As a response to the uncertainties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all suddenly thrust into uncharted waters – an entire workforce working from home. Putting it bluntly, the world has no experience in remote working of this scale.
As organizations and individuals grapple with the challenges to settle into this new normal, leaders have a very essential responsibility – that of keeping the morale of their employees high and help them operate at their optimal productivity levels. Most of all, they have to assume the responsibility of keeping their employees engaged.
Much like the rest of the world, our organization also enabled the work from home option for our employees recently. Given the suddenness of the situation, this shift challenged many of our conventional processes and workflows. From the onset, we have been sure that processes and workflow challenges will iron out in a short time- after all responsible people always identify ways to improve things in the face of adversity. This time is no different. However no physical face time, no common office space to share, no face-to-face interactions can have a huge impact on employee engagement.
Now is the time for organization leaders, step up the game and help our employees stay engaged and invested. The days preceding the pandemic were simpler – I could meet and check-in with my colleagues and help out anyone who looked like they needed guidance, help or support. The channels of communication remained open.
This is not the case anymore.
The proximity that we took for granted is now an unaffordable luxury. The antidote is communication. Here is what I have been doing to boost the employee engagement levels of our remote workforce
Have structured and daily check-ins
There is no such thing as ‘over-communication’. I ensure that I designate time to connect with and talk to all key stakeholders and team members every day.
While in the past I could afford to be casual about daily stand-ups and sync-ups knowing that the team will do the needful, now I am more intentional about these. Ensuring that the standard meetings take place according to scheduled timelines is one way to go. While understanding the challenges that isolation brings in, I try to ensure all scheduled meetings take place as planned.
This attitude has percolated down the first tier. I am also seeing our team leaders, who are now remote managers, have started establishing daily calls with their team members – team calls and one-on-one calls are becoming a regular feature. The team managers also ensure that these calls are regular, the agenda is clear, and that there is no ambiguity about the purpose of the call.
Most importantly, we try to ensure that our remote workforce finds these calls helpful and considers these to be a forum where their challenges will be heard and discussed.
Get some Face time
While most of the communication can happen over email and phone calls, we must take into account the most challenging aspect of this situation –isolation. Thankfully, we can look towards technology to change this situation to an extent.
Video conferencing tools like Zoom, are a great way to keep regular meeting schedules. By encouraging employees to turn-on their cameras during some meetings they can also get the much needed social interaction with the face-to-face focus.
And while everyone is on video, it is also essential to ignore some of the background noise. We have to accept that this is not the ideal work-from-home scenario. Any ‘background noise’ such as children running around can be seen as comic-relief and can get the team spirit up. While it might have seemed unprofessional previously, now, it can be a way to bond with each other. Laughter is the best medicine in times like this and helps employees feel more connected.
Steer clear of micromanaging
The need to micromanage at this time is real. After all, we are all looking for more control. It can be tempting to constantly check in on employees to see if they are working on their tasks when working from home.
Regular follow-ups are important in this situation. But the communication here has to be transparent and action-oriented. The team leaders have to, therefore, help their teams understand that these follow-ups are to resolve and mitigate issues and challenges – not to keep tabs on how they are spending their day.
Of course, life at home is also challenging for our employees. Most people are struggling with errands and chores that have become a necessary part of the everyday routine. It’s important to make allowances for that when we consider the workday of our remote employees.
It is essential to establish a culture of trust in this challenging work environment. Micromanaging can make team members feel devalued as it makes them feel that they are not trusted. The best way to alleviate this is to avoid micromanaging, establishing benchmarks and timelines for tasks, keeping all channels of communication open, and enabling employees to work autonomously.
Be available – for work and more
This is an emotionally overwhelming time. People are grasping at straws to keep a semblance of a normal life. Nothing is normal presently. It is imperative that we look at our employees with empathy and understand that it might take people some time to adjust. Communicating with them regularly and setting up structured touchpoints to see how they are doing can help a great deal to understand the general mood and the issues of the remote workforce.
Additionally, it is also essential to connect with the employees on a personal level. They are, after all, an extended family. As heads of the family, organizational leaders have to not only be present to alleviate challenges of the workplace, but also be there to help their employees navigate some of the personal challenges that they might be experiencing. Now is not the time to be distant and unapproachable.
As business leaders, we have to take a step back and evaluate what we can do more. We must look at our teams and our workforce through a lens of empathy. People today are not only grappling with the challenges of this new style of working, but they are also grappling with the uncertainty of the times, the fear of the disease, and challenges that self-isolation brings. For organizations that understand this and take intentional steps to make the lives of their employees a little bit better, a little easier will be rewarded with higher engagement levels.
The productivity hiccups that you might be experiencing will iron out in a few days as people settle into their new routines. However, the effort that you take to help them settle-in will not go unnoticed.