We are a few months into 2021, the one-year mark since COVID-19 changed the world has passed, and many feel their workloads have increased and stress levels have multiplied. HR professionals are up to their ears in handbooks, compliance and remote work challenges.
But it is never too late to get a fresh start. HR professionals should not pretend things are the same, but instead, make 2021 a game-changing year to make significant positive change for their organizations. Now is the time to listen and to take a look at what employees really need (spoiler alert: it is not a revised handbook).
As remote and hybrid work arrangements become less a pandemic response and increasingly a more permanent situation, leaders are asking how to engage teams in a meaningful and efficient way—long term. Teams are not necessarily struggling with productivity (studies demonstrate that employees are just as productive at home as they are in the office), but rather employees and leaders alike are struggling with camaraderie, connectedness and alignment.
Time and time again studies demonstrate strong teams lead to better work. One of the possible negative results of remote work is circuiting both the organic and intentional ways in which employees bond at work. While organizations can often get away with allowing employees to develop professional relationships on their own, remote work arrangements may require major interventions.
There are numerous ways business leaders can approach this. For instance, consider hosting virtual–or, where safe, in-person, socially distanced—happy hours or networking sessions where employees can connect outside of the transactional context of professional interactions. The important thing is the event focus on something other than work. But in addition to facilitated socializing, employers often underestimate the energy and drive that comes from teams working together toward a set of common goals, alignment of work to strategy and ultimately achieving the goals together—as a team.
With the right tools and commitment, businesses can make remote work just as engaging and motivating as in-person office work. Ultimately, remote work requires leaders to retune their managerial style to fit the situation. Managers need to adjust to the fact that contacting someone is no longer as easy as strolling down in the hall and that quick check-ins cannot be face-to-face. Gone are the days of water cooler chats and office potlucks to connect us. These and other remote work concerns are not insurmountable obstacles, however. Here are three powerful strategies leaders can implement to give their engagement strategy a refresh—and long-term success.
- Foster relationships–as a team and individually.
As with all things company culture-related, establishing positive relationships among employees is a top-down process. Managers should display the values and attitudes they expect from their employees. This means taking the time to learn about the team; have conversations with them about their goals, professional or otherwise; provide honest and meaningful feedback regularly; celebrate measured successes; share updates about the organization so people can feel connected to the “mothership”; show empathy with regard to people’s life or family circumstances. These are just a few of the many ways leaders can help employees feel connected to their coworkers and their business, even when hundreds or even thousands of miles may be between them.
- Set clear expectations and boundaries.
The term “boundaries” can have a negative connotation in some individuals’ minds, but boundaries are immensely beneficial in fostering productive, positive and trusting professional relationships. Moreover, they set the pre-conditions for free time. For instance, some companies may require employees to be available during the standard business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But those boundaries assume employees and managers have those hours available, when in fact they may have to care for their kids or elderly parents. Ultimately, the flexibility of arrangements will require clear communication between employees and employers to ensure boundaries and expectations are reasonable and agreed upon.
- Establish processes and leverage technology.
Thankfully, technology solutions exist that can help support, connect and automate the human side of business. A well-designed performance platform can enable teams to easily establish shared goals and objectives, track progress and support meaningful conversations (this is especially key for managers who may struggle with communication).
The easier the platform is to use, the better–this will drive usage. Allow employees to drive the process by defining their own key responsibilities, goals and set regular one on ones. An employee-driven performance platform fosters transparency, gives employees a sense of empowerment and allows employees to drive as much of the process as possible, minimizing the manager’s burden.
Culture + Process + Tool = Success
There is no question that connecting a remote or hybrid workforce requires a different set of skills from in-person work. But with a commitment to the continuous feedback culture, a process centered on strong relationships and some tech support, the payoff will be huge. Businesses of all sizes will move into 2021 and beyond prepared to conquer whatever comes next—growth, M&A or whatever the organizational goals may be.