By: Sarah Kyo
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the employee experience and corporate culture to undergo a sudden transformation. In this “new normal,” many employees around the world will continue working remotely for the foreseeable future. Some employers, such as Twitter and Square, are even implementing a permanent remote work policy. Meanwhile, other companies are pondering their eventual return-to-work plans, including following necessary rules and regulations to keep their team healthy and safe. No matter your situation, your HR team will need to adapt your organization’s employee experience while also keeping your employees engaged. That way you’re more likely to retain your top talent during this challenging time.
The Re-Invention of the Employee Experience
Before the pandemic, open-office floorplans were popular at some organizations to encourage an “open-door” policy, a sense of transparency, and a collaborative work environment. However, employees will now need to become accustomed to a number of changes: Using protective barriers, wearing facial coverings, following a specific and staggered office schedule, and spacing desks more than six feet apart from co-workers are examples of workplace social-distancing measures. There will also need to be additional guidance and cleaning procedures surrounding the use of communal kitchens, meeting rooms, lounge areas, elevators, and other shared spaces.
In addition to these workplace adjustments, employees will need to adapt to far less physical interaction with their colleagues for the time being, which may hamper staff retreats, team outings, intramural sports, and other social gatherings that have helped sustained company culture in the past. Since the typical in-person events and perks have been put on hold or cancelled, part of the role of HR will be thinking of more creative employee engagement and talent strategies. Digital tools will play key roles, as employees continue heavily relying on video conferencing, instant messaging, emails, phone calls, and other digital forms of communication in their connected enterprise.
How Challenging Times Impact Employee Engagement
With this new work model, combined with economic uncertainty, high-profile examples of racial injustices, and numerous other stressors, it is unsurprising that employees are having a difficult time focusing on work. According to a recent Gallup survey, 47% of U.S. workers are “not engaged.” This means they are not mentally connected to their company or work and may even be actively searching for job opportunities elsewhere.
This detached mindset is not exclusive to an office environment. For example, the manufacturing industry already experienced lower levels of employee engagement before the pandemic – manufacturing executives have spent $18 billion on potential engagement tools and solutions. On top of that existing issue, COVID-19 has created severe operational, social, and financial consequences for manufacturers, including an unusually high demand for products, disruptions to the supply chain, and concerns over frontline workers’ health and safety.
Top Strategies for Keeping Employees Connected to the Enterprise
Regardless of industry, the role of HR will require helping employees stay informed and connected to each other and the company. That way, employees will feel more invested and be more likely to navigate this “new normal” with their current employer. While maintaining organizational culture is challenging during a global pandemic, it is important for companies to realize that their culture and talent strategies need to go beyond their workspace and office perks. These four tips can help you and your HR team amp up the culture during the pandemic and beyond:
1. Build Organizational Trust
During these uncertain times, it is easy for employees to feel disconnected from each other and out of the loop when your whole team is dispersed. That lack of information can lead to unnecessary stress, worry, and rumors. Instead of hearsay, the company should be the most trusted resource that employees have for any workplace topics. To create a sense of trust and security, the role of HR is to ensure that ongoing, effective communications are shared company wide. This includes current business updates, as well as communicating your return-to-work plan. Remember that part of effectively communicating and building trust is being a great listener, so solicit and be open to employee feedback.
2. Use an Agile Mindset
When everything around you is constantly changing, flexibility is key. Perhaps your company had specific goals in mind at the start of 2020, but you suddenly had to switch gears in response to COVID-19. Organizational agility allows your team to quickly adapt to changes in the market while also establishing a stable foundation for following through with your new direction. During this “new normal,” you can experiment with creating cross-functional teams that address pressing issues, as well as figuring out new processes for accomplishing current priorities.
3. Create a Human-Centric Culture
Your employees are more likely to be productive and put forth their best work when they know that their employer cares for them. Make sure that you’re taking your employees’ needs and concerns into consideration when addressing topics such as your return-to-work plan. Another way of showing how much you value your employees is through how you communicate to a diverse workforce. For instance, personalizing your messages for different audience groups can make your information more relevant to each employee, and they will be more likely to pay attention to what you have to say.
4. Prioritize Employees’ Well-Being
When people are constantly sitting at a desk or looking at a screen, the likelihood of fatigue, stress, and burnout increases. Make mental health a priority by offering wellness resources and encouraging people to take time-off. If you have essential, frontline workers at your organization, make sure you have procedures, programs, and benefits to help protect their safety and take care of their health.
This new way of working has led to sudden changes to the employee experience. Some of those changes may be distractions for your employees, causing them to disengage with your organization over time. However, the role of HR is to take this opportunity to connect with your team in new, creative ways to build even stronger connections regardless of location. That way your top talent can feel more connected with your company and focus more on being productive