I spent many of my corporate years as a road warrior. I would be on the road three weeks out of every four. When I wasn’t traveling, I worked from home. On top of the stress and fatigue that comes with living out of a suitcase, I never really knew where I fit in. My travels took me to different work sites where I interacted with many different people, but because I was always bouncing around, the relationships I made were shallow. I was never in one place long enough to be in on the inside jokes. When others were going out for drinks after work, I was running through security to catch my next flight. I never felt truly connected to the organisation.
Throughout the last year, many employees in organisations across the world have shared the same sentiment for possibly the first time. They may not have been racing through an airport – but instead, working from home. Not interacting with co-workers as they did before has left them feeling disconnected. While many have embraced the work-from-home life and strongly wish to continue that practice, they admit that they don’t feel as a part of something as they did when they were in the office.
Now that many companies are deciding on their return-to-work plans and mostly focusing on hybrid environments, figuring out how to make employees feel connected will be more important than ever. Leaders face a unique challenge when the work site could change from day to day. If leaders have some employees in the office and others at home, those challenges grow even larger. The good news is the environment and intrinsic qualities that employees were looking for pre-pandemic haven’t changed. They want to feel connected. They want to feel that their work is a part of something. They want to feel their work is appreciated.
The role of leadership
Leaders foster this type of experience by ensuring employees have multiple ways to stay connected, both on an individual and group level. Employees who go days or weeks without hearing from their leader likely feel disconnected to the bigger picture.
Ensuring employees have no barriers to collaboration, even when working from home, is vital to group connection. Being transparent and honest about all company happenings, the good and the bad, builds loyalty and makes employees feel as though they are truly part of the team.
Relying on recognition
Recognition, as it always has, also plays an important role in employee experience in a hybrid setting. Just over a year ago we asked employees to change their lives overnight. Now we are asking them to do it again. We are asking them to have different schedules based on the day or to easily flip between being at home with family or in the office with colleagues. This isn’t easy for anyone.
Many employees feel they have put in even more hours during their work-from-home time. If hybrid work environments are used mostly for collaboration, this means that in-office days will be used for meetings, pushing even more work to those at-home days. Letting employees know how much their flexibility, adaptability, and hard work is appreciated is crucial to a positive work environment.
Recognition is one of those things that we know to do and yet often fall short. During the continued uncertainty of pandemic life, shuffling priorities between in-office and remote, employees will want to know more than ever that their efforts are recognised.
The great thing about recognition is that it has a ripple effect. When done frequently, and in public where appropriate, even the employees who aren’t recognised get a positive feeling about it. We are asking employees to do hard things – we should recognise that regularly.
Tying back to employee experience
Employee experience was a hot topic pre-pandemic and it will continue to be a focus. If we truly are in the middle of the “great resignation,” then employees could be only one event away from walking away.
The key to employee engagement has always been rather simple. The actions are not difficult, but the environment often makes them so. Leaders who focus on building hybrid environments that encourage connection and brandish recognition as the vital tool it is will continue to have teams who thrive regardless of what happens next.
About the Author
Sabrina is founder of Acacia HR Solutions, an HR consultancy.