A popular phrase we are hearing at the moment is “reboarding”. For those not in the know, reboarding is the process of re-introducing people back to work after the disrupted situation caused by COVID-19.
Trying to engage your employees – and keep them engaged – was already difficult before the global pandemic. Now, after months of remote working, with a potential recession and job losses looming, and a virus still in circulation, it is going to be even harder.
However, we believe re-engaging teams in a post-COVID-19 workplace is going to be high on the agenda for all workplaces and in particular, managers and HR teams.
When reopening the office, some workers may take time to get used to it after months of working from home (WFH). So, keep reading for strategies aimed at motivating and retaining valuable employees. Many of the strategies will sound like common sense, but you would be surprised how many managers neglect to follow them.
- What is employee engagement?
- Why maintaining employee engagement should be a priority
- Returning to work after COVID-19
- Strategies to re-engage employees post-COVID-19
- Keeping your team motivated remotely
What is employee engagement?
According to the Australian Psychological Society (APS), employee engagement is understood in different ways. In the field of organisational psychology, a popular approach has been to see work engagement as a ‘state of mind’ characterised by three key factors:
1. Vigour. This refers to high levels of energy and mental resilience, as well as a willingness to invest effort in one’s work.
2. Dedication. Intense involvement in work tasks that one experiences as significant and meaningful.
3. Absorption. The state of being focused and positively engrossed in one’s work, to the extent that time seems to pass quickly.
Others have characterised work engagement as feeling energetic, enthusiastic, alert and feeling pride towards their work outcomes. Engagement feels good and has a range of positive outcomes for psychological well being.
On the flip side, you can notice the signs of disengagement when employees lack energy and motivation. Like when they only put in enough effort to do the bare minimum, do not appear to be committed to the task at hand and lack focus. From this perspective, employees effectively decide how much they will engage with their work and spend effort based on the support and resources provided by the organisation.
Research shows that employee engagement is related to a range of outcomes. This includes job performance, satisfaction, commitment, turnover intentions, stress and burnout.
What does a disengaged employee look like?
Take the example of “Heather”. She is a very competent Project Manager at a representative office. She was hired a few months before the lockdown period and is already thinking of looking elsewhere. Her main reason is that she gets no feedback from her manager. She also does not understand how her work fits into the company’s overall goals.
Her motivation and morale are low mainly because she receives no feedback on her performance. Although her hours are much better than they were at her last company, she is not as engaged in her work and does not care as much.
As many managers know, Heather’s story is not unique.
Why maintaining employee engagement should be a priority
Having a dedicated focus on employee engagement has never been more important. As reported by Dale Carnegie Training, companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 202%, and highly engaged businesses benefit from a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales.
👨🏻💼 Engaged employees make better decisions for their companies and clients because they understand more.
👩🏻🔬 They are more productive because they like or love what they are doing.
👨🏻💻 An engaged team innovates more because they deeply want their organisation to succeed.
In this sense, an organisation with an engaged workforce will not only survive but thrive in the future.
Essentially, engaged employees will be the hardest workers. They are also the ones committed to staying with an organisation long-term and who make the most contribution to the business’s bottom line.
Furthermore, employees want to feel a sense of belonging and that they’re contributing in a meaningful way. One of the best ways to achieve this is by ensuring that the company workplace culture is the best it can be.
Returning to work after COVID-19
As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease around Australia, companies and organisations will need to prepare to reopen their businesses. But bringing your team back to work is not as easy as flicking a switch. There are important considerations through this transition period.
Each business has its own unique set of challenges. However, in spite of these challenges, businesses face the same concerns. Where do you begin? How can you protect your people? Is there a right way to move forward?
First, you need to be aware that the work environment post-COVID-19 will not be the same as the one you left. Keep reading this guide and learn how to re-engage your employees post-COVID-19.
Emotions you can expect your employees to be feeling
It is essential to be mindful of the different emotions your employees will be feeling when they return to work. This can help you be more compassionate and understanding, ensuring you know exactly what’s going to motivate them. The most common feelings will be:
- Loss of freedom. Your workers will have grown overly fond of their routine and working to their own time and rules. Being thrown back into work and under the rules of their boss can be quite a shock.
- Afflicted. Your employees may feel underprepared to go back to work or perhaps they feel fearful about the unknown.
- Unsupported. They may feel like the necessary protocols haven’t been put in place for them to return to work. Or perhaps you haven’t given them enough time to sort their childcare.
- Confused. Your employees may feel baffled about their feelings towards going back to work. This can be because of a range of things including; using public transport to get to work, whether they want to socialise again, or why their friends or families haven’t all returned to the office.
- Demotivated. Many people will have lost the drive they once had before lockdown. Perhaps they are also thinking about whether they will be back to square one again.
