Employee engagement is a tough nut to crack. And now with the pandemic and remote work having become the new normal, the rules of the engagement game have dramatically changed too.
On one hand, the more familiar ways of engagement like, face-to-face interactions, Friday lunches, open-door policies, public rewards & recognition, and more have become redundant, and on the other hand, employees working from homes continue to seek means and ways to feel more connected, motivated and engaged at work.
A lot of emerging data suggest that the flexibility of remote work has a positive impact on employee engagement, at the same time, the inability to switch off, zoom fatigue, isolation and loneliness are emerging as new sources of disengagement.
At a macro level, HRs continue to be responsible for driving engagement even in this new norm but at a micro level, the role of managers in personalizing employee engagement is undeniable. Ultimately, it is the manager who has direct influence over an employee’s everyday work life and who can also gauge the motivation of his/her team to take necessary actions.
So as a manager, what can you immediately focus on to drive employee engagement despite the physical distance? Here are a few ideas that managers are actively trying out with their teams globally.
Set ground rules for the team
Everyone is new to work from home and with no playbook to follow, there can be a lot of confusion and vagueness around everyday operations. This lack of clarity can directly impact employees’ engagement levels and their productivity.
As a manager, why not start with defining the ground rules of the new work model?
This will bring much needed clarity around what is expected of the employees. Maybe, put together a document that talks about work hours, ways to communicate, practices around online meetings, who to reach out for assistance, and more. That way, the entire team is aligned to a more standardized way of working that makes it easy for them to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities.
Give employees more 'choice'
Are all your virtual meetings compulsory or do employees have the choice to opt-in or out? Are employees able to be flexible with their work hours or is it fixed? Can an employee decide some of the deadlines or are all of them dictated?
Bringing in the element of autonomy can be very important in the current setting. If you are a manager who has the tendency to micromanage, check yourself. See where all and in what capacity you can give employees the freedom to make their decisions. And once this is decided, honor their decisions to gain their trust and respect.
Have no-meeting days
With remote work, more and more employees are finding themselves on video and audio calls than ever before. It has emerged as a go-to means for team collaboration. However, are all these calls necessary?
Zoom fatigue is for real. Continuously being on video calls zaps people of productive energy. And that’s why having clearer norms around video calls is a must in a team setting.
How about introducing ‘blackout hours’ where before and after the 9-hours of work, no calendars can be blocked for meetings? Or, introduce no meeting weekdays when employees are encouraged to not have video calls?
This way, teams get a breather from the tiring video conferences and can utilize time more effectively.
Revive impromptu coffee conversations
The casual conversations over coffee and the hellos exchanged around a water cooler that once gave employees the much needed opportunity to bond with fellow team members is now out of the picture. So, how can you bring back these casual conversations in the virtual world?
You could set up groups on your communication channels, say Slack or Yammer, where employees bond over common areas of interest. For example, a travelers group where people share destination suggestions. Or, a group for photographers where photography fans can share tips and images.
Apart from these, you can also organize coffee conversations where employees get together virtually over a cup of coffee for 15-20 minutes and talk about everything that is not work. Or, form a breakout group on your internal communication channel where employees can take a break and chat with people currently available on that group. This way, employees will be able to break the monotony of work.
Hold burst mentor sessions
And just because employees are not at a physical workplace where you can meet them face-to-face, mentoring can’t take a backseat. Employees still want to grow and develop in their careers and look up to their managers for coaching or mentorship.
Even in what can seem like a packed schedule for you, as a people-oriented manager, hold a 15-minute burst mentorship session with your team members to align employees’ personal visions with the organizational roles. It is critical to show your interest in employee career progressions even now, just as much as you might have done in a physical workplace.
Consistently seek employee feedback
Managers should encourage employees to share their feedback. This can enable you, as a people manager, to evaluate your performance and understand the team’s expectations. One way you could do this is during one-on-ones with your team members. Or, managers can also adopt feedback tools that capture employee feedback anonymously and give managers a detailed report of what is working and not working in their team setup.
Conduct ‘Ask Me Anything’
In this new work environment and with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, employees may have a lot of questions to ask the managers regarding the organization, about their own work and more. While as a manager, you may worry that you do not have answers to everything they have to ask, simply encouraging employees to share their concerns in an open session like an ‘Ask Me Anything’ can boost the morale of the team.
While the manager can always get back to employees with answers that they may not have at the moment, acknowledging the team’s concerns can, in itself, go a long way in employees feeling valued and engaged.
Make virtual appreciation a habit
A survey by Gallup suggests that 65% of employees didn’t receive any appreciation for good work in the last year. This gap in employees’ need for recognition and what they actually receive has existed even before the pandemic. Now, with everyone working from home, the chances of this gap deepening is only higher.
So as a manager, how can you develop a virtual culture of appreciation?
While establishing a virtual organization-wide rewards and recognition program can take time, implement a simpler ritual for your team. Use one of your online platforms to start a group to recognize and appreciate employees. And lead by example. Instead of simply applauding someone, share the specifics of why they are being recognized. More direct appreciation is always appreciated more.
Ask questions before drawing conclusions
Empathy and care are emerging as values that employees are expecting from their managers and employers. And while the current crisis has impacted all of us, it has impacted everyone in different ways and scales. So, the next time, a team member does not perform well, is taking too many leaves, or is lacking in enthusiasm, make it a point to delve a little beneath the surface and find out why.
It is far easier to conclude that the person isn’t a good performer or is lazy and distracted than it is to ask ‘how things are with them’ and be open to listening to what they have to share.
Building a more open space where your team members can trust you to share their feelings can encourage trust and thereby, their commitment to work.
The responsibilities of a manager have only grown with the hybrid work model. Along with ensuring work gets done, managers are also expected to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their team, while also honoring their own health. While we understand that this is a tough task, we hope some of these ways should help you keep your team in good spirits during these new times.