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Maintaining engagement in a post-COVID workplace

24th August 2020

Our Chief People Officer, Dean Corbett, spoke with HR Magazine about how businesses can keep their staff engaged. 

In a pre-COVID-19 world, workers across the globe envisioned remote work as a way of striking the ultimate work-life balance. Fast forward to March 2020 when remote working became normalised overnight, transforming the working world far quicker than imagined.

Four months later, what started as a forced move is showing varying signs of easing. This shift has undoubtedly brought about many positive changes. For example, strengthening the inclusivity of a business for people with health conditions or disabilities who previously had difficulties securing work from home arrangements. However, it has introduced challenges for businesses that are still getting to grips with digital change.

Many HR practitioners are navigating new demands while having the wider business take a keen interest in how to keep the workforce engaged – something that at C-suite level was perhaps not so high on the agenda before.

At the outset, productivity levels at home were strong. Expectations were established by employers, and employees seemingly had a fresh outlook. Perhaps due to the change in the physical environment or simply because they were allowed more autonomy and time for personal pursuits. The time that would have otherwise be spent commuting could now be used at one’s leisure, which is particularly beneficial for parents and caregivers.

At Avado we were curious to know how learners specifically were coping with this change in routine – or ‘disruption’ as some might remark. We were pleased to see that many learners actually felt that working remotely had increased productivity levels and motivation in all areas of work and study.

Unquestionably, organisations globally want to ensure this enthusiasm remains, but it’s possible that the excitement will fade over time. We must all be cautious of a productivity slump that would significantly threaten economic growth. In an already unstable economy, this is of the utmost concern.

Engagement across a business has always been a focus for HR, however, it’s now become pivotal for business success. CEOs and business stakeholders want to know what plans we have in place to ensure morale is high.

Collaboration between all business departments will be critical as we head into the back half of the year. It is needed to develop and implement new employee engagement practices that support workers through these times of uncertainty and sustain engagement in the remote working environment.

HR plays an integral role in the future success of an organisation. In particular its growth during a time when employee satisfaction has never been more important. A strategy that can sustain itself and benefit everyone equally, but also be willingly accepted across the whole of an organisation is crucial.

While co-creating the experiences that employees want to have takes longer up-front, they are more likely to be effective and sustainable. Gone are the days when recruitment was leading the HR agenda.

Although building a pipeline of candidates for the eventual return and maintaining relationships with freelance workers is still important, culture, productivity and positive work experiences are critical.

Investing ample time in communicating with employees and reading between the lines of written communications – email, IM or otherwise – is now essential. Naturally, people will require more support during this transition period whether it is expressed verbally or not.

An unhappy or unmotivated employee will not drive results, and in a time when results can make or break it for some businesses, it goes without saying that this investment is indispensable to the future success of an organisation. Equipping teams with the skills and mindset necessary in an even more digital world – especially one where it is a day to day experience to earn one’s living – is also essential.

We’re all in this together, navigating ways to keep our workforces engaged and productive. It’s a challenging time for us all, but there will be moments of clarity and businesses will learn to adapt and thrive in the new normal.

Be consistently flexible, and try to put yourself in the shoes of employees – if you are finding something uncomfortable, or impractical, there’s a solid chance that your colleagues are, too. That said, there are bound to be unique challenges facing individuals or roles.

Take time to speak to people one-on-one or in small groups to find out what might be positively and negatively affecting their mental health or reducing their satisfaction or physical ability to work.

It may be that there is nothing you can do about it – a screaming two-year-old is unlikely to respond well to a little chat with HR, no matter how seasoned the professional – but knowing that your employer has actively sought out to hear and understand the problems you face, and taken action to support you, can make the difference between a satisfied worker and one who is looking for the nearest exit.