Employee engagement during times of change – a shift in direction?

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By Natasha Standen | 21st December 2020 | 5 min read

Just last year, the discussion in favour of the expansion of remote working practices was gaining much traction in the business world, with workers across the UK and further afield keen to regain a better work-life balance, whilst maintaining employee engagement levels.

Cut to 2020, and the long-reaching effects of COVID-19 have had a previously unfathomable impact on the acceleration of remote working practices, normalising them overnight for many employees. We have essentially created the biggest working from home experiment ever.  

However, as we fast approach the one-year anniversary of this global pandemic, what started as an enforced move is showing variable signs of change. Whilst the acceleration of remote working has undoubtedly bought about positives, such as a reduction in commuting times, and working inclusion for people struggling with mental and physical health issues, it has also ushered in challenges for businesses that are still getting to grips with digital change.  

As HR teams struggle to adapt to the new business demands that remote working inevitably brings, senior leadership teams are now showing a keen interest in how to maintain the engagement levels of an increasingly remote workforce. There is no denying that engagement is difficult to maintain in a virtual context, and many businesses are realising that to successfully make unified decisions and change direction when necessary, a collaborative approach amongst staff at all levels is required.  

Employee engagement and change  

Engagement is a key part of the change process for any business, yet has often been overlooked. When viewed as part of the change management process, engagement really boils down to process of transitioning initial ownership from say, an executive to a team member, or from an operational team to a person. For change to be sustainable, those who are going to carry it out must understand it fully, and the cultural effect of clear, two-way communication between leaders and employees must not be underestimated.  

The general workforce are usually the biggest advocates of organisational change, identifying firstly, what needs to change, and secondly, the best way to affect the positive change. By helping to ensure that good communication is embedded into company culture, you stand a better chance of engaging your employees – a social science study has shown that if people can opt in and shape their working environment, they are up to five times more likely to stay committed to their workplace in the future. But, in our current remote working environment, how do you ensure that company communication effectively cuts through the other virtual communication noise that employees are bombarded with?  

Cutting through the noise 

Whilst it can be difficult to apply a successful workplace communication strategy to a remote environment, there are several easy ways to cut through the general communication noise and simultaneously stimulate engagement:  

  • Establish daily check-ins: Make sure that all employees are part of a daily catch up; whether independently or on a wider team level; to ensure that successes, issues and concerns are heard. 
  • Establish the ‘rules’ of engagement: Set ground rules for how workplace technology should be used and when. For example, you may have a daily video call for daily check in meetings, the use of an instant messaging service for urgent queries, and 24-hour response policy for emails. Letting your staff know what methods are available for communication can only support it in the long run. 
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction: This could be as simple as a virtual ‘drinks event’ every Friday, a monthly ‘lunch and learn at home,’ or even just dedicating time on a Monday catch up call for people to discuss their news from the weekend. Fostering social interaction outside of work tasks is even more important in the virtual environment.  
  • Offer encouragement and emotional support: During such an abrupt shift to remote working, it has never been more important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to anxieties and concerns, and empathise with working struggles. If remote employees are struggling but not communicating, this is even more important. 
  • Set up virtual mentoring schemes / run question polls:  You may well have run similar schemes within your office environment, but they can be successfully managed virtually. Pair up employees from different backgrounds and generations to boost knowledge and cross communication, and really utilise your workplace software to gather staff opinions on the business, and any changes that could be made to produce more positive results.  

Employee engagement - a generational divide? 

It should also be noted that many staff engage differently in a remote environment, and factors that may be important to them in an office environment, may be less important to them at home. For example, ‘millennials’ may be enthusiastic devotees of a complementary lunchtime yoga class in the office, but would maybe rather condense their lunch to half an hour at home so they can finish work earlier.  

Different generations also require different things from work; for example, older employees may be less well versed in different technology methods, and could prefer to focus on one task at a time instead of flitting between several.  

These ideas and more were explored in detail during one of the discussion sessions during our recent IRIS Live business conference event. During the talk; Focusing on Employee engagement and wellbeing during a time of crisis; Natalie Tedstone, Recruitment and Talent Director at IRIS said that company engagement should really start from an employee’s first interaction:  

“Engagement should be evident from the very beginning of the recruitment process – via our advert, the job board experience, and during the interview stage. 

“In modern times, it is important to effectively engage with people as a brand before you recruit. Articulating your mission and values to a future employee is key, and this then carries on through their journey with you.” 

“Ongoing engagement can then be translated into areas such as virtual inductions, mentoring sessions and schemes, and workplace polls. These are all quick way to engage with employees.” 

Click here to listen to the panel discussion in full 

Employee engagement - can technology help?  

The help of a cohesive communications system should not be underestimated, especially when dealing with the challenge of remote working. For example, both our IRIS Engage platform as a singular entity, and IRIS Cascade as a completely comprehensive HR communications system, can offer you the ability to implement, digitise and manage mass employee questioning, via surveys, opinion polls and more.  

Employee engagement platforms are designed to make all interaction and communication with your teams easier, less expensive, faster and more effective. Find out more about IRIS Engage and IRIS Cascade today!