A few months ago, 2020 was predicted to be the “year of remote work.” But even the most optimistic telecommuting advocates never anticipated the launch of the world’s largest work-from-home experiment before the end of the first quarter. While many of us are used to swanky offices in tony districts of our cities and whether we are ready or not, COVID-19 has transitioned many companies to enable remote work at scale.
So, how can organizations seize the opportunity and think long-term?
One of the measures taken by organizations, affecting almost all employees is the realisation that ‘work’ is not a place. So, during this global crisis, a pandemic, organizations have risen to make a move towards containing this disaster. Thankfully, most organizations are equipping and have equipped themselves to continue business-as-usual by suddenly shifting gears and adopting work-from-home practices.
Ann Francke, head of Chartered Management Institute, rightly said, "This is unprecedented. It may change the workplace forever. Everyone will need to embrace a different sort of workplace behaviour."
But working-from-home comes with its own set of unique challenges—both for the employees and employers.
So how to make sure employees are engaged and motivated even when they are away from their traditional work environment?
Presenting 11 major areas that managers need to keep an eye on to maximise the effectiveness of your new Work-From-Home setting:
When employees suddenly start working away from their regular setting, they are bound to feel a little lost and demotivated. The working style of a regular 9 to 5 worker is quite different than someone who has always worked remotely. And this sudden transition can massively hamper the internal communication of the organization. The scarier part is that nobody knows how long this arrangement has to last.
To keep the workflows moving, create a virtual office for employees. Invest in the best video conferencing and collaboration tools. Create a forum for employees to share personal as well as professional updates. Try to assign collaborative tasks weekly, encouraging team members to work together and stay connected.
Further, to keep up their morale and boost their moods, you can create virtual team activities like online multiplayer games, quizzes. Or you can even encourage them to learn new things and share them with their colleagues.
Some organizations, like Gitlab, have adopted a virtual coffee break. These are video calls where employees connect virtually to take breaks, socialize, have their water cooler conversations. These conversations seem effective in preventing potential burnout and isolation.
At Steyer Content, the organization has a happy hour every Thursday. The CEO uses Slack to hold informal contests, to celebrate birthdays and asks employees to post photos of their pets, children and more. The online exchanges are quite popular with people talking about the books they are reading, debates over the merits of fonts, etc. employees are trying to have a virtual karaoke party. Creating a sense of community helps attract strong talent and has a competitive advantage.
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Robust Communication is the need of the hour
Frequent corporate leadership communication (creating an information HUB) - daily, weekly, or as available – this HUB should have the latest/current organization's COVID-19 response, advice, policies and protocols. FAQ guides and links to authorities and external organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The World Health Organization (WHO). Along with expert advice, these messages often include a genuinely personal element, i.e., assuring them that none of their fellow employees has tested positive for the virus (where applicable) and urging employees not to panic or spread rumours. Overcommunicating and staying in touch is the need of the hour.
Meaningful Goal Setting
While the employees are relieved from the stress of a daily commute, it can be a nightmare for managers to manage this situation. But, they need not have to be.
Discipline is a prime factor to make work-from-home effective. There will be a lot of distractions in their homes and work may suffer.
The key to managing remote teams successfully is a meaningful goal-setting. Set clear deliverables and specific metrics that will enable you to track outcomes and measure results effectively. Communication becomes all the more important when teams are fragmented. Conduct virtual meetings from time to time to take updates and ensure that things are on track. Make use of instant messaging like Skype and Slack to always stay on the loop. Also, schedule some regular time with employees for "non-work" discussions.
Keep them engaged with Recognition
Recognition in the workplace is quintessential for the overall success of the organization. When you acknowledge your employees for their outstanding work on time, they feel rejoiced for their contributions. It fuels their zeal to do better and earn appreciation from their managers and peers.
As the entire world lies crippled with a viral pandemic forcing everyone to stay in self-isolation, delivering employee recognition has become a matter of concern for HR executives worldwide.
This is probably the best time to acknowledge and switch to a digital R&R platform. The advancement of cloud-based HR tools is bridging the gap between managers and employees irrespective of any physical and geographical barriers. Managers can now recognize and praise their employees on-the-go. Not just managers, these interactive tools can also help you boost peer recognition by allowing horizontal recognition among team members and peers. Unlike earlier, where one had to organize a ceremony for giving out employee awards, Recognition can now be rewarded instantly and effectively from anywhere in the world.
At ABInBev, employees connected virtually for their recently held GCC Total Rewards Townhall to not only talk about the wellbeing of the team and families, functional updates and projects, but it was symbolic of the spiritedness. This empowers employees to continue to dream big and put in their best efforts in such testing times!
Engage with fun
Conduct periodic surveys to check with employees about what employees are thinking, feeling and doing. What motivates them? What virtual ways to connect do they enjoy most? What do they feel about this culture change around work? What changes would they have to cope with? How do they think it will change how they feel about their relationship with the organization? How would they want to be rewarded in these remote scenarios?
Understanding what your people are going through will give you a much clearer idea about how you should deal with the situation. Also, in each piece of work that needs to be done, you can add elements of fun through gamification to make work more enjoyable.70% of Forbes Global 2000 companies will use gamification to boost engagement, retention and revenues.
