Remember when team huddles and on-site Ping-pong tables kept employees engaged and connected?
Enter COVID-19, and the work-from-home lifestyle created a bizarre, new landscape for HR professionals.
They aren’t physically connected anymore. And they’re likely mentally disconnected, too, with all the distractions at home.
Is there something HR professionals can do now to make employees reconnect with their organization, its mission and their colleagues?
Plus, it’s in your best interest to seriously work on engagement: More than 75% of employees say they’re more productive working from home, a CoSo Cloud survey found.
The more connected HR professionals can make employees feel from home, the more you can count on them to do great work!
Progressive organizations come up with new, engaging initiatives regularly. Some companies have found tweaking what already worked with their employees still works … and they’ve stuck to it successfully.
Here are nine best practices from HR professionals, company execs and astute researchers on how to reconnect and reengage employees. (Bonus: these even work for employees on-site):
No. 1: Align or realign the vision
Most companies had a vision, purpose and commitment long before the coronavirus, and employees bought into it. Now many companies have one important vision: survival.
Most employees understand that’s a fair short-term goal. But they still need a meaningful vision to connect with, according to McKinsey research.
You’ll want to either continue to emphasize your purpose – something rooted in a greater good for society, community, environment and/or the people you serve. Or you may need to re-align with a vision that speaks better to the current situation.
Steve Newhall, managing partner at consulting firm Korn Ferry, suggests it might be a good time to narrow down your larger corporate vision for the pandemic-forced, work-from-home situation. It’ll help employees keep the vision in sight and focus on the highest priority tasks. Newhall’s example:
Complicated (yet essential) vision: Keep employees, customers and community safe while moving forward so we can thrive in the new normal as quickly as possible.
Simple vision: Keep people safe and keep the lights on.
No. 2: Keep them involved
Some of the best ways to help employees stay connected to the organization and colleagues are through shared – although apart – experiences.
At Homes.com in Virginia, President Dave Mele and Senior VP Erin Ruane asked employees to help build the plan for everyone to stay connected, productive, supportive and motivated while working from home.
They came up with these ideas:
- positive #WorkFromHomes Daily Dose messages
- photos and video tour times so employees could show each other their new work space
- daily Orange Alerts when colleagues praised project completions and other achievements
- Parent Panels on topics such as working efficiently with kids at home, and
- weekly update videos with company news and pep talks.
No. 3: Tweak what works
If employees left your facility engaged with traditions you shared, try to keep those alive remotely as long as employees still enjoy them. You may just need to tweak them for offsite work.
At SimplePractice, an electronic health record and practice management software provider, employees always enjoyed lunchtime conversation and camaraderie.
So CEO Howard Spector made sure they could still connect over the midday meal when they went home. The company set up a tele-lunch when anyone who wanted to join colleagues for lunch could get in on a daily Zoom call. They also continued the long-standing tradition of the monthly Happy Birthday Hour with a similar weekly Zoom room for anyone who wanted to celebrate.
No. 4: Break the mold
HR professionals might want to move beyond what worked on-site to engage and connect employees. There’s a plethora of emerging ideas.
One quirky idea comes from Nimbus Therapeutics, a biotech company, where gardening and painting happy hours were the norm on-site.
At home, they offered a ukulele-building class and music lessons to employees to join during a virtual happy hour. Company leaders sent DIY ukulele kits to employees’ homes ahead of the event and hired a music teacher to give a sort of pep talk and intro to the art of playing the instrument.
No. 5: Let them eat cake (and more)
People at work have long gathered around food and drink to share ideas and stories – work-related and not. It allows employees to connect with each other personally and collaborate professionally.
And it can still be done at home.
When virtual pizza parties and “quarantini time” got old, Rome Therapeutics shifted the drinking and eating gears to re-engage employees. They set up a virtual scavenger hunt, and invited a chef to their video conference who gave a lesson on making a seasonal mojito and a complementary appetizer.
Similarly, Arrakis Therapeutics shipped cocktail kits to employees at home and hosted a professional bartender who lead a virtual cocktail-making class. Employees especially liked the session because they had fun and gained a skill that was helpful when bars were closed.
The key to success for each event: Employees got to interact in unstructured ways almost like they did when they were together.
No. 6: Continue to support needs
At Achievers, management focused on consistent, reliable information and peer support to help employees working from home stay connected.
“Remember, people want to feel safe and secure, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” says CEO Jeff Cates. “After that, people need support.”
The company has continued to gather the Voice of the Employee, even when they “hear” employees less while offsite. They regularly ask the same questions to keep a pulse check on employees’ situations and how they feel about those.
For instance, do employees feel productive and supported? If not, managers and employees can explore resources that would help. Plus, leaders often talk about the “higher purpose” – the company’s vision and each employee’s special role in achieving goals.
To boost support, they use an online recognition and rewards board where employees can give each other shout-outs for achievements, extra help and team work. They can also give credit that accumulates to turn in for rewards.
No. 7: Expand engagement
Some companies have extended benefits that traditionally kept employees connected on-site to involve families at home.
For instance, BurnAlong offers group and one-on-one fitness and wellness classes employees and their family members can tap into from home.
At Schrödinger, where funky perks were the norm on-site, employees now stay engaged with a virtual “dog park” where they meet each other’s pets. They also offer fitness classes for adults and physical education classes for kids of varying ages.
No. 8: Create the ultimate 1-on-1
HR professionals and front-line managers can make employees’ feel connected with a cadence of meaningful one-on-one meetings, says Karin Hurt, founder of Let’s Grow Leaders.
In each video conference, include:
- Caring. Don’t just jump into business. Ask how employees are handling demands.
- Clarity. Make sure employees know what matters most this week and what they need to do to be successful.
- Consistency. Show up for meetings when you say you will. Be available to help when you say you will.
- Credibility. Be honest if you struggle (without whining) so employees know they aren’t in this alone.
- Curiosity. Ask employees what they’re learning and can share to help colleagues and the company.
No. 9: Dig into what’s going on
Once you’ve take steps to help employees connect and become engaged again, you want to make sure it’s working, right? At Facebook, they’ve built analytics into their Workplace from Facebook to track:
- the most popular posts and activity on community chats and information
- topics and issues that are trending for employees
- contributors who employees are connecting with most, and
- the information employees search.
Knowing these details helps companies recognize emerging issues, what’s working and the kind of messages that resonate with employees best. From there, it’s easier to create more content and activities that should keep employees engaged and connected.