Employee Engagement in the Time of Isolation

18 May 2020

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact economies worldwide, many companies have taken extraordinary steps to protect their financial and physical assets.  From managing cash flow to sterilising workstations, employers have been pushed to safeguard themselves on multiple fronts and in ways many of us could never have imagined.  But during these times, when a significant portion of the workforce is working remotely to comply with governmental guidelines, one asset, perhaps the most important, is often overlooked and left in jeopardy—talent.

Under normal circumstances, employee engagement is at the forefront of all successful corporate cultures and it is commonly accepted that engaged employees care about the wellbeing of their company and work harder to make it successful.  However, the importance of engagement can easily fall to the side when we are forced to work remotely and colleagues are isolated for extended periods of time. Allowing this to happen can and will have detrimental effects that may have a longer-lasting impact on companies than any fiscal concerns, including increased turnover, diminished quality of work, and a lack of cohesion.

To ensure team members feel connected, valued and supported, especially now, employee engagement must be considered an essential part of any business continuity plan in order protect our most valued corporate assets. While traditional methods of engagement may not be possible, there are still ways of successfully achieving the same results.

 

Transparency and Involvement in Decision-Making

As governmental guidelines and recommendations related to COVID-19 continue to emerge and evolve, companies are having to make many complex decisions that impact employees and their families.  Unsurprisingly, these decisions also elicit a wide range of emotions, be it fear, anxiety, or depression. For example: who works from home and for how long?  When is it safe to go back to the office?  How do we support parents who are homeschooling?

To engage employees and provide a degree of control over the situation where very little is possible, involving team members in these conversations and decisions is key. The emotions being experienced by employees are very real, but knowing that the company is listening to them and involving them in the decision-making process not only demonstrates that these concerns are being carefully considered, but that the team is truly valued as stakeholders and partners.

 

Provide Social Opportunities

The comradery and cohesion that comes from seeing and interacting with teammates on a daily basis is something that many employees miss the most about working remotely.  According to a recent report by Owl Labs, up to 70% of workers in the USA are concerned about maintaining company culture while working remotely, while 71% fear a conflict in work-life balance.[1]

To offset these concerns, companies need to be creative and find new ways to bring employees together socially, be it virtual lunch gatherings on Zoom, or chat groups that allow individuals to share new recipes they’ve discovered or crafts they’ve created.  Anything that fosters positive conversations amongst team members will boost spirits and remind everyone that they are part of larger community who are all sharing this experience.

 

Wellbeing Check-Ins

According to MindHK, a leading mental wellbeing organization based in Hong Kong, social distancing combined with remote working can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation for some people, which can have a significant impact on mental health.[2]  To reduce these feelings of loneliness and their effects on overall wellbeing, regular check-ins with team members are a vital engagement tool that will reinforce relationships, be it with colleagues or management, and demonstrate that the company cares about the mental and physical health of the employee when they are experiencing unprecedented challenges on a very personal level.

 

Upskill

At a time when management and employees are becoming increasingly more accustomed to webinars and online meetings, why not take advantage of these technologies to upskill team members?  Learning sessions as tools of engagement demonstrate a clear commitment to professional development by the company, provide additional opportunities for connecting team members, and increase the collective knowledge and expertise of associates.

 

A Final Thought

Employee Engagement is obviously something to be enhanced during the current pandemic, but it is important to keep in mind a great piece of advice I recently received: interaction is not the same as connection.  Employee engagement is only successful when it builds or reinforces connections between the company and the individual.  Without a meaningful level of connection, these interactions between the company and its employees serve as little more than distractions. Connections are where the real power lies and are what will ensure that we all come through the current situation stronger than ever.

 

[1] State of Remote Work 2019, by Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics, September 2019

[2] Managing Our Mental Health & Staying Well During a Virus Outbreak, Responding to 2019-nCOV, MindHK, February 2020

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