The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses through unprecedented challenges. Many employees experienced working from home for the first time, and many employees also experienced the challenges of remote work with children at home. We are resilient and have found ways to parent, teach, communicate with coworkers, lead teammates, and follow through with task timeline commitments simultaneously.
A question that employers are scratching their heads about is, “how do we keep employees engaged during this time?” Employee engagement through COVID-19 reintegration is challenging, but certainly possible. Below, I’ll break down some tips for keeping employees involved, whether your workplace is newly remote or blended.
Adjust communication mediums for appropriate situations
The “open door” communication style of walking from office to office in a physical workplace was satisfactory for many employees, but now impossible for remote and blended workforces. Understanding what communication mediums you have access to and how to use them is key. For example, email is effective for information sharing, but not short form conversations between multiple parties. If your business has a chatting platform like Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, or Slack, use it for these conversations. An email is similar to a mailed letter – the recipient can open it on their own time. However, a chat or ping is a real-time conversation, more like a phone call. Use chats for quick answers and feedback and save emails for longer messages where employees can take their time to answer.
Use video calls and screen sharing to boost engagement
If you are scheduling a virtual meeting, consider using your video and encouraging others to do the same. When discussing ideas, it can prove helpful to see who you are speaking to and reading their nonverbal communication cues. If you are presenting information, preparing a visual to screenshare can help your attendees stay engaged. It could be as simple as pulling up the spreadsheet or website you’re discussing to give the meeting a visual aid. Without including the screen share, there is potential that employees will want the visual aid and seek it out themselves, leading to distraction during the meeting. Keep control of what the team is looking at and keep the focus on the topic at hand.
Create an online water cooler
Working in the new normal has left many employees without their social interactions and personal connections. Many chat platforms will allow “channels” to be created where a water cooler conversation can live. Giving employees a place to talk about non-work-related topics reminds us all that we’re human and not task robots. If you’re a leader, set a reminder to ask questions in the water cooler channel regularly and start the conversation, like “Here’s a photo of my dog, Fido, enjoying my new work from home setup. Are your pets enjoying, as well?”, “What’s everyone watching on TV this week?”, or even “I can’t decide what type of takeout to order tonight, what have been your favorites lately?”
If you don’t have capability for a water cooler chat channel, a virtual happy hour can be the key to engagement. Jump on a video call near the end of the workday and chat about what’s new in the lives of your teammates.
Emily Possidento, MBA, SHRM-SCP is an HR Consulting Principal on MCM’s HR Solutions Group Team. She has more than 20 years of experience in human resources within the health insurance, executive head hunter, IT advisory, accounting and financial staffing, and business consulting industries. She has expertise in talent selection and development, organizational training and development, employment assessments, managerial coaching, performance management and strengthening engagement.
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