Employee Engagement – What we can learn from the Covid19 Climate

Over the last month or so we have seen Covid-19 change the business and economic landscape beyond our wildest imagination. High streets and office blocks sit empty, schools, sports clubs and other municipal buildings are shut, and we are all being told to stay home for an indefinite period. Not even at the height of the second world war did our beloved pubs close their doors.

Many  businesses are struggling, and the immediate forecast may well look bleak. Last month the UN launched its Economic Report on Covid-19. The report describes the speed and scale of the outbreak, the severity of cases, as well as the societal and economic disruption of COVID-19. It reinforced the fact that Covid-19 brings with it a tough economic climate, but added that  the real challenge is how we go back to how life was before Covid19 and adapt in light of how our priorities both as employers and employees will have shifted.

The UN’s Report is one of the first to try and predict a business world post Covid19 . It addresses the immediate challenges that this virus has thrown into focus. Enforced shutdowns have forced businesses to attend to the immediate challenge of how to maintain operations and protect their staff. This has not been an easy transition, and unsurprisingly it has caught many business owners and management teams off guard.

Whilst most business owners realise that the current situation is unprecedented, it won’t last forever.  However, with many businesses forced  to make a number of tough decisions about furloughing staff, salary reductions and/or closing offices, it has given us all food for thought about what the working world will look like in the post Covid19 era.

The PC Era – What will be the “new normal”?

With the public being asked to social distance from each other and not leave home unless in emergency or seeking supplies, businesses have had to adapt. We have all been told to work from home. For many this is as simple as setting up their laptop or computer, finding a quiet space and getting on with their day. A few more video calls than face-to-face meetings, but essentially the work continues for now.

For others, sadly this is not possible, so their employment has ben put on hold until they are allowed back in the office, shop, factory or other place of work. What we do know is that this is unlikely to change for a good few months.

Let us not forget that our ability to adapt and even thrive in a variety of environments is one of the hallmarks of the human species.  So, when the initial chaos has settled down and people start to get into the swing of life at home and operate within the limitations set, will we appreciate the amount of time we are now able to spend with our family, the ability to work the hours when we are at our finest and the time saved  by not having to don work wear, a face of make-up or commute on a packed train? Will we reconsider our work life balance and assume new priorities?

For some, these will be questions asked in earnest.  For others, they will simply be climbing the walls counting down the hours until they can get back to work as they knew it before Covid19.  For employers and many business owners who carry the very real burden of  mounting office costs, this may prove to be an invaluable lesson in understanding what costs are really necessary and how they can make their businesses leaner and more efficient.  Will working from home and the use of a remote workforce become the new normal in the post Covid19 era and what other challenges might that create?

Engaging your colleagues remotely

Employee engagement is a term that has become increasingly familiar with business leaders and owners over the past decade. We have previously written about the benefit of reward and recognition schemes when trying to focus on employee engagement and also about why this is currently so important. But what can we learn from the current crisis that will remain highly valuable when we get through this?

One of the most important aspects of engagement that we have seen from our clients is the need to maintain regular and open channels of communication. Before Covid19, people often worked at home in a bid to find some undisturbed and focused time. Now, however, everyone is working from home and the need for interaction is ever more-important.

There are so many ways companies can encourage this, either via regular team video calls, the use of WhatsApp groups, desktop messenger or the old-fashioned way of picking up a phone. It will be easy to hide behind faceless emails and so the onus is on the company to ensure that their employees are embracing alternatives and utilising face-to-face forums.

Critically, an organisation’s culture does not have to change just because we don’t sit in the same room anymore. Many of the cultural and social activities that are the cornerstone of a company’s culture don’t have to end, they merely need to adapt. For example, recognition and rewarding of staff and colleagues publicly for the work they have done can now be done over a team video call or email. Likewise, the ability for peers to recognise one another’s work does not need to be extinguished simply by virtue of the fact that  they are now a virtual team.

In addition, the social aspect of a business does not have to fall by the wayside. Many organisations are still having their weekly team drinks, albeit employees are having to buy their own booze.  Some companies have even gone as far as to arrange for a bottle of wine to be delivered to the homes of their employees for them to share virtually. The same practice is being put in place with team breakfasts and lunches. Sounds novel now but will it become the new normal?

Earning employee engagement

Strong teams are built on loyalty, trust and time spent together.  There is therefore the worry about retaining the best talent and keeping your teams incentivised and intact. Currently, the focus for many employees is not on looking for a better role but on achieving job security in a very precarious time. Companies are going to have make sacrifices over the next 3-6 months and it’s those that go above and beyond to keep their staff satisfied, incentivised and with a real sense of job security that will reap the benefits of staff loyalty.

Employees are fickle and often have short memories, especially when their heads get turned by another offer. Once this current climate does go back to a perceived sense of normal, it may well become harder to hold on to talent you have – especially when you have not seen them for 3 months or so…

In times like these employees want to know they are valued and not just another number on the company’s books. Loyalty is a personal notion and often an emotional one – we can learn a lot from how companies drive customer loyalty on this basis – but there are two areas businesses can focus on to help with this.

Firstly, look at your leadership. Employees are worried about their physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as their financial stability and what the future holds. If the business is struggling it will impact everyone and not just the top brass and shareholders. It is key that the leadership is open and transparent and demonstrates a clear and convincing plan to get though the current situation. Communicate, regularly and with empathy.

Whilst everyone understands that not all jobs are guaranteed, they do want to know that everyone is trying their best to ease the burden. A great example of this  is Marriott International’s CEO, Arne Sorenson, who delivered an effective and touching video message to his entire global team, which has spread across social channels with nearly a million views, dubbing him an authentic and inspiring leader. Tis form of leadership demonstrated both Sorenson’s humility and vulnerability – two characteristics which allowed people to connect, feel a sense of belonging and loyalty.

Secondly, look at how you communicate your pastoral care in a ‘remote’ way.  Show your employees that the company cares about each one and that their personal welfare remains front and centre.   This can be done through regular communication, standardising support packages and making it clear that every job is as important as the next.

A new Mckinsey report details how Covid-19 will impact the future of business and on how businesses must focus on safeguarding the livelihoods and health of their employees first and only then turn the focus to rebuilding. If companies can do this in an honest and transparent way, it will naturally build employee engagement.

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Regardless of the current challenges, the working world is going to be a different place when we get back to normal. More people with realise the benefits of working from home and businesses will understand how to manage it better. Technology will become increasingly important and leadership will become a priceless commodity. However, the need to focus on employee engagement will never subside and will only become increasingly important as companies try to stand out and retain and attract the  best talent.

Employee recognition can help boost employee engagement and business success. Download our free e-book to find out more.