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Maintaining Employee Engagement in Uncertain Times

Written By
Brendan Bresnahan
Senior Content Producer

With protective measures continuing to be taken on a global level in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, many enterprise organizations find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to go “fully remote” for the first time.

While remote work is by no means a novel concept in 2020, the speed with which the Coronavirus crisis has demanded social distancing has caught both businesses and governments by surprise. As a Human Capital Management software company with a long history and culture of remote work, Avature is fortunate to be functioning on a global-level at 100 percent capacity. As we are intimately familiar with the combination of tools and culture required for remote team success, we felt it prudent to put together and share some strategies for maintaining productivity as employees begin to work exclusively from home.

Understanding that most people are likely to be balancing any number of very real concerns regarding health and safety while working during their stay at home quarantines, providing employees with positive engagement opportunities is the key to surviving and thriving in these uncertain times. To keep operations running as efficiently as possible given the circumstances, look to optimize your remote work model by implementing the following engagement best practices.

Fine-Tune Your Virtual Onboarding

Given the professional and societal upheaval we have all experienced during the last few weeks, it makes sense to expect some large-scale and service-oriented organizations (i.e., Uber) to engage in temporary hiring freezes.

And yet, not only are there some organizations that cannot afford to halt their hiring plans, but for some industries, like e-commerce, hiring is absolutely essential right now. With this sudden and unexpected rise of the “stay at home” labor force, it will be necessary for many organizations to rethink how they approach onboarding in the interim. Whereas traditional onboarding typically manifests as a series of face-to-face meetings involving HR, team members and managers, onboarding in this new reality of virtual and geographically dispersed teams will inevitably shift to an exercise in talent management that is heavily dependent on technology.

Accordingly, the first and most important order of business for enterprise organizations should be to utilize technology to transition the onboarding experience from that of a purely administrative one to a social one.

As new employees are likely to struggle with the unfamiliar ambiguity of working from home, enterprise organizations should look to normalize this new work environment by scheduling regular video conferences between new hires and team members. Leadership must stress the importance of allotting time for virtual “coffee breaks” in order to allow new employees to meet, greet and interact with their peers. It is this emphasis on humanizing virtual relationships with a “camera on” attitude, when combined with the right platform and tools, that will position organizations to optimize team building while maintaining the structured and well organized admin processes that are necessary to acclimate new hires.

Keep Employee Engagement Social

Again, for most managers and direct reports, the experience of working almost exclusively from home is likely to be a totally new and even concerning concept. Employees who suddenly find themselves in this unfamiliar position – especially given the global health context – are likely to be urgently asking the following questions:

How will my company gauge productivity? How will I communicate with my team members? What about relationship building? Team building? Feedback? What if I need help or technical support?

Although the business consequences of COVID-19 appear to be unprecedented in many respects, we are fortunate to live in a world where the boundaries of work and the physical office space have been changing for a number of years. In fact, many large-scale enterprise organizations have been operating for some time with both flexible work hours and partially dispersed workforces. As such, the HCM solution market in 2020 has a number of tools available to help organizations efficiently collaborate, communicate and build meaningful relationships in entirely virtual environments. It is here, at the intersection of technology, productivity and interpersonal relationships, that we find a solution uniquely capable of navigating the pitfalls of unexpected social/professional distancing:

The employee hub.

As a platform dedicated to engineering meaningful experiences and real-time communication, employee hubs – in our case Avature DNA – combine the best elements of talent management and internal portals to create a critical one-stop shop for dynamic virtual team engagement and employee HR management. As an organization, we utilize Avature DNA to not only keep our teams connected, engaged and informed, but as a central hub for social interactions of all types. Employees can post comments, add pictures and follow-company wide/trending topics. They can plan projects, provide their peers with feedback, upload essential documents, and even share their favorite Spotify playlists to help colleagues make it through this period of home quarantine.

In short, employees have the ability to digitally share anything.

An employee hub is a mechanism for bringing company culture to life. It is a centralized engagement resource that puts virtual employees on the same page, and it is one that will become increasingly important as organizations look to combat loneliness, improve the WFH experience and maintain a degree of normalcy in these trying times.

Focus on the Principles of Continuous Performance Management

Another best practice for encouraging engagement as employees begin to work from home is to focus on implementing the principles of continuous performance management.

Why continuous?

Well, it is important to bear in mind the plethora of challenges that most direct report employees are likely to face as they transition from the relative comforts of the commute/office routine, to the uncharted waters of fully remote work. These challenges include:

  • Scarcity of information
  • A lack of facetime with management/direct supervisors
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Ambiguity in objectives
  • A general concern over career/skill development

Traditional performance management models focus almost exclusively on employee compensation and rankings. They were developed in an era where remote teams and telecommuting were nothing more than bold predictions for a distant future.

Continuous performance management, however, is a model that evolved specifically to address the challenges of the digital, work-from-home age. It is founded on the principle that evaluations should occur on an ongoing basis. Rather than looking almost entirely at past actions, the continuous model encourages a more comprehensive, engaging and forward-looking evaluation scope – all essential success elements in these uncommon times where employees are likely to feel unsure of both their objectives and purpose.

Organizations must endeavor to develop both the culture and tools necessary to provide their employees with the engagement they need to progress and grow in a remote environment. The continuous model is uniquely positioned to provide meaningful engagement by replacing the once-a-year appraisals of yesteryear with ongoing, highly visible and ever-evolving discussions. These engagement “touchpoints” typically manifest as biweekly check-ins, quarterly performance conversations and crowdsourced/peer feedback. All exponentially increase engagement (particularly the biweekly check-ins), and all can be successfully implemented in a virtual environment with a modern performance management solution.

Look to Hire From Within

A last point to consider when looking to smoothly transition into the age of the remote workforce are the advantages of hiring from within.

Internal mobility – that is, the practice of moving talent within an organization to develop new skills and meet positional needs – is likely to take on a heightened importance in the coming months as companies look to assess and reassess the availability of qualified talent. With the potential to improve retention rates, increase employee engagement (as much as 30 percent by some accounts) and prepare organizations to meet their rapidly evolving business needs, “mobility” is a strategy uniquely positioned to assist organizations in their response to the COVID-19 crisis.

From the Avature perspective, it has always been critical for organizations looking to thrive in the digital age to merge talent and strategy into a single, seamless and proactive channel.

Generally speaking, most modern HR departments regularly engage in proactive recruiting initiatives, albeit towards external candidates. To triumph over the current and very real uncertainty in the labor market, organizations will need to transition inwards the same activities and strategies normally deployed to cultivate external candidates (i.e., building candidate profiles, filtering talent pools, reaching out with targeted messaging, and providing a personalized candidate experience).

While by no means an easy task, it is an achievable one, especially when paired with a robust sourcing solution.

Avature is Here to Help

The transition to a fully remote workforce is certainly intimidating, but our experts are available to serve as a comprehensive knowledge resource. Be on the lookout for more guidance articles, and be sure to give us a follow on social media to stay up-to-date on how we are working with clients to manage uncertainty in these unprecedented times.

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