Rachel Hannan, Connect Yorkshire EIR, offers her advice on employee engagement after lockdown.
When lockdown triggered mandatory homeworking for many, employers faced a rapid succession of challenges – from the practicalities of rolling out remote systems at scale, to keeping employees safe, productive and engaged. As lockdown continued, the need to support the wellbeing of employees, unused to working remotely, increased as the weeks passed. Add to that the anxiety generated by Coronavirus around both health and economic concerns, and you potentially had the perfect storm for employers and employees alike.
Many companies have worked hard to mitigate the impact, introducing more regular formal and informal communication via a range of channels and implementing new approaches and patterns of working. Regular companywide updates from senior management, more frequent 1 to 1s, a plethora of video conferencing options and social media connectivity have all been explored and embraced. Not forgetting good old fashioned techniques such as picking up the phone to ask ‘how are you?’ or sending handwritten cards by post to say ‘thank you, you’re appreciated’. These are just some of the ways good employers have been engaging with their employees to let them know that while they might be out of sight, they are not out of mind.
However, as people come back from furlough, or gradually return physically to work, it may prove the most critical time yet to ensure employees are engaged. Ensuring we look after our people is not only the right thing to do, it is also business critical. We have a duty of care to look after the mental health and wellbeing of our teams, but additionally we will need as much continuity, resilience, commitment and productivity as possible to support our efforts going forward. So as we enter the next phase, if we want our employees to do their best for us, we need to do our best for them.
Communication will be more imperative than ever. You will not have all the answers, but sharing what you can and being honest about challenges, changes and why they are necessary will help to remove some of the uncertainty.
Don’t assume back at work is back on track. Anxiety doesn’t go away overnight, nor will the uncertainty we are all still facing. So continuing to make time for the more regular check-ins many of us introduced during lockdown will ensure Managers are aware of potential issues early. Many companies have seen the benefits of regular video calls across teams and locations which can usefully be maintained in the next phase, especially if some changes in working patterns in teams between home and office are likely to endure longer term.
We hear a lot about the importance of empathy and authenticity from leaders and ‘mindful management’. In reality this can be as simple as making time to understand people’s concerns, acknowledging them, asking what people need and offering practical support. If people feel they are being heard it goes a long way, as does leaders being open about their own situations and sharing how they are coping. And given you ‘can’t pour from an empty jug’ be aware of your own wellbeing and state of mind and how it might be impacting on your decision making or on others.
Finally, in an uncertain world don’t forget the ‘power of small wins’. When there are huge challenges, or indeed big opportunities ahead, it can be daunting. Breaking down into manageable tasks how people can contribute and gain a sense of achievement and progress will help with motivation and productivity. Many, out of necessity, will also have got used to working more independently and autonomously at home, so while support is vital, defaulting to micromanagement as people return will hinder not help their engagement.