Navigating employee engagement during COVID-19 is no easy feat. In recent weeks we’ve seen stores and facilities reopen and employees (remotely) coming back from furlough. At the same time, many offices are not planning to reopen until at least January 2021. It’s not a stretch to say that our day-to-day will be forever altered by COVID-19. While many companies moved quickly to put infrastructure and resources in place to support a remote workforce, now is the time to consider what employee engagement looks like moving forward. As companies continue to develop their understanding of the new normal, one thing holds true – fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion is critical.
Though the current situation is less than ideal for companies that thrive on organic collaboration, right now business leaders have the opportunity to rethink how they can help their teams stay motivated and connected, both in and out of the office. With that said, here are some strategies your company can consider.
1. Lead with Empathy and Flexibility
COVID-19 has impacted all of us and it’s important to recognize that we’re all experiencing this crisis in unique ways. As employees simultaneously balance family needs and work expectations, self care and other means of managing stress may fall to the wayside. You can help employees prioritize healthy decisions by doing things like holding virtual exercise sessions, expanding mental health benefits, or simply giving employees more flexibility with their hours that may deviate from the traditional 9-5.
Better.com even offers employees virtual childcare to help working parents and caregivers at the company!
If you have a “coffee chat” culture, consider sending a team member a coffee through Doordash for your next sync. The gesture will likely put a smile on your colleague’s face and can also help cultivate an inclusive community despite physical distance. Consider the small actions your company can take to demonstrate empathy and recognize the humanity of your employees.
2. Encourage Employees to Create their Own Initiatives
Employees are your greatest assets, so leveraging your employees is a great first step in designing programs to cultivate inclusion and belonging! Empower employees to develop and lead initiatives that showcase their passions and encourage participation from their peers. If you have employees in different locations, this is a great way to connect employees across geographies and also gives employees a chance to learn about what different communities are experiencing during this time.
These initiatives can be social, like a virtual book club or yoga class, or impact-driven like organizing a virtual volunteering group. What’s important is that you recognize and share these grassroots efforts so that employees feel a sense of ownership and belonging!
3. Cultivate New Ways to Recognize Employees
Employees experience milestones, triumphs and hardships that aren’t tied to their functional role. Part of recognizing the humanity of employees is recognizing these moments. One simple way to recognize employees outside of their day job is to continue celebrating birthdays and workplace anniversaries. We might not be in the office to surprise a team member with a birthday cake, but that doesn’t mean these joyful moments have to stop – I’ve taken part in my fair share of surprise Zoom parties! There are great platforms like Kazoo that can help your company manage employee rewards and recognition as you navigate the new normal.
And when you do recognize employees, pause for a moment and ask yourself: is another reusable water bottle really the best way to show my appreciation? Chances are probably not. Some of our customers have instead been sending charitable gift cards as a congratulatory gift or token of appreciation. This is a great option because your employee feels recognized without having to figure out what to do with a random swag item. As an added bonus, you and your employee both feel good knowing that company perk dollars are having a greater impact than they would otherwise.
4. Develop Programming Around Causes Employees Care About
A really powerful way to foster engagement is to connect with employees around the causes they care about most. Right now employees are particularly concerned with their local communities, and what role they as individuals can play in with COVID-19 relief and combating racial injustice. If you have a charitable matching program in place for your employees, make sure that information about this benefit is easily accessible and widely known across your employee base.
Giving employees the option to support charitable causes also gives your company the opportunity to understand your employees on a more personal level. You might not yet have a workplace giving program in place, but now is a great time to start a conversation with employees around what a program like this could look like. This could be encouraging donations to organizations aligned to company values. Or, it could be defining a sustainable budget for a long-term workplace giving program that includes an employee match – something Millie can help with. Either way, establishing programming like this helps employees feel valued and supported. Plus, your company has an opportunity to help make sure nonprofits are receiving the funds they need to carry out their services!
The landscape of “new normal” continues to evolve and we are always keeping an eye out for creative ways companies are engaging their employees. What purposeful programming have you seen lately?