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Engagement ideas for a socially distanced workforce

There’s no denying it at this point; social distancing is here to stay. So what do you do when your employees are back in the office, but all the engagement strategies you used to rely on – happy hours, group lunches, office amenities – are off the table? Although these activities and benefits have long been mainstays of most companies’ engagement efforts, they are ultimately only superficial strategies. Especially during these difficult and confusing times when employees are dealing with so much in addition to work, the focus of engagement efforts should be on supporting your team with compassion and empathy. Companies that do will reap the benefits for years to come.

Reframing How You Practice Engagement

The first step towards keeping engagement high while distancing measures are still in place is to stop thinking of engagement in the classical way. Just like inclusion can’t be developed through a once yearly unconscious bias training, true engagement does not stem from foosball tables or holiday parties. While these are great bonuses, true engagement comes from employees feeling seen, heard, and appreciated at their companies. Stop approaching it as if you can bribe your employees into being engaged; buying things like snacks and games as a substitute for actually investing in your employees is not going to work. Engagement is something that is built not bought.

Accordingly, think about what has made your own experience at companies better or worse. Were you motivated to work harder for the company that brought in lunch once per month, or the company where you felt genuinely supported and valued for your contributions? Employees need to know that their employer cares about them every day, not just when there’s a special event, so engagement initiatives have to be ongoing rather than one-offs. Begin thinking about engagement as an integrated strategy and you’ll be in a much better position to serve your employees regardless of whether they’re in-office or remote, mid or post-pandemic.

Strategies and Activities for Boosting Engagement

Now that you’ve got a new framework for how to approach building engagement, it’s time to start designing your strategy. Some key requirement to keep in mind include:

  • Ensure your employees have what they need. While it’s frequently overlooked as a component of engagement, the foundation of your program should be making sure employees have the knowledge, tools, and support to succeed at your company. Employees who don’t know where to go if they have a question, who don’t have a clear understanding of expectations, and/or who don’t have the necessary tools to perform their jobs well won’t be helped by any of your other attempts to boost engagement. If you have team members who aren’t empowered, who don’t see a path for themselves at your organization, and who don’t feel valued, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to overcome those challenges. Start here, then build your strategy once you’ve got employees’ basic needs squared away. This step is especially critical during the pandemic.
  • Open the lines of communication. Another key engagement strategy is to make sure employees feel that they have a voice. If employees know that they can express concerns or new ideas freely and with the expectation that they’ll be listened to, they’ll feel valued and therefore much more likely to be engaged. Utilize different communication channels to provide both extro- and introverted employees with ways to participate. This may include surveys, anonymous suggestion boxes, focus groups, town hall-style meetings, and more, but most importantly hinges on managers making sure they actually connect with and listen to their team members. Foster a culture of open communication at all levels and watch your engagement scores increase.
  • Supercharge your employee groups. Last but certainly not least, build community within your employee population. A Gallup study showed that employees with even one close friendship at work were seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Initiatives such as employee resource groups, rec sports leagues, professional development clubs, and so on go a long way towards helping your employees build the relationships and support networks they need to foster strong positive associations with coming to work. Make it easy for your people to find their niche within your company, and bond with those who share their interests and/or life experiences. Your bottom line will thank you as these connections will improve collaboration and communication across your organization, in addition to increasing engagement, productivity, retention, and more.

We know it can be daunting to try to crack the engagement code during such confusing and stressful times. If you could use some support from tools to resources to metrics, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more about what you’re struggling with so we can determine how to best help. No one should have to walk this uncertain road ahead alone.