessarily for the better, if all levels of leadership don’t place a high sense of urgency on fostering the workplace they desire. Even more clear – autopilot is not going to work.
We are in this for the long haul. We need new ideas, and we need to find ways to continue to engage remote workers – whether they are remote a couple days a week, for the rest of the year, or permanently. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has developed many resources to help engage a remote workforce. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/exreq/pages/details.aspx?erid=1447
2. Engaging the On-site Workforce
Just as important is the need to focus on employee engagement in the office. Stress, overwork, health concerns are all distractions that face employees coming to the office every day. With concerns about the coronavirus spreading, the casual conversations that used to happen may be less likely to occur.
Companies need to develop a plan to foster the innovation that used to naturally occur. Brainstorming sessions, company purchased lunches (individually wrapped vs. buffet), in-house zoom calls versus conference room gatherings, are just some new ways to think about engagement.
Meals out, team building exercises, and group events are now less likely to happen. However, we can still create a sense of belonging and connectedness by getting everyone to rally behind a worthy cause. Food banks and school supplies are ways to get everyone talking about something other than work…building a sense of community.
In the end, it is the individual managers who will drive engagement. Without their buy-in or effort, the chances of success are minimal. Inc. magazine listed 5 ways to engage employees. While the article was written pre-pandemic, it still holds true today: https://www.inc.com/bernard-coleman/5-ways-you-can-help-employees-be-more-engaged-at-work.html
3. Making the Decision to Move Forward
The hardest part of moving forward is often taking the first step. What if I don’t know where to begin? What if it’s the wrong decision? What if no one participates? You won’t know the answer to these questions until you do something. Instead of the negative premise, ask these questions: Why not start here? What’s the impact if we start to move the needle? How can we build on our small successes?
A great way to develop new ideas is to ask the employees who are impacted the most. What would they like to see? How do they want to engage in the workplace? If they could make one change now, what would it be and why? Develop a plan with the employees, not for the employees. Just like we train managers to use employee’s ideas when correcting a performance issue, we need to do the same thing with employee engagement.
We are more than six months into the COVID-19 mess and many things have changed around us. For much of this time, we have let actions around us dictate our responses. We have been reactive, not proactive. Now is the time to change that. We need to start to move the needle. We need to develop a plan to move us forward. We need to engage the workforce. We need to start right here, right now.