The coronavirus crisis has completely shifted the way we live and work. Businesses have had to quickly adapt and implement new ideas and technologies to ensure employees remain safe whilst maintaining productivity. Working from home has become the normality for many of us and adapting to these new ways of working is essential for business continuity.
We speak to Karina Kielbinska, co-founder of Included, to understand what initiatives companies should adopt to fully engage employees in business activity.
Something we heard repeatedly from employees during the pandemic is that flexible, or hybrid working is here to stay. Numerous surveys over the course of the year showed that people responded positively to the increased autonomy and flexibility over where, when and how they work. They found that their employers were open to suggestions on how to ‘get the job done’ and managed to deliver innovative solutions to support them.
However, we also heard that one size didn’t fit all - one person’s dream hybrid work set up was another person’s nightmare! The key here is flexibility - now is the time to put the results from all the personality tests you’ve done over the years to good use – you can motivate and engage everyone by making this work based on individual’s needs and preferences. Some people will be desperate to return to a high energy, collaborative atmosphere surrounded by others in an office environment. Others will crave the continued peace and personal space of home working. Look for ways to balance these and try to bring the ‘best of both’ into your new work patterns.
Remote spontaneity sounds like an oxymoron but needs to be something you strive to deliver. Can you have a virtual ‘open mic’ session online where people can ‘drop in’ through the day to catch up with others? Or a Collaborative Cloud where sharing for feedback can occur? Try anything! Be authentic and give things a go.
Something that was called out as a downside of the sudden shift to flexible working was the perceived lack of professional growth. Employers were understandably focused last year on getting the basics right, quickly. You will need to put similar levels of creativity in to how to coach, train and develop people working remotely. Some fundamentals to remember here are listening to what people want and need, being totally transparent in how you are progressing, and being scrupulously balanced and fair in all that you offer and all that you do.
The last year has showed us that there are many benefits of working remotely for both employees and employers. For all of us, 2020 was the biggest working from home experiment we could ever have imagined. It allowed us to trial ways of working that fit better with family life, exercise goals, and delivering that elusive ‘work / life balance’. All of this ultimately made people feel more motivated and engaged. This is the key for employers – as William Khan (the founding father of employee engagement) famously said all the way back in 1990 – “bring your full self to work and the likelihood is you’ll be more productive, innovative, and loyal” a total win/win. So focus on helping your teams feel included and engaged to drive productivity.
One ‘watch-out’ here is not to view remote workers as team members who suddenly have more time on their hands as they commute to their dining table. Don’t try and fill up these extra hours with meetings and calls; instead encourage people to use this time wisely for taking care of their wellbeing, mental and physical health, and self development.
Find ways to mix the best of both worlds. Ask people for the things they love best from both ways of working, and look for ways to replicate and celebrate these in the other. The key thing here is not to inadvertently disadvantage either group; whether this be in projects, learning opportunities, promotions – through to time to exercise or respond to family needs. It’s important that remote workers feel included not just in the work, but in the culture within the team. This makes now the perfect time to reflect on your ‘why’ as a team – your purpose. Head back to your team vision and values – has anything changed over the last year? How are you measuring your success as a team? The clearer you are on all of this, the more you will forge a sense of belonging and help to bridge any gaps.
Also, look at how you’re communicating. We’ve all heard of Zoom fatigue – so are there other ways that remote workers might feel more included? Could you suggest an open air walk and talk near to their home (if feasible)? Do you have chat rooms set up? Are you balancing video with phone with emails? Do you encourage people to turn the camera off if they so choose? Trying to create a virtual ‘water cooler’ moment is tough, but it’s achievable. Always be authentic, listen and learn, and give things a go!
The most important thing to remember as you navigate any changes is to ASK and LISTEN. And when I say listen, really hear what it is people are saying. You won’t be able to action every single thing people are asking for, but by genuinely caring to hear what they’re saying, and demonstrating that you are willing to try, you will be on the right track.
And a final thought – be a great role model! If people see you trying and supporting new things, they’re more likely to try too.