Bluewolf used the gamification technology and created a #GoingSocial program through various initiatives like an employee 'Pack Profiles' giving rewards and points for external/internal collaboration, where employees could earn points of 50 or more, by publishing a blog post on official company's blog and others.
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It's a great time for employees to learn what they have always wanted to and a great time for managers to facilitate that. Many companies have invested in e-learning platforms and employees will be able to learn new skills and upskill their existing skills in the extra hours that they are getting every day due to the current situation of working from home.
One of the top seeking criteria for employees at work is personal and professional development. They love to be in a job that helps them learn new skills and grow as individuals. When an organization promotes learning among employees, it will instinctively keep them motivated and engaged. Today, most employees want to get trained on the skills of tomorrow, especially courses like AI, Machine Learning & Data Analytics are top-rated across industries.
You can also encourage your employees to take up non-work-related courses. Online learning platforms offer a wide range of courses from music to playing various instruments to creative arts to self-defence. These courses can prove to be great mood boosters and stress-reliever for your employees. Organizations could also promote peer-to-peer learning among employees; this can become a medium for peer engagement.
In Culture Amp, each employee has access to a professional coach through the Coaching for Everyone program. Employees are provided with sessions at 6, 12 and 24 months, and they can choose to focus on personal or professional goals. Coaches help assess where a person is and where they want to be, then guide each person through a strategy to reach their goals.
At Infosys, my own experience was that Learners could choose topics to add to their 'Playlists' and create their learning paths. These paths can be shared with their peers too. Learners can build a team of certified and deployable talent with 'Virtual Proctored Certifications', which enables learners to complete certification with ease anytime, anywhere. Seamlessly integrate internal enterprise content or external third-party content into bite-sized micro modules or dive deep into macro learning modules. Many of their customers also engage their employees through the Infosys Learning Platform.
Offer Employee Perks and Discounts
Giving away some awesome employee perks is another great way to keep employees motivated to contribute towards their organization no matter if they're in the office or working remotely. Some of these employee perks include things like exclusive corporate deals from various brands, cashback offers, subsidized insurance plans, tie-ups with hospitals, gift cards, subscription plans and more.
A cloud-based employee benefits/discounts platform or a company that provides this service can now become the way to go. Such a platform will help organizations keep employees happy with great offers and discounts on regular brands that employees usually buy from.
Provide Support for Equipment and other necessities
The mantra of any good work lies in two things, i.e. the skill of a person and the tools at their disposal. Modern offices are generally equipped with state-of-art tools and technologies. These have a direct correlation with the quality of work. When employees work-from-home, this becomes a massive hurdle typically to your employees' productivity.
When employees are operating from home, it doesn't mean that they won't be requiring the right pieces of equipment or other necessities. Most of the time, it is the employees who bear the cost of getting the tools and other resources they need for the job. If buying laptops in bulk in this scenario is not feasible, you should offer compensation or discount offers plans for them.
Banks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are installing teams at disaster recovery sites and trading facilities at workers' homes.
Promote Health and Wellness
Ensuring that your employees stay motivated at work depends a lot on their physical and mental wellbeing. With the current outbreak of the coronavirus, keeping up good health has become a matter of utmost importance. With the pandemic forcing employees to isolate themselves, staying indoors for long periods is severely going to impact their mental and physical health. They must be missing out on their gym routines and physical activity, in general, must have drastically reduced.
To promote their physical wellbeing, it can be a great time to incorporate a wellness application and share it with your employees. This is the best time to make the most of the available technology. A mobile wellness application will enable employees to take part in various health tasks which can be easily done while staying indoors. A program that can look after your employees' wellbeing and at the same time, keep them active is quite a thoughtful step that employers and managers can take.
Starbucks just announced it would expand mental health benefits to include up to 20 therapy sessions for all employees. Elsewhere, telecom companies have signed the Keep Americans Connected pledge to ensure individuals maintain access to connectivity.
Re-examine relationship between organizations and employees
The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for organizations to elevate their corporate culture and make it mutually beneficial. It's important that the organization (managers) display trust in their team at this point. Most managers now have made it mandatory for the team to report deliverables every day, which was not the case before this outbreak. Simple replication of the style of working at the office can help make employees feel trusted and thereby reduce stress and enhance efficiency.
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CSR During COVID-19
Corporate social innovation strategies can provide a positive impact on society as well as businesses' bottom lines; It also instils pride in employees to be associated with a brand that is helping the community in this crisis.
We saw many brands donating Masks and also saw brands like Zara offering to make hospital scrubs. Amazon announced a $5 million relief fund for small businesses in the vicinity of its headquarters, while Google is pledging $1 million to organizations in Mountain View, California, impacted by the pandemic.
The entire world has been hit by a pandemic that has no cure yet, and the only proven prevention is maintaining social distance. Adopting work-from-home practices is the most viable and responsible way to deal with this situation. It is the only way of sustaining your business in a time of global crisis like this one. Thanks to technology, working-from-home can now be remarkably smooth and productive.
It is not only the role of the Top management, HR, the leaders or managers but also of the employees to make these measures a success and emerge through this as stronger than before.
Remember to keep smiling :) This is my company at our Monday weekly meeting, and yes we are making the most of working from home with everyone across the globe.
This article is an attempt to help you in formulating strategies to engage and motivate your employees in this unprecedented time. Feel free to share your workplace experiences and opinion on this matter in the comment section below!
Some links that I found very useful are below: