Level UP! Employee Engagement

Engaging your remote workforce in the time of COVID-19
May 6, 2020 by Lynn Johnson, PhD., SHRM-SCP
Organizations around the world are facing challenges with the COVID-19 crisis, which has impacted nearly every facet of business.  As companies navigate this ongoing crisis, there are several issues that effective leaders should be thinking about including how to protect employees, service customers, and stabilize their business continuity; however, one issue facing companies encompasses all three of these key issues: the remote working environment.
The reality of the remote working environment is now at the forefront of testing a company’s business continuity plans during this crisis. One false move in this new reality can seriously impact performance and value.
The shift to working remotely can be more disruptive than employers may think. Remote workers can feel like castaways.  Working from home can be lonely, and the change of pace can be a difficult transition for some.  Studies show that high-performing employees may experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training.
Since most employees are not in the office, it’s hard to notice their moods, and can be difficult to get wind of an arising situation.  Here are four tips to consider when managing and keeping your staff engaged through these difficult times. 
#1 Provide a Consistent Platform for Effective Communication
Before you can provide a consistent platform for effective communication, first be sure to establish a plan of how you will communicate with your team.  Second, develop a plan for how your team will communicate with your key stakeholders.
Determine the best mode of communication for your organization (phone, email, video conferencing, instant messaging).  Make sure everyone knows how to use the communication tool chosen.  Set a schedule for regular communication that works for your organization.  For example, you may choose to have meetings every morning, twice a day, or several times a week.  When communicating with stakeholders, make a list of who needs to be updated and what those communication modes will be.  Communicate within your team about the status of those communications and be sure to reach out to those stakeholders and provide updates.
Working from home provides excellent opportunities for both productivity and distractions.  When you are at your best, you can zip through work and wonder where the hours went.; however, when you get distracted, working from home can be detrimental to the quality and quantity of your work.  Assist your employees by helping them create manageable to-do lists, work with them to create project goals with deadlines.  Encourage them to avoid personal tasks.  This can be especially difficult during COVID-19 because most workers are at home with their families, so be sure to create a realistic work/home balance.  Require that they build in break and lunch times; use daily status updates, which is useful in team environments.  There are countless time management techniques out there to try. 
#2 Promote frequent face-to-face contact
There is no substitute for meeting with someone personally, but with technology at our fingertips there are several ways to keep your employees connected through face-to-face contact.  Challenge your lead workers to have weekly video calls with each person on their team.  There are many platforms to choose from (Zoom, Go-to Meeting, Skype, Slack), but be sure to choose one that works best for your organization. 
#3 Recognize your remote workers
Make it a point to recognize remote workers for their contributions to your organization. Make it visible, so that others can see and want to achieve the same thing.  When you identify and acknowledge an employee’s strengths, you establish a foundation for building on that strength in the future.  Existing strengths are a starting point for developing new strengths and new capabilities.  There are several unique ways to praise your employees. Creating a digital workspace to share recognition of your employees helps them  less isolated.  Surprise deliveries or sending company swag are other ways to show your appreciation for their hard work. 
#4 Ask for Feedback
Feedback becomes more important when it comes to remote working.  Ask for feedback from your employees.  Actively soliciting opinions encourages employees to see you as a partner not just a boss.  This is new for most of us, therefore, employees need to know that you are in it together. Regularly checking in with your employees help you support and manage them from a distance.  Provide tools to employees to provide feedback to avoid conflicts or misunderstandings.  Effective communication with actional feedback builds awareness and action toward better employee performance.
No one knows how long it will take for COVID-19 to flow through, or how it will change the makeup of the workforce. Regardless of how this changes the business landscape, these four tips can help you keep your employees engaged and productive. 

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