Employers and employees are again trying to navigate a business landscape that is looking very similar to last year. Now that most of us have adjusted to working in a remote capacity, it’s time to face the next challenge. How do we keep employees engaged and motivated when they’re working alone and at a distance? Managing employee engagement is a difficult task at the best of times. Some companies do it well and reap the rewards of a productive and positive workforce while others stumble. But tackling employee engagement remotely is a unique problem. So what can managers or leaders do to boost engagement levels when no one can meet face-to-face?
What is happening with employee engagement levels right now?
It probably won’t be surprising to learn employee engagement stats are dropping in many companies. In fact, this trend was true even before the pandemic. A Gallup poll showed that only 34% of employees are engaged at work. Just think about what means in terms of productivity. Employees who are not engaged with what they are doing are more prone to make mistakes, care less about their work quality, leave jobs sooner, and spread their disengagement to others who work with them. And all that happens at the best of times. Throw in the worry and turmoil the world is currently facing and you have the perfect recipe for an even stronger drop in engagement levels.
Such a drop can happen for a number of reasons. Last year, a study showed when looking at stress, 41% of remote workers reported high stress compared to 25% of office workers. Now that everyone is remote, that stress is being compounded by personal life worries such as having kids at home, increased financial pressure, and the health and safety of loved ones. Burnout levels are also on the rise as we try to adjust to the disruption in their lives. And some employees are even reporting increased workloads since the crisis started accumulating in unexpected overtime. When faced with those realities, it can be hard to see a way forward. But there are ways to give engagement a recharge even when stress levels might be high.
Think about feedback
Now is a great time to be checking in with your team and solicit feedback. There are many ways to ask for opinions and employee insight from more formal approaches to more casual conversations. A good way to start is with an anonymous survey sent out to a team or department to take the temperature on how everyone is feeling and ask for honest employee feedback. You can’t identify any gaps in your talent management process if you don’t know where to look. Asking the team what they view as being problematic to their work or motivate levels is the best way to paint a more complete picture of what’s happening. You can even work weekly or bi-weekly feedback surveys into the regular routine so you have a consistent way to keep your finger on the pulse of the team. Even something as simple as asking employees to rate their week each Friday can help you see when engagement might be declining. Once you have the feedback, make sure you do something with it. This can be done by bringing up the compiled results in a team meetings and having open discussions around engagement and stress. Or actions can be focused more on support and finding new solutions to the problems facing employees such as required equipment or different resources.
Refocus on culture
Its no doubt tempting to forget about company culture at the moment. After all, how can you have one if no one is together? While its much easier creating a culture when you can rely on social activities at work, Friday happy hours, or in-person team dynamics, its not impossible to maintain one from a distance. Company culture at it’s core is meant to build a community and connect employees together. Sounds like something everyone could use a dose of. A great way to keep your culture alive is to identify what parts of your culture employees most enjoyed in the office. Again, employee surveys can prove useful here. Once you know what it is employees are missing, see if there’s any way to give it to them remotely. If employee valued hanging out after work, set up a virtual happy hour on a video call. If they liked sharing their wins with each other, arrange for monthly or weekly team recognition meetings were people can celebrate each other’s work. If they liked taking coffee breaks to chat with colleagues in other departments or business units, see if you can arrange an agreed upon schedule with other managers to let employees chat with each other over a morning cup of joe in real time. Many companies claim to have strong cultures but it’s how those cultures make the leap into remote life that will really tell the tale.
Take this time to invest in development
Another way to increase motivation is to introduce your employees to something new. 76% of employees are looking for career growth opportunities and investing in L&D is one way to help give that to them. Providing the opportunity for an employee to learn a new skill or ability helps refocus the employee on something positive while investing in their professional development as a valued member of the company. Plus there are plenty of ways to develop employees at a distance. E-learning is becoming more and more effectively and there are numerous online courses, webinars, or workshops that teams can take advantage of. You can even use assessments to help start the conversation around where the gaps in an employee’s skill set might lie and what can be done to bolster those abilities. One thing to remember, though, however you want to work on development be it to improve leadership, team dynamics, or personal self-awareness, is to make sure the skills you decide to work on aligns with the work being done at the company. Even better, try to think about what employees will need in the future and help them work on those skills now. And remember to match the development to what your team can realistically handle. If a team is really struggling, it might be hard to work on something like leadership. A better solution could be to focus on resiliency training, communication strategies, or well-being habits.
Employee engagement is important
With employees feeling higher levels of stress and worry in their daily lives, keeping employee engagement up can make a big impact on their work life. Disengaged workers can slow down your productivity and right now, it can also translate into increased isolation and loneliness. Managers or HR professionals can rely on a number of tactics to try and increase motivation even in a remote capacity. Employee engagement surveys are a perfect place to start but they shouldn’t be the end of the story. Instead, listen to your colleagues and use their insights to identify if there are any quick and easy wins you can put in place that will improve conditions for your staff. You never know what you might learn just by giving people the chance to share their thoughts. So before you say employee engagement at a distance is impossible, try some of these strategies and see if you can steer things in a more positive direction.