From masking to social distancing to contact tracing, we’ve learned to live with COVID-19. But if the Omicron variant has taught us anything, it’s that the pandemic still has a few curveballs up its sleeve.
So once again, we’re reimagining the future of work, adopting new behaviors, and changing the trajectory of remote work by offering employees the flexibility to work onsite, remote, or via a hybrid approach that incorporates a mixture of in-office and remote work in an employee’s schedule.
Gallup’s State of the Workforce study conducted in May/June 2021 found 54% of employees who work at least some of the time remotely would ideally like to split their time between working at home and in the office. Employers are listening. In Gallup’s September update, 45% of full-time U.S. employees worked from home either all (25%) or part of the time (20%) – figures that are unchanged from remote working rates in July and August.
If this tells HR anything, it’s that U.S. companies’ return-to-office plans remain on hold well into 2022. However, pandemic fatigue combined with workplace burnout, employee disconnect from the exodus of workers (dubbed “The Great Resignation,”) and work-related chronic stress make the importance of reinvesting in employee engagement not just a best practice but an imperative.
Here are four strategies for employers looking to master employee engagement in a hybrid and remote workforce.
Culture and Engagement Check Ups
While employee pulse surveys are ideal for gathering quick feedback from employees, they often take place annually. In fact, according to the Achievers Workforce Institute Culture Report, almost half (46 percent) of organizations conduct an engagement survey only once a year, plus another third (33 percent) run them every two years or less. A low 21 percent of companies distribute engagement surveys three or more times per year.
To gain a real snapshot of engagement drivers and employees’ needs and desires, employers need to distribute pulse surveys monthly or quarterly.
Especially today, when some employees want to return to the office and others don’t, a more frequent pulse survey helps employers gain open and honest responses about engagement levels.
Pulse surveys also allow companies to track progress against business goals, gain feedback on employee benefit packages and recognition programs and improve internal communications.
Bring Back Your Culture Committee
Before COVID, most organizations formed culture committees that discussed and planned matters related to company culture. Still, most of those committees were put on hold as workplace safety committees took priority.
Today, companies are not just bringing those committees back but putting their best efforts forward to create a more engaged workforce that is happier, healthier, and more inclusive. This means forming a committee that is more than a cross-functional and multilevel team but representative of employees with different personalities, education, interests, hobbies, race, and sexual orientation. The committee’s goal is to plan programs, actions, and events that support the company’s mission, purpose, and values.
A culture committee that plans fun activities and outings for holidays, anniversaries, and everything in between helps create connections where employees can discover common interests, values, and views.
Ideas to Improve Your Company Culture
Here are a couple of things to try in a hybrid and remote workforce:
- Celebrate milestones – Drop off balloons for a team member’s birthday if they work from home, schedule a shout-out celebration to recognize achievements, or host an online party.
- Themed happy hours – Hold regular 30-minute happy hours with changing themes (e.g., “TV show characters.”)
- Wellness Wednesday – Host virtual meditation sessions, invite a motivational speaker to host a virtual lunch-and-learn, send plants to employees to brighten up their spaces, or schedule a mental health day off.
- Friday fun – Host hybrid and remote team trivia, jam sessions, or even cookie decorating class for an hour as an afternoon break.
- Company bonding activities – Arrange a virtual escape room, scavenger hunt, murder mystery, city tour, or game show.
- DE&I – Celebrate employee’s differences by arranging speakers and discussions around global health and racial issues, host cultural recipe sharing days, spontaneous chats with employees in other regions or teams, or book shares focused on stories with diverse narratives.
- Getting to know each other – Create an internal podcast or newsletter to provide company updates and learn about different departments, projects, and employees. This also offers the opportunity to interview employees, hear about client happenings, and thank employees for their hard work.
After all, improving culture and engagement leads to stronger employee retention and a better connection to the company mission.
Focus on Personalized Communications
Communication plays a vital role in teamwork, collaboration, and resolving the occasional conflict. Effective communication powers performance and keeps employees engaged.
In addition to celebrating together and pulse surveys, it’s important that HR, leaders, and managers speak directly to employees and engage with them on a personalized level.
One-on-one personalized messaging is more meaningful, relevant, and improves the employee experience. Employees need to feel supported, especially if they experience social isolation, anxiety or suffer from a mental health condition. It’s also critical to consider that employees may only want to speak with certain people in the organization about their circumstances and personal needs.
Additionally, it’s imperative that managers have continual dialogue with their team, monitoring their needs as things change — especially as it pertains to an eventual return to the physical workplace and how this may impact their childcare or other circumstances.
For example, when managers communicate with employees in a hybrid or remote environment using tailored, personalized content, it’s more authentic and creates a more personal connection.
Actionable Tips in a Hybrid and Remote Workforce
Organizations could implement a personalized messaging approach throughout the employee journey, such as:
- During onboarding, utilize curated messaging campaigns with new hires to review paperwork, host a new hire orientation or perform a virtual building tour.
- Managers can use personalized messaging to help support employees with career growth, whether sharing professional training opportunities to improve their skills in a specific growth area or grow their knowledge about industry trends.
- For employees looking to become the next leader, managers can help employees build effective leadership strategies by offering techniques covering everything from giving employees feedback to tools and guidance to help them grow and succeed.
- Employers must promote and help employees use their healthcare and well-being benefits, whether it’s sending reminders to schedule a medical appointment, providing helpful resources on treatments and doctors, or sharing updated guidelines on the COVID vaccine. Benefits utilization is a win-win for employers and employees. Employees are healthier and work at their peak, and employers don’t forfeit millions in lost benefits.
- Another priority is helping employees succeed financially. Whether it’s educating employees on budgeting, tax basics, saving programs, or loan borrowing and repayment, assisting employees in making sound financial decisions about their financial well-being improves work performance, decreases stress, and empowers employees.
- Engagement even extends to when an employee leaves your company, which is why it’s critical to make offboarding a meaningful experience. Host a small send-off party for the departing employee to connect with their colleagues and suggest they sign up for your alumni program to get them engaged once they’re gone.
In hybrid- or remote-work environments, employers need to be even more intentional about their communication because it’s more difficult to provide employees with feedback or set priorities when they’re out of sight. However, by using one-on-one personalized communications and getting to know employees on a more personal level, you will generate a higher response rate, provide more relevant information and solutions to problems, and create genuine connections with employees.
Use The Right Tools for Your Hybrid and Remote Workforce
Most employers would agree that increasing employee engagement and sharing information with team members requires a lot of time, tools, and effort. While you can’t clone yourself or use a robot to handle your tasks, you can make your job easier with automation.
An integrated data-driven communications platform provides a one-stop hub to communicate everything an employee and employer needs throughout their employee journey in one place. Employers can distribute surveys, leaders can share cultural committee activities, and managers can automate personalized communications to individual employees, or a segment of employees based on their preferred mode of communication, such as text, email, and push notification.
In addition, the right platform works seamlessly with employees’ healthcare, well-being, and financial benefits. Employees can easily handle tasks from checking their deductible levels, researching their coverage, engaging with vendors, and accessing their 401k allocations.
Even better, a powerful data-driven platform that offers proven, curated campaigns can simplify employee messaging, creating less work for everyone. Think of it as one digital door, rather than many.
With hybrid and remote work still at the forefront and employees staying home long-term, organizations must reevaluate how to continue providing an engaging employee experience. The companies that do will try new things to increase work quality and retain top talent. Most of all, they will collaborate to achieve common goals.
Are you ready to creatively engage your hybrid and remote workforce for the year ahead? Read our blog, “The Stages of the Employee Journey and How Personalized Engagement Helps HR Leaders Succeed.”