As the world reacts and adapts to the impacts of COVID-19, many organisations are being forced to send their employees to work from home indefinitely.
During this time employee experience is more important than ever to ensure employees are feeling supported, connected, positive and productive.
As we move into extended remote ways of working, organisations can either:
- Let the forced remote working requirement derail your organisation’s employee experience
- Seize the opportunity to create new strategies around employee experience and engagement
Creating ‘moments that matter’ and ensuring a positive experience for employees remain important regardless of whether they are physically in the office or working virtually.
Here we share three opportunities and respective strategies to ensure the employee experience is maintained or even enhanced through these unprecedented times.
1. Create certainty through frequent, open communication and put employees’ needs first
Without a doubt many employees will be feeling anxious during this time. With teams working remotely and the constant barrage of bad news, a regular cadence of communication is a key lever in helping people adapt to a new way of life and provide a level of certainty in a very uncertain world.
Employees need to be able to look at their organisation as a regular, trusted source of unbiased information that has their wellbeing and interests at heart. Leaders need to be able to communicate what is important to employees, what resources they can access, and how the business is responding.
The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to show people that they’re a top priority and therefore should be at the heart of your communication strategy. As Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a recent interview, “these are the kinds of times that define the character of a company.”
What are employees’ needs and concerns? What are they feeling? Communicating COVID-19 updates and plans are vital, but providing employee’s channels to share their experiences is critical too. This will help you make decisions that help employees feel safe, assured and heard.
For many, the speed at which this situation is unfolding is unprecedented. Senior leaders need to empower and trust leaders, managers and key individuals to make decisions on employee communications and respond to issues quickly.
Strategies to consider:
- Develop a regular cadence for company-wide communications – Have set times for providing updates from leadership and communicate this schedule to the whole business (e.g. an email from the CEO every second day at 10am, a live virtual Q&A session every Tuesday and Wednesday). Employees will feel more assured when they know when they will hear updates from leadership and have opportunities to ask questions.
- Communicate with heart – Having a sanitised ‘corporate’ tone during these times can come across as distanced and cold. It is important that the tone is empathetic and caring. Leaders adding a personal touch (e.g. sharing how they are themselves personally dealing with the situation) helps communicate that we’re all in this together.
- Ensure key messages are cascaded – It is critical that consistent messaging is also occurring between managers and team members so that company-wide communications are reinforced and absorbed at the team level. This may require more frequent dialogue between senior management and people managers during this time.
- Host open virtual discussion groups and/or Q&A sessions – Virtual discussion groups provide an opportunity for organisations to crowdsource insights in an exploratory environment. Employees can share their voice freely and react to sentiments shared by their colleagues. Live virtual Q&A sessions also allow employees to ask questions to leadership.
- Manager and team dialogue – Managers should be checking in and virtually meeting with their teams regularly, if not daily. An adapted form of agile ceremonies like daily standups are a great way to do this. Creating frequent open dialogue can help make employees feel supported and will allow them to support one another as well.
- Run regular pulse surveys – Targeted pulse surveys allow organisations to assess employee experiences, perceptions, and sentiments – readily identifying areas or topics of concern, best practice and discrepancies across the organisation, and helps to prioritise actions. Some questions they could include are: “My organisation is doing a good job communicating with employees during this outbreak”, “I have enough information to do my job well during this period”, or “I know what to do if I feel sick and suspect I have the coronavirus.”
- Have a single source of truth for information and employee resources – This could be an intranet page where employees can find the most up to date information, resources and FAQs about COVID-19.
2. Help people leaders manage and trust their teams remotely
Managing completely remote teams is likely to be a very new experience for many managers. Depending on company culture, size and processes, there may be very inconsistent levels of manager trust across the organisation when it comes to managing remotely.
For some, it can be tempting to start micromanaging and checking in when employees are logged in and at their desks. It goes without saying that this level of scrutiny may severely impact employee experience and damage the levels of trust and respect within teams.
Whilst this all may seem daunting, you are unlikely to be starting from zero. Organisations that already have flexible working policies in place as well as those that require teams to collaborate across multiple locations are already using a number of remote working tools and processes effectively. Best practices from these can absolutely be leveraged as organisations transition to a fully remote and distributed team environment.
There are in fact already a number of completely remote companies, like GitHub and InVision, which we can learn a lot from. These companies promote focusing on outcomes and agreed timeframes and trusting their team members will deliver.
Strategies to consider:
- Establish regular and frequent cadence of team meetings – If there are communication inefficiencies right now, encourage managers to organise daily team stand-ups, quick 15-minute check-ins with their teams to share critical information and agree on what everyone will be working on that day. For many the number of meetings could be of greater frequency than if they were in the office and so it is critical to keep these short and sharp.
- Focus on outcomes and have more frequent deadlines – Learning from agile project management principles, teams should agree on what needs to be achieved by the end of the day or before tomorrow creating more frequent deadlines for bite-sized pieces of work that together contribute towards the overall project outcomes and deadlines.
- Get the most out of digital collaboration tools – Help managers learn and get the most out of digital collaboration tools such as video conferencing, virtual whiteboards, live chat, digital Kanban boards, and cloud-based project management tools to communicate and manage work within and across teams in real time.
- Create visibility and a single source of truth for team project status and tasks – Many cloud-based project management tools allow all team members to see the live status of all project tasks, who is working on what, and to share updates. If your company firewall does not allow working with these tools, consider creating a spreadsheet or document that can be easily accessed and updated by everyone on the team at any time.
- Have regular one-on-ones with team members – Encourage managers to keep an open channel of communication with individual team members to share feedback and build their rapport and relationship with one another.
3. Maintain a constant and meaningful connection with employees
In the 2018 State of Remote Work report, loneliness was identified as the biggest challenge for remote employees. During the COVID-19 crisis, many employees will experience this too. Not forgetting to recreate the social aspects of coming into the office is critical to beating loneliness and social isolation that comes with long term remote working.
Strategies to consider:
- Create virtual spaces for regular ‘watercooler conversations’ – Use video conferencing rooms and channel communication tools like Slack to enable employees to have watercooler chats or to casually hang out. Having dedicated opportunities for non-work related conversations help people connect and be updated on general news (e.g. virtual lunch rooms and Friday night drinks via video conference, sharing work-from-home photos of pets and kids, etc.)
- Form team rituals – Encourage managers to run daily and/or weekly team rituals. For example, a 15-minute social drop-in every afternoon, five-minute morning team meditations, etc. These can also work to help set some structure for the work day and create intimacy at a distance.
- Make every virtual session as interactive as possible – It goes without saying that using virtual platforms require new ways of running meetings and conducting presentations. Instead of going into default mode, think about how sessions can be run to be as interactive and interesting as possible for people sitting and viewing from their desks.
- Avoid defaulting to text-based communication – Emails, Slack messages, and chat windows are great ways to stay connected however much subtlety and tone is lost when you are communicating solely through text and writing. Teams need to ensure that they have a variety of ways of communicating. It is suggested that we should all verbally speak to someone at least twice a day, either on the phone or via video conference.
- Stay playful – Games conducted via video conferencing or live chats can raise energy and engagement. Team meetings could have dress up themes, such as band t-shirts, crazy hats, or wearing their favourite colour.
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Working with you through challenging times
Whether it was through the global financial crisis a decade ago to the COVID-19 impact that hit Asia since early January, Mercer has helped and will continue to help our clients navigate through the complexity and ensure your decisions today can boldly shape your future. If you wish to discuss any of your people or workforce implications in greater detail please reach out to your Mercer consultant.
This document reflects Mercer’s perspective as of 17 April 2020.