COVID-19 has been a roller-coaster for business leaders across many industries. We found our companies, traditionally operating in offices, shifting to employee’s homes with very little notice. While our technology infrastructure has allowed this to happen with relative ease, the toll this has taken on our interpersonal skills may be falling under the radar. As business leaders, we need to make a conscious effort to lead our teams in both the current and future landscapes of business.
As we carry out our plans to return to the office, we need to be cognizant of the fact that things will never be the same. What the landscape will be like in the short and long term for office and remote workers is a questions being raised by many.
Among some of the scenarios, we are likely to see staggered teams, for a prolonged period, with groups of employees alternating in-office work schedules. It is important to balance these teams as much as possible to allow people the resources they need while physically in the office, while including those who are not in the office.
Although there are numerous benefits to working together in the office, employers and employees have seen great success working remotely, which begs the question of whether or not extended remote working will continue as “the new normal” after the pandemic.
If you are a business owner thinking about how to navigate the new landscape for the betterment of your work teams, here are a few ideas to keep in mind to continue employee engagement while working remotely:
Practice Empathy – Our personal lives are interacting with our work lives now more than ever, but without informal “watercooler talk” it is easy to miss cues regarding our employees. We need to be listening, relating, and understanding the struggles our employees are facing in their new environments, and propose solutions. People may not be able to work the typical ‘9 to 5’ while parenting, homeschooling, and getting their work done, so their work day may be broken into multiple segments. While not ideal, it is a reality that many are facing and keeping open lines of communication is key to making it work.
Host Virtual Events and Meetings – Due to social distancing guidelines and ensuing concerns, large meetings are unlikely to occur in the near future. That, coupled with staggered schedules, will continue the ongoing need for virtual meetings. Many people are reluctant to speak up in large virtual meetings, so smaller groups of five to six employees can be a more engaging supplement that allows everyone to have a voice. Groups can meet for coffee, lunch, or happy hour based on common interests or be randomly selected with a few conversation starters to kick things off.
Communicating Project Status – Understanding the status of work is critical in a remote or staggered work environment. Since people are not working within a regular schedule, emails or phone calls may go unanswered for extended periods of time, making it more important than ever for teams to communicate the status of work. Project management apps allow for multiple users to document status of work and see progress. When used in conjunction with regularly scheduled meetings, it can give the entire team peace of mind about current project status, next steps, and allow people to provide input and suggestions for improvement.
Ideas can come from anywhere. Encourage employees to speak up about their needs and ideas for engagement. Talk to external contacts about how they are keeping employees engaged. Talk to children about how their teachers are keeping classes engaged. We are all in this together so anything that can maintain our sense of community is a win.