Contact with Colleagues: A Key Engagement Lever in Times of Crisis

Employers across the UK are seeing the creative steps that their employees are taking organically to stay connected to one another via video conference. At Achievers, we see time and again from clients using our employee engagement platform, that colleague contact can make a huge difference to engagement levels.

Many HR leaders are doing everything they can to encourage this and are looking for new ways to keep colleagues connected. The challenge is making these interactions meaningful and authentic, as opposed to forced.

Research has shown that strong relationships between work colleagues can reduce the risk of burnout, increase motivation, aid employee health and help team members to flourish. Contact with colleagues can create a significant and measurable impact on productivity and outcomes.

How to increase high quality contact amidst WFH and social distancing office spaces

Much of the received wisdom on how to foster good quality contact between colleagues may need to be looked at through a new lens, however, as we navigate through COVID-19, we recommend these three best practices:

1.   “Water cooler” conversations at a safe distance – people returning to office spaces, having filled out the risk assessments, been heavily briefed about safe practices and having potentially disrupted their normal commuting to observe government guidance, may be hesitant to engage colleagues. Alternatively, after months of working from home, they may also be desperate to connect.

Safety is paramount, but businesses thrive on casual conversations about work and non-work-related matters. Leaders should encourage this interaction within social distancing guidelines. Another key element is to ensure that those in the office can appropriately engage with their colleagues whom still WFH. Using collaboration tools to bring these two distinct worlds together will take careful coordination over the next few months.

2.  Peer Recognition – A study from Harvard Business School found that recognition from “internal beneficiaries”—contact in the form of recognition between colleagues—can dramatically increase motivation and performance.

Creating a framework and culture that encourages recognition creates colleague contact points that extend beyond simple social interactions. Recognition from a trusted peer makes people feel valued. HR leaders should build a plan to encourage greater colleague recognition that connects those in or returning to the office or frontline duties, and team members working from home.

While peer recognition can cost your company nothing, it can have a significant and measurable impact on productivity and outcomes.

3.   Make People Feel at Home – Workers may be feeling more at home than they might have ever expected if for the last two months their dwelling-place has become both office and homestead. However, creating a sense of belonging is crucial. Research from Gartner shows creating a sense of belonging is critical to inclusion, which corresponds to greater on-the-job effort and intent to stay, as well as high employee performance.

Quality colleague contact in group settings, large and small, can foster a true sense of belonging. That could be regular video conference company updates or town halls, where leaders share updates transparently and employees are encouraged to raise their hands. Candid discussions about progress towards the wider mission of the organisation and how the business is living its values day-to-day can add to that sense of inclusion. However, an emphasis should also be put on fun social events that can create the necessary psychological relief while normal social interactions are currently not possible.

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Contact between colleagues must not be limited to the usual day-to-day tasks. To drive engagement, particularly during times of crisis, contact between colleagues should be authentic and on a more personal level, with peer-to-peer recognition actively encouraged by leaders.

Click here to find out more about Achievers’ employee engagement platform.