We are now several months into some version of pandemic-related quarantine, and many people have yet to return to the workplace. In fact, some companies have pushed returning to the office out into next year, and some are vowing never to return. For business leaders, the increasing permanence of remote employees presents new challenges, including sustaining employee engagement when everyone is working remotely. 

While it may seem daunting, the good news is that the underlying drivers of employee engagement haven’t changed:

  • Clarity and connection to the company’s purpose 
  • A clear understanding of roles and responsibilities 
  • The tools, training, and equipment needed to do the job successfully
  • Opportunity for personal growth and development
  • Concern for employee wellbeing

However, the ways in which leaders interact with and support employees have changed due to the Covid-19 crisis, and both of these elements are further complicated by the physical measures recommended to curb the spread of the virus, and the myriad personal challenges working from home can pose for employees, ranging from managing homeschooling to sharing space to battling feelings of isolation. 

Here are some ways leaders can adapt their approach to support employee engagement, even when working remotely. 

Make the Purpose Present and Visible 

As we wrote in last week’s blog post, purpose is even more important during a crisis. Your company’s purpose provides the “why” for employees, describing why the company does what it does, providing important context for strategic decisions, and creating an invisible glue that bonds people to each other and the organization. 

Making your company’s purpose a touchstone that is continually present is the first step.

  • Add the purpose to the slide deck master, at the start of every presentation. 
  • Assess how purposeful projects and initiatives are at inception and conclusion. 
    • Ensure new projects are aligned with the purpose 
    • When projects conclude, assess the contribution to purpose as part of the retrospective. 
  • Coach leaders and managers both to refer back to the core purpose when setting goals and assessing results. 

Your company’s purpose is an important key to creating sustainable, long-term employee engagement. Consistently putting it at the forefront of communications and embedding it into operations will help you build a strong and distinct purpose-driven culture. 

Adapt Meetings to for Virtual Environments 

Advice on meeting format may at first glance seem purely tactical. However, if you’ve shifted employees to working from home, your company’s meeting culture bears some scrutiny. There’s more to successfully adapting to remote working than simply moving meetings to Zoom. Bad meetings are bad enough, but they’re even worse for remote teams, seeding confusion and inertia. Our advice? Shift the meeting structure to a format that really works for remote teams: one that builds energy, has a clear purpose, enables sharing of insights, and builds connections between your people. 

  • Energy: Get people talking (even your introverts, who can be overlooked even more easily on a video conference) and build energy by having everyone share what they’re feeling great about at that moment. Work-related or not, these tidbits will get the team focused on each other, and create positive energy that sets the tone for your meeting and will start you off on a high-energy note. 
  • Purpose: Require meetings to have a purpose, and also, identify what needs to be true at the end of the meeting. This focuses the group clearly on getting to that solution, and as you practice it, you will find your team picks up real efficiency. Building clear purpose into meetings also helps shorten them and reduce meeting size – boons to efficiency and overall team morale. 
  • Insight: A good exchange can unleash a torrent of ideas and information. Near the end of the meeting, ask each person to highlight a unique insight or learning they gained from the meeting. This lets you capture – in the moment – thoughts as they’re crystallizing, and opens everyone to different points of view. 
  • Connection: Commit to using this framework for two weeks, and you’ll see connections build: between your people to each other, and to the business purpose. The result: business captures more value and builds a stronger, more agile culture.

We call this framework the EPIC Meeting (™) and you can see more detail on this downloadable guide >> Download Now

Up the Communication Game

Earlier in the pandemic, we highlighted the crucial role leadership communication has in employee engagement. During a crisis, leaders tend to dial-up communications. As the pandemic wears on, smart leaders should make increased communication a habit, especially if they’re leading remote teams.

In a recent Wall St. Journal article titled 10 Business Leaders on What they Learned from the Pandemic, four of the ten leaders interviewed cited increased personal outreach and communications as their primary learning. Christopher Reynolds, chief administrative officer, manufacturing corporate and resources for Toyota Motor North America, said it particularly well:

“There’s no such thing as too much communication… It’s important for me to see you, for you to see me and that you’re ok and I’m ok and we’re getting business done. There’s a value to that that actually trumps my usual “Do we really need to have this meeting?”

Personal interactions are an important part of overall leadership communication, and when teams are working remotely, leaders need to be diligent about maintaining (if not increasing) their personal outreach, in order to ensure they capture the value of “unscheduled” moments – in the hall, the elevator and the cafeteria – to check-in and connect with their employees.

Business as (Un)Usual 

Plenty of pundits are saying the world of work will be forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic. As this post is being written, cases of illness are on the rise in the US, hampering efforts to re-open the economy, and obscuring the view of the future. Leaders will need to remain agile, and assess their decisions in the context of the quickly evolving new normal, not the way things used to be.

A good way to get a fix on where your business and employees stand is simply to ask them and avoid the false temptation to “wait until things get back to normal” to do an employee survey. Checking in with teams right now enables leaders to understand what’s working, what’s not, and where they need to focus their efforts in the business. For those leading larger organizations, an employee survey provides an opportunity to listen to employee voices, gather feedback, and respond authentically. It’s communication at scale and is an important tool for agile leaders who are focusing on keeping their teams connected, engaged and performing, and positioned to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.

New Imperatives for Leaders – A Deeper Dive 

The changes our businesses have experienced carry important new remits for leaders, necessitating adjustments in how leadership communicates, motivates, and leads their teams. One important question many forget to ask is whether their employees have the same trust and confidence in their leaders as management does. We call this the Leadership Perception Gap, and unless it’s bridged, many leaders will struggle with implementing change and generating good performance.

Take a deeper dive into the Leadership Perception Gap in the webinar below, and come away with actions you can take for assessing and closing the Leadership Perception Gap within your own organization.