Ask the Expert | Summer 2020

How to keep employees engaged as they work remotely

Woman at desk

By Adam Burroughs

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. suddenly, forcing employers to act fast. Many employees were directed to work from home, and employers had to quickly shore up their network infrastructure and ensure employees had all the equipment they needed to do their jobs. Today, while most employers have largely resolved their technical concerns, they now need to address another critical issue, one they may be overlooking—maintaining a positive culture and keeping employees engaged.

Matthew Hall, culture development director at Huntington, says this may be the first time many people have had to work from home. And considering that each employee handles change and stress differently, he says some employees may need more support than others.

Ask ‘How are you doing?’

In this environment, when so much has been disrupted, support means something different to each employee. For instance, some employees may not be able to take their children to daycare because of closures, so they will benefit from an employer's understanding and flexibility. Hall says that’s why leaders should ensure that their conversations with employees include questions such as, “How are you doing?” and “Do you have everything you need?” to address individual struggles and put employee well-being at the forefront.

And while the disruption warrants an increase in communication, this is not the time to micromanage. People were hired because you trusted them to do their jobs, says Hall. Moving to a remote work environment shouldn’t create different expectations or require more frequent checkups, unless there are declines in productivity or the colleague asks for more.

However, for most employers, declines haven’t been an issue, says Hall, as people continue to be as productive working remotely as they were in the office. Isolating at home has instead created another issue, that of people working too much. Hall says it’s important for leaders to help employees manage their time so they don’t burn out. This could mean encouraging them to go for a walk during the day or helping them find other ways to disconnect.

“When you now have, in some cases, a spouse that’s working from home and kids that are now schooling from home, how do you fit all that in?” Hall says. “Where there is fatigue, employers should consider how they can support that employee from a wellness perspective and help people cope with that because, ultimately, it’s important to make sure people are both safe and healthy so that they can be successful.”

How are we taking what we’ve learned already and putting that into place, and thinking about what the workplace of the future might look like?
Matthew Hall
Culture Development Director, Huntington

Creating connection

Maintaining engagement at a time when much of the workforce is operating outside the office is a balance for managers too. It means both caring for employees and reminding them of their significant contributions. Hall says that could mean videos from senior leadership thanking employees for their work or sharing stories about how employees have made a difference for clients.

“Communicate to employees the great work that everybody’s doing and how people are coming together as an organization to make sure that they’re continuing to take care of each other and take care of customers,” Hall says.

Companies should also find ways for their employees to have fun. For instance, Hall says employers could encourage employees to do teleconferencing hang-outs—a virtual lunch or a post-work virtual happy hour—to chat informally and connect, much like they would if they were together physically. This could help employees who are missing the camaraderie they had with colleagues in the office.

Onboarding adjustments

Another consideration is making sure that new employees start with, and can maintain, a high level of interaction with people they’ve never met in person. Onboarding—where engagement starts— has had to go virtual. For employers who are hiring while offices are closed, Hall says considerations should be made so new employees have everything they need to do their jobs effectively. That means quickly shipping them equipment and being available to talk them through setup.

Companies can also appoint onboarding ambassadors to follow up with new employees to ensure they’re getting their footing in their new roles. In addition, where feasible, have colleagues across the organization reach out to new hires to introduce themselves and offer support.

Onboarding processes should be refreshed to reflect the new realities of the job and work conditions. Hall recommends reviewing current onboarding plans and asking what new information needs to be part of virtual sessions and what can be eliminated because it no longer applies.

“The good thing is this that could actually benefit organizations in the longer term because they can learn some things now that can be built into their onboarding practices moving forward,” Hall says.

Change for the future

Organizations have the opportunity to take what they’re learning about employee engagement during this pandemic and create even better places to work. But they need to be intentional and authentic about that effort to make lasting change.

“How are we taking what we’ve learned already and putting that into place, and thinking about what the workplace of the future might look like?” Hall says. “Because if you’re not doing that now and you’re going to wait until you get to the new normal, you may be too late, because other companies have started to change the way they’re doing things.”

If you want to learn more about how culture and employee engagement can increase your bottom line, reach out to your relationship manager.


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