- Nervous about relationships. Some workers may feel concerned about seeing co-workers who they haven’t seen for months.
- Annoyed. Some employees will feel angry because you aren’t following the new restrictions and guidelines how they would expect you to.
- Excited. A lot of employees will be happy to get back to work and into a normal routine, having spent many months at home.
Expect unengaged employees
With all of the changes that 2020 has already brought, employees are looking for a sense of normality. Having spent months out of the office only to return to a new socially-distanced environment will take its toll.
For months, each team member has been working from home without their colleagues around them. This segregation will have led to a decrease in acknowledgement and appreciation, both from management and on a peer-to-peer level.
Furthermore, with media headlines focussing on the vast number of job losses, many workers are worried about the security of their own roles.
Also, employees got used to a life working from home where they had more free time available for their family and new hobbies. Now they are back in the office with regulations in place to stop any kind of relationship-building.
Strategies to re-engage employees post-COVID-19
Are you a supervisor facing the challenge of maintaining productivity and motivation for yourself and your team members? Consider these strategies on how to re-engage and motivate employees at work post-COVID-19.
Manage health and safety
It’s up to you to ensure a healthy, safe work environment. Has your company planned sanitisation protocols and more stringent and regular cleaning? Do you have guidelines for physical distancing and personal protective equipment use? Can you secure safety equipment (like face masks) for use by employees?
As your team returns to the office, you should ensure safe distancing between employees and visitors. Prepare how to safely manage the flow of people in and out of the workplace. Also plan for collaboration spaces, meeting rooms and hot-desking.
Keep staff engaged with recognition
After a year where the entire world was forced to stay in self-isolation, delivering employee recognition has become a matter of concern for leaders, managers, and HR executives worldwide.
Recognition in the workplace is quintessential for the overall success of the organisation. When you acknowledge your employees for their outstanding work, they feel celebrated for their contributions. It fuels their determination to do better and earn appreciation from their managers and co-workers.
Employees need to receive constructive feedback to be productive, especially in challenging circumstances such as working from home. Be sure to have a structure in place to provide this feedback, for example, through 1-on-1 meetings and facilitating structured conversations within teams.
Another way is by saying “thank you” for achievements, no matter how small. Through this simple action, you’ll be demonstrating just how much the employee means to the business.
Set goals together
Instead of creating a rigid daily work plan, try working with team members to identify tasks that need to be completed in an agreed period, such as a week. That way, the responsibility is on the employee to work out the best way to manage their time to get the tasks done.
Moreover, by introducing a deadline for particular milestones, you can refocus their attention to business. After setting goals together, you’ll gain buy-in from them and provide something tangible to work towards.
Foster a growth mindset
Employees are more engaged if they feel there is the potential to grow and develop their career within your organisation. Enable your team to try new things and encourage out-of-the-box thinking. This is necessary for overcoming new challenges posed by the current situation.
Try flexible working hours
The age of 9-5 working weeks is gradually fading. If the nature of your business allows it, give your staff the opportunity to occasionally work from home and customise their working hours. The regularity of the working week can be severely debilitating for some and lead to poor levels of engagement.
Create a dynamic workplace, not one that is hampered by old values.
Disengaged employees are not lost causes. If you use just one or two of these working practices, you stand a far greater chance of developing a team that is engaged, creative and unafraid. And that’s a very healthy place to work in.
Keeping people in the loop is an effective way to drive employee engagement. So be transparent with your employees about your plans.
Try to be positive in your communication but don’t over-promise. Moreover, if everything is not going so well, avoid keeping your employees in the dark. Feeling sidelined is one reason why mistrust can take root among your workforce.
Instead, give your employees frequent updates so they can feel fully supportive of you. Furthermore, solving problems requires communication. In this context, try using structured conversation, a powerful communication tool that fosters understanding and provides direction.
Choose the right messaging for your employees. Be sure to tailor it for both those returning to the office and the ones who will remain working from home.
Communicate regularly to re-engage employees post-COVID-19 through the channels that work best for your organisation, such as:
- Company newsletter
- Letters from CEO sent by email
- Company updates
- Internal podcast
Encourage recovery time
Research shows that employees will experience higher levels of engagement when they commence the workday after a significant period of recovery.
During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to evaluate the typical employee’s work situation and to encourage time away from work, ensuring sufficient recovery time.
Employees working from home are likely to spend a lot more time in front of a computer. This, along with the stress and anxiety of recent changes, may make them more prone to feel exhausted. Motivating employees to take plenty of breaks throughout the day or to regularly step-out for fresh air and natural light will help in aiding recovery and increasing energy.
Design an optimal work experience
Use tools to design an “optimal experience” rather than just solving a pressing problem. There may be a number of key challenges related to new hire onboarding, new manager orientation, project implementation or internal mobility. It is important to design for the experience, not just to solve an immediate problem.
