The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a huge experiment in widespread remote working,” said Elisabeth Joyce, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice. “As business leaders plan and execute the reopening their workplaces, they are evaluating more permanent remote working arrangements as a way to meet employee expectations and to build more resilient business operations.
Employee Engagement 5G: The Unified Interpersonal Connectivity Backbone
While we’re all looking forward to post-pandemic “life as normal,” it’s clear to everyone that the hybrid workplace is here to stay. Much of the resulting corporate realignment has been focused on real estate, but smart companies are taking this time to upgrade their employee engagement programs as well. Because this new way of thinking builds the unified interpersonal connectivity backbone necessary for organizations to thrive in a dispersed work environment, we’ve dubbed this phenomenon Employee Engagement 5G.
The modern “5Gs” of employee engagement are:
Grounding: Instilling culture & values in a virtual world
As managers at all levels have found, managing remotely is hard. But not for the obvious reasons. We’ve proven that employees can be just as productive doing their jobs from home as in the office: what to do and how to do it are easily taught over high-speed connections. What’s proven more difficult to translate, however, is the why to do it, or in other words, culture.
According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, “what makes office life meaningful for many… is that it helps sustain organizational culture — the largely taken-for-granted beliefs and practices that underpin how people work together. As everyday tasks now occur remotely and practices are sometimes hard to observe, it’s even more important for leaders and managers to call attention to and acknowledge which aspects of culture are on display and why that matters.”
Company culture impacts not just employee satisfaction but the company’s bottom line. In fact, according to Indeed.com, effective translation of organizational culture contributes to increased employee engagement, decreased turnover, strong brand identity and elevated productivity, to name just 4 of their 7 key benefits.
This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure that new employee onboarding procedures dedicate adequate attention to communicating and emphasizing company values, and that these underlying values – the “why we exist” messages – are reinforced on an ongoing basis. In fact, among the challenges of managing a hybrid workforce, 30% of business leaders are most concerned with maintaining company culture.
After working from home for 6 months with no clear end in sight, Aeva, Inc. decided to send a little surprise to their employees for all the hard work they put in from afar. The plan was to give all employees a day off to enjoy on their own or with family, and to send a gift box to help encourage a little relaxation. Knack curated a picnic gift box for the recipients to enjoy on their day off complete with a bottle of wine, branded wine glasses, a slate cheese board, and some gourmet charcuterie items. All gifts were delivered prior to the event so the employees could enjoy their day off and their gift!
Geography: Giving employees a virtual address
Geography is no longer an office, desk or cubicle. It’s helping employees understand how and where they fit into the larger organizational objectives. Who is my team? Who are my internal clients? What are my objectives? How do my team and I fit into the overall company objectives?
These basic “where do I fit?” questions become more difficult for employees to answer when daily interaction in a physical office environment is replaced by communication through electronic workflows.
In a nutshell, employee retention begins with orientation, according to The Balance Careers. “Employers frequently overlook the most fundamental question of the new recruit. He or she wants to know how their work impacts the department and ultimately, the company.”
Gathering: Designing purposeful interpersonal interactions
Personal interaction is a basic human need. Ask anyone what they miss about their office environment and chances are, their first response will be “the people.” Facilitating interpersonal relationships in the office is also highly correlated to employee retention. According to international recruiting firm Oakstone International, 4 of the top 8 reasons employees stay with their companies are a direct result of their relationships with others:
- They believe they are part of something special: culture, team, environment
- They believe in what they’re doing, and it has purpose and meaning
- Their work is recognized and appreciated
- They appreciate and respect their co-workers
- They have a mentor who encourages them
- They have trust in the business leaders
- They are emotionally invested, and they genuinely care about the company
- They are treated fairly
Note what didn’t make this list? Compensation.
Companies need to play a more active role in facilitating employee interactions in a modern hybrid workplace than before. Zoom fatigue complicates this. Fortunately, our CEO has been thinking and writing about this for a while, and her Forbes article on “Zoom Doom” provides a number of tips and case studies for turning virtual meetings into shared experiences that build interpersonal connections and employee engagement.
Growth: Conveying and celebrating momentum
Companies need to recreate the sensation of dynamic progress toward a common objective to combat the perceived stagnancy of working from home, where the environment tends to be more static than in the office. This is important because research shows that recognition of success plays an important role in future success within an organization.
According to the NIH, “A long research tradition suggests that psychological momentum (PM) plays a critical role in goal pursuit and achievement…. When they initially experience success, their self-confidence and competence grow, leading to heightened expectations, expanded mental and physical effort in task performance, increased perceptions of positive PM, and a greater likelihood of success…”
Simply taking the time to regularly celebrate milestones can go a long way on this front, whether it’s regular posting on Slack channels or other core internal communication platforms, video meetings, or breaking “the 4th wall” with physical gifts as tangible reminders of goals achieved.
In April of 2020, Kensington Senior Living sent a gift to all of their employees which included items to encourage a fun game night at home as a way of releasing stress caused by the pandemic. Their message card provided an inspirational message “We’re in it to win it!” that cleverly tied the items in the gift to the greater mission of the team. This year – just in time for Employee Appreciation Day on March 5th, 2021, they’re sending another round of gifts centered around self-care for their employees, with the message “Don’t forget to take time for yourself this month!”
Gratitude: Recognizing & appreciating employees
“[Gratitude is] going to make your business more profitable, you’re going to be more effective, your employees will be more engaged—but if that’s the only reason you’re doing it, your employees are going to think you’re using them,” says Steve Foran, founder of the program Gratitude at Work. “You have to genuinely want the best for your people.”
According to Ryan Fehr, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington who recently published a paper summarizing the landscape of gratitude in business, one of the keys to a successful program is consistency. Employee awards once a year won’t cut it, he says.
Even prior to the pandemic, consulting company Slalom was a thought leader in recurring employee recognition with their “Going the Extra Mile”, or GEM, program. Each quarter the organization sends a gift to employees who reach 100% utilization in their GEM program. They work to find fresh themes and new products every quarter, taking care to ensure these products also support their company values. Every gift includes products from local small businesses as well as items that can be shared with the employees’ entire families – after all, now that employees are working from home, it’s only fair to recognize the support employees are receiving from their housemates and families. And employees who reach 100% utilization in 2 consecutive quarters receive a special upgraded item in their gifts to recognize a truly extraordinary performance.
Culture is ultimately about the actions we take and make visible to others, and the meanings we invest in those — which is harder, but not impossible, to maintain from the kitchen table.
According to Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo Professor in Organisation Studies at the Cambridge Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, “it may be a long time until many white-collar workers see their offices and gather with peers around the proverbial watercooler, but we can remind ourselves that it was never about the watercooler anyway. Culture is ultimately about the actions we take and make visible to others, and the meanings we invest in those — which is harder, but not impossible, to maintain from the kitchen table.”