The COVID-19 pandemic is completely redefining the way teams work and communicate. Earlier the remote work was offered by few companies as a way to offer a more flexible lifestyle to their employees, however, it has now become the norm for most organisations amidst the outbreak. The agility of organisations will be tested in how they keep their remote employees engaged and productive. For this, a holistic employee engagement that focuses on a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is imperative for organisational success.
The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing on new challenges for organisations across the world. With work from home (WFH) becoming the new norm, organisations are now faced with the task of moving to a remote-only work environment. Like in many IT companies, it is now going to extend to other sectors like manufacturing, services, medical etc. WFH does not require great infrastructure; it just requires a Laptop/Desktop Computer, a secure internet connection, a chat and conferencing facility, a dedicated place to work, a smartphone, and lastly, self-discipline and routine. The COVID-19 lockdown period has precipitated work from home and compelled companies worldwide and in India to embrace remote working.
However, one big question in the business leaders’ mind today is- ‘How do we engage employees working remotely?’ Indian managers are not used to working with people without seeing them face to face and supervising them all the time. There may be an issue of ‘trust’; managers may find it difficult to trust employees working remotely. In times such as these, engaging and binding the employees to the Vision, Values, and Culture of the organisation is crucial that cannot be achieved without leadership that walks the talk and actively champions remote working.
Traditionally, employee engagement is a concept that is generally viewed as managing discretionary effort; that is when employees are given choices, encouraged and empowered to do better in their jobs that inspire them to give extra effort and drive the business in a meaningful way. An engaged employee is a person who is fully involved and enthusiastic about his or her work, has a strong belief in the organisation, desires to work and make things better, has a better understanding of the business context and sees the bigger picture, is respectful and helpful to colleagues, keeps himself updated with developments in his field of work and most importantly, has the willingness to go the extra mile and beyond the call of duty.
Human Resource Professionals try their best to engage employees using both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. When working in an office it becomes easy to conduct engagement activities. We see a lot of extrinsic activities happening in the office such as rangoli and songs competition, Diwali/Christmas celebrations, potluck lunches, hobby displays and so on. Intrinsic activities like coaching employees to succeed in their jobs, managing their performance and helping and aiding them with programs to enhance performance, training etc helps to drive employee engagement. A face to face interaction with the boss is also very effective in bonding and engaging the employees.
How is this going to happen when employees are scattered and working remotely or working from home? Here are a few suggestions to help your employees feel connected and engaged.
1. Adequate Working Equipment
The first and foremost thing is to provide employees with adequate WFH/remote working equipment. All employees should have the basics to work remotely and organisations will have to spend money on IT infrastructure for each and every employee who has to work from home or remotely. This will demonstrate that the company is genuinely interested to get the work done remotely and is keen to facilitate the process as all employees may not have the equipment. This will minimize frustrations among employees and give them a feeling of being wanted and motivate them to perform their duties efficiently.
2. Guiding Policy is a Must
Set up a clear set of guiding policies to govern remote work. organisations and HR Professionals should quickly formulate a WFH/Remote Working Policy. This policy should be made available to all employees and should have all the norms and guidelines for working from home or remotely. Set start and stop times and abide by them. It should not be that it begins early in the morning and goes on late till evening or night causing stress to employees. When employees know that management supports flexibility and they have the liberty of doing work at their own pace, this makes them feel like they are a part of organisational culture.
3. Daily Meetings
Schedule daily meetings and discuss the agenda for the day. Although employees are not coming to the office but still, they have to go about their work as usual. They desire to interact with their managers daily, if not face to face, then virtually through video conferencing/skype or zoom calls. It will give them the comfort of togetherness and minimize the feeling of isolation which is normally felt while working remotely. The manager setting up the agenda for the day and reviewing it in the evening gives a sense of working together as a team. Employees will tend to feel more engaged and contribute more productively during these difficult times.
4. Freedom to Schedule Their Work
Give employees the freedom to schedule the work at their pace and complete tasks on mutually agreed deadlines. ‘Employees are responsible and value their work’ is the premise on which managers need to operate going forward. Assign them tasks and agree on deadlines and just leave them to work. Do not micromanage or nag them on phone/WhatsApp/mails etc. Allow them to complete the work at their own pace of course within set deadlines. This is another good way to foster engagement.
5. Communicate Well
Communicate, communicate and over-communicate the organisational Vision, Values, Mission and reinforce them periodically. Make the remote employees feel included and a part of the organisation and organize periodic quizzes, meetings, seminars etc reinforcing the above. Even the CEO or the Functional Head should conduct meetings/Town Halls once a fortnight at least to talk to them virtually and share his/her thoughts, ideas and progress etc. This will give the remote employee a feeling of being a part of a big team and working for a purpose.
6. Create Cross-Functional Groups
Create small cross-functional groups of people who discuss the progress of their work amongst themselves virtually. This will enable the employees to know what is happening in the organisation beyond their work area and some may even contribute to other tasks and activities and share their ideas. This will be a powerful way to drive engagement. The employees will talk informally and may not miss the office atmosphere and grapevine. This is going to be the so-called ‘Water Cooler Talks’ as it generally happens in offices.
7. Promote Online Learning
Based on the training requirements of employees, facilitate and enable remote working employees to enroll for online courses/webinars/virtual learning sessions etc. to sharpen their skills. Employees should get a feeling that managers genuinely want to empower them and make them ready for future roles and responsibilities. This should not be restricted only to technical training but also involve personal growth and behavioral training.
8. Happy Hours
Earmark an hour or so daily as Happy Hour, preferably towards the end of the day. Managers should engage with remote working employees over coffee and discuss things beyond work. Give a personal touch to the meeting by asking the wellbeing of the family and getting to know each other better, their likes and dislikes etc. All these will help to create a bond among employees and managers and in turn enhance engagement.
9. Appreciate and Share Feedback
There is a tendency in employees to feel isolated and left out while working remotely. As a manager, one needs to be cognizant of this and take the necessary steps to appreciate and provide adequate performance feedback to employees working remotely. This is very critical as employees covertly or overtly want both feedback and appreciation. This is a major engagement driver. In a virtual context, it becomes more important to appreciate the achievements of employees and share it amongst others and also give feedback; talk about performance and career plans. All these will engage employees and motivate them intrinsically.
10. Celebrate Virtually
Festivals, events, all that we do in offices should be done virtually as well. I would also recommend involving families in these celebrations. This will help create an everlasting bond and drive employee engagement virtually.
In the end, I would say that it is the direct responsibility of company leadership to help the remote team members to feel included, empowered and engaged. It is going to be difficult, no doubt, but the good news is that remote employee engagement is not an impossible task. organisations will have to make their employees their top priority, observe and identify the opportunities for improvement, offer a helping hand to the employees in need and implement new ways of working and communicating to support them. A holistic employee engagement that focuses on a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is imperative for organisational success, and the above points may help drive it enormously.