As remote working continues, business leaders must prioritise wellbeing strategies that keep employees connected in order to foster long-term engagement, says employee wellbeing specialist, Clare E. Kenny.
As lockdown measures continue to tighten, many workplaces have been forced to ask staff to work from home again. ONS data shows that, at the time of writing, 25% of the population is working exclusively from home, and many will have been doing so since March. With a return to the office looking unlikely in the near future, now is the time for business leaders to consider strategies that foster long-term engagement and employee wellbeing.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s work from home experience will be unique. Your employees are likely to have different needs, so your strategy should consider every aspect of the business from company culture to communications, from technology to wellbeing, as well as the social benefits of being at work. Get it right now, and you’ll embed a successful remote working culture that can easily transition into flexibility for employees when it’s safe to return to the office.
Commit to clear, consistent communication
With the majority of your employees working remotely, it’s essential to share consistent and clear company communications. Your leadership team needs to agree on a regular communications plan to explain any updates or adjustments to your strategy. Be prepared to discuss the impact of any Covid-related government announcements and how they may affect business expectations.
Think about the best channels for communication. Employees may respond well to different formats so it’s worth mixing it up ‘ try combining live and on-demand broadcasts with email summaries and newsletters. Most importantly, be transparent. If you don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s okay to say that. Updates, however minor, are always better than radio silence, which can cause unnecessary speculation and anxiety.
Maintain your company culture
Your culture and ethos are a huge part of why people want to work for you so review your intended company culture, mission and values against the current environment. Is remote working making it more difficult to achieve and work to these values? If so, you need to ‘own’ that and discuss how to address it. Employees feel more engaged with companies they believe are authentic and strive to deliver against brand values.
Keeping a tab on employee engagement and general morale can be challenging in these times but a simple quarterly employee survey is a good way to gauge how the workforce is feeling and quickly identify any issues. Be sure to follow up on the findings and implement any actions that arise so employees know that their contributions matter.
Encourage social interaction
It’s often the camaraderie and social aspect of work that people find they miss most working from home. While it may be impossible to recapture the spontaneous conversations and ideas that occur in the office, digital channels can encourage similar interaction.
Platforms like Slack, Facebook Workplace or MS teams are great for creating a sense of community and an opportunity to communicate with employees beyond immediate teams. You can also set up social or fun channels for virtual catch ups or non-work-related topics like sharing pictures of pets. Employees who feel a sense of playfulness at work are much more likely to feel engaged day-to-day.
Respect differing wellbeing needs
Remember, not all employees need the same things from their working experience. While some will love working from home, others will really miss day-to-day office life. Where possible, be flexible to support different employee needs. If you can allow limited numbers in the office, make this an option. Set up booking systems so people can reserve a desk or a meeting room, while still maintaining social distancing.
This year has shown that companies can function working in ways we’d never expected, so now may be the time to overhaul how you approach working patterns. One option is to measure performance entirely on outputs rather than hours worked. If employees are given clear objectives that can be fairly measured, could they set their own hours and complete work when it suits them best, as long as they deliver on their job description and goals? This can be incredibly motivating, allowing people to manage their own work/home balance around responsibilities such as childcare.
If that’s not feasible, another option is to agree on core company hours, such as 11am ‘ 4pm, and then allow employees to flex outside of that. Instead of ‘working from home’ try to normalise ‘working from here’. Treating staff as adults who are capable of deciding how and where they work boosts productivity and employee wellbeing.
Invest in the right training
Ensure your line management team are confident about supporting their direct reports in the current situation. Take time to make sure they really understand and can cascade down the company strategy and communications. They are likely to be facing a whole new set of challenges, so upskill them in areas such as remote team management, mental health awareness and maintaining motivation.
It’s not unusual for people who aren’t used to remote working to struggle with balance, finding themselves unable to switch off when their home and workplace become one. Often there’s a perceived expectation that staff must always be available across all digital platforms. This creates anxiety and can make it harder to step away from work, even for a lunch break, in case someone is viewed as ‘slacking’.
Invest in helping your employees learn self-management skills so that they can create healthy boundaries that improve their work from home experience. By encouraging actions like blocking out lunch hours to take time away from desks, you’ll increase wellbeing and reduce the risk of burnout.
Streamline your tech
While technology has enabled us to successfully adapt to remote working, it can also be the cause of a lot of anxiety. Streamline your company’s use of technology so that people aren’t overwhelmed by too many communication channels. Pick one main platform and stick to it for your key company interactions outside of email.
Give everyone the tools to do their job properly and safely at home ‘ from chairs and monitors to training and support for the digital platforms you use. Don’t make people feel embarrassed for having connectivity issues, or not being able to share documents ‘ these are everyday occurrences that don’t need to be stressful if we all normalise them.
Video call overload can be extremely draining. Consider alternatives such as kicking off a conversation with a shared document for people to feed into or posting questions in a team chat. If it really does need to be a video call, empower employees to own when they need a ‘video break’ and normalise the idea of some calls being ‘audio only’.
Finally, don’t expect employees to be perfectly polished on video calls when they may be juggling a million demands at home in the middle of a pandemic. We all have lives outside of work and this year has blurred the lines. Normalise interruptions from kids or pets and celebrate all the different sides of your employees.
While 2020 has forced us to be creative, reactive and resilient, it has also reminded us that we are all human. Leaders who acknowledge this by establishing wellbeing strategies that keep everyone connected as a company will reap the benefits of a happier, more dedicated and engaged workforce if and when working life returns to ‘normal’.