Borrow methods outside of HR such as Agile project management, design thinking, or employee journey mapping. This will lead to improving your business as you keep iterating with employees and key stakeholders.
In this context, MEERQAT is an easy-to-use tool that gives teams a meaningful way to improve processes and programs. You can book a demo or contact us to help you re-engage your employees post-COVID-19.
Meet with your team
According to the book Coronavirus: Leadership and Recovery, published by Harvard Business Review, now is the time for leaders to listen and create a safe environment in which everyone can talk. They advise managers to hold a performance cycle meeting for the team that covers the following:
- What impact did we have last week and what did we learn?
- What commitments do we have this week? Who is “on point” for each?
- How can we help each other with this week’s commitments?
- What are the areas where we should experiment to improve performance this week?
- What experiments will we run and who is taking the lead for each?
Importantly, research shows that leadership directly impacts on engagement, particularly through building trust, ensuring support and building psychological safety.
Keeping your team motivated remotely
Working-from-home and teleworking have been a necessary practice for many organisations during the lockdown period of the COVID-19 crisis.
Businesses moved to having their entire workforces working remotely in order to protect their staff and the wider community. The pandemic separated people from their workplaces, co-workers and familiar daily routines.
With most states, localities, companies and health officials beginning to set parameters around reopening businesses and returning to the office, some people need to continue working remotely. So, when employees need to work from home, or their future still looks uncertain many months after the pandemic started, what is the best way to keep them engaged?
Small acts of appreciation, such as saying “thank you” for a job well-done, are an important affirmation, even when you can’t meet face-to-face to say it. More visible acts of appreciation will also be welcomed by your team. This might include talking about an employee’s accomplishments during team meetings, mentioning their work in conversations where managers are present, and giving them opportunities to work more closely with senior leadership. This type of affirmative behaviour will make workers feel proud and validated during a time when contact with co-workers is limited.
Involve staff in decision making
Hold “what’s your opinion” meetings, include your team in discussions and organise regular meetings for them to ask questions and share their thoughts to improve their work experience.
This will make your workers feel trusted and valued as insiders in their organisation. Ask a team member to create an assessment process to help make decisions, signalling them that they are considered capable, trustworthy and an integral part of the team.
Provide individualised support
When leaders show an understanding of employees’ needs, preferences, and circumstances when it comes to working arrangements, employees feel it provides the individualised support they need to help them accomplish goals. People have different family situations, living arrangements, and socioeconomic circumstances, as well as varying degrees of familiarity with remote-work technology and best practices.
Arrange regular tele-meetings one-on-one with your remote team members to provide direction and to check in with them on how they and their families are doing. Show awareness of their specific challenges and redistribute work tasks among team members to accommodate changing needs.
Being happy with your job often depends more on intangibles, such as feeling part of a team and feeling appreciated.
These behaviours help workers feel less stressed and experience more positive feelings towards managers. It also creates an atmosphere of trust and understanding that motivates them to apply themselves more fully to work.
Designate time and space for team bonding
As a leader, you can create specific opportunities for your employees to connect and bond with their co-workers. Essentially, just because your team has to work remotely, doesn’t mean they have to feel isolated. Here are some fun ideas to engage them while working from home:
- Celebrate birthdays
- Hold virtual coffee breaks, happy hours, lunches
- Organise a remote yoga session
- Arrange an afternoon of quiz or trivia games
- Have dress-up Fridays
These practices help employees to get to know each other in an informal setting. They also help relieve stress and motivate them to perform well in their jobs.
Moreover, having a distributed workforce can have a huge impact on the levels of employee engagement, so enable your team to work collaboratively as if they were actually next to one another, by having the correct online tools to work.
- An internal chat platform such as Slack
- A video conferencing tool like Zoom or Google Meets
- Cloud-based collaborative applications like Google Docs and Sheets
- Web-based project management or process tool to ensure that all team members are aware of what is happening
The pandemic has given managers an opportunity to reflect on how to actively demonstrate inclusive and supportive behaviour for teams and individuals.
We know some of these techniques to re-engage your employees post-COVID-19 may come more easily to you than others. But as we continue to grapple with the ongoing repercussions of the pandemic, the best leadership approach is to emphasise the techniques where you feel strong, and take time to practice those that feel more challenging.
Seek out new ways to expand your repertoire of inclusive behaviours by incorporating some new practices. Having to navigate the unforeseen disasters and catastrophes of a pandemic tests leadership; but it can also help you expand your own comfort zone, and by extension, your ability to lead through crises.
This is your moment to support your employees, understand the emotional stresses they are under, and encourage them to stay positive in a world of uncertainty. What is your organisation doing to create an optimal employee experience during these times? What are your plans to re-engage your employees post-COVID-19?