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5 business leaders on employee engagement in a remote-first world

Remote work, with all its advantages and disadvantages, is here to stay. What can companies do to keep employees engaged while navigating through the new normal engendered by Covid? Read on to find out
Nov 12, 2020 / 03:42 PM IST

Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report states that communication, collaboration and loneliness are the top challenges for remote workers and organisations.

While that does not come as a surprise, it is important to remember that remote work is no longer just an option but the #FutureofWork for many organisations, even after the pandemic (whenever that is).

Buffer report

According to a Gallup report, managers need to have five different types of conversations with remote workers to encourage performance: role and relationship development, quick connects, check-ins, developmental coaching, and progress review.

The same report also states that remote employees are three times more likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their manager at least a few times per month.

Recalibrating employee engagement is therefore a priority that many organisations have gone after both globally and in India over the past six months. I spoke to some of them about their learnings and ideas that worked.  Here are some excerpts from those conversations:

Let people leaders create micro engagements focussed on micro issues

Aakriti Joanna, Founder and CEO, Kaha Mind, an online counselling platform Aakriti Joanna, Founder and CEO, Kaha Mind, an online counselling platform

The outcome that any form of Employee Engagement aims to achieve is better communication within the company. Engaging team members in a remote environment can intuitively sound like a harder task than in a regular setting. But in practise remote can actually be an advantage. We are no longer hindered by physical spaces or physical appearances and this has truly allowed for opportunities to work with great talent from across the world.

This creates an opportunity for people leaders to create micro engagements focussed on specific micro issues in smaller teams. It creates better communication at a team level and eventually stronger employee engagement companywide. Most importantly, this engagement can be measured and quantified like any other digital product that engages customers.

Learn from organisations that have the highest level of engagement possible with their people

Harish Bhamidipati, Co-founder, Choose to Thinq, a remote-only company (since 2014) that helps teams and individuals uplevel for future relevance Harish Bhamidipati, Co-founder, Choose to Thinq, a remote-only company (since 2014) that helps teams and individuals uplevel for future relevance

In 2020, organisations suddenly rewired themselves and virtualised all tactical activities despite all the uncertainties. But we have entered a new world where ‘first contact’ is over screens, physical office spaces have been replaced by home décor, and there is less visible randomness. This has made it harder to shape culture, spread unwritten rules and norms of the organisation. In this context, here are some tips to think about influencing culture:

• Different segments are at different levels and kinds of risk. There are the high fliers who might be overworked, the newcomers who have never met anyone in the organisation, teammates that don’t know enough about each other. Treat each segment differently instead of one initiative to address them all. There was a carefully nurtured employer brand built on signals from the physical office space, watching peers and leaders behave. Capture and propagate culture-defining stories so that people understand what your organisation’s way of life means.

• Finally, remember that everyone is working on their own schedules now. So, if you want people to come together for something, it better be worth the effort they’ll need to put to accommodate it in their schedules. Think asynchronous first. Luckily, all these challenges have been solved in other worlds. So, learn from organised religion and mass political leaders who have engaged with their followers to achieve the highest levels of engagement possible.

An example of our work in this area:

We help companies unlock the power of stories. We do this using an internal microsite that illustrates their core values in action via raw, real-life stories, a deliberate system to capture stories on a regular basis and propagate them to engage and influence both old-timers and newcomers.

Keep things exciting to engage employees

Ruby Jane Anthony, Lead, People Operations, at fintech startup Setu Ruby Jane Anthony, Lead, People Operations, at fintech startup Setu

Here’s the gist of some of the employee engagement initiatives we set up at Setu after remote became our new norm:

Meme channel on Slack: This, by far, had to be our most team-engaging activity. We knew our people liked sharing interesting tweets, memes and all kinds of fun posts. We didn’t realise how creating a ‘meme-a-mia’ channel on Slack would bring the entire company together in a way no other organisational level activity has until now, and in the words of one of our dear employees, ‘keep our sanity intact’.

The day this channel was created, the flurry of activity and the top-notch creativity the team displayed in the memes they posted was beyond whatever we imagined. Even the founders weren’t spared in the company-wide trolling that went on for what we felt was the most fun remote week we had during this time.

Virtual escape room: We have weekly Friyay gaming and for one such Friyay event, we got ‘Seek Sherpa’ to host these fun virtual escape rooms with our people. The team was divided into two smaller groups and each group got to play a different escape room-themed game. Each group had people in pairs solving a trail of clues in a treasure hunt-style experience. They had to virtually race other teams to crack the code first and be the ultimate winning champions.

Good workplace relationships add to an employee’s sense of purpose and fulfilment

Chryslynn D'Costa, Co-Founder and Head, Research and Design, at Serein Chryslynn D'Costa, Co-Founder and Head, Research and Design, at Serein

Human beings participate in paid labour for economic gains but we also do so to achieve a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Relationships at the workplace add to this sense of purpose and fulfilment. Employee engagement activities have for a long time facilitated these connections and relationships.

It was very heartening to see that even in the midst of the pandemic and business uncertainty, HR and leaders continued to prioritise employee engagement and well-being.

Many of Serein’s partner companies reached out for sessions on well-being to ensure that employees living alone or struggling with family priorities in the lockdown would have the right tools to find a balance.

We are also working with companies who want a more fun approach. We have designed sessions like Virtual Mystery Night, Virtual Treasure Hunt and Virtual Pop Quiz night. These have helped introduce new recruits to the team, learn some new inside jokes, and build new work friendships.

Having an engaged workforce has become a survival imperative

Shailesh Singla, Country Head, HCM sales, Oracle India Shailesh Singla, Country Head, HCM sales, Oracle India

In today’s scenario, organisations need to treat their employees better than customers to be able to generate the kind of impact they want them to create. Organisations all over the world are figuring out how to adjust to the “new normal”, and maintaining workplace culture has become an exercise in creativity and innovation. Therefore, having an engaged workforce is not a differentiator anymore, it has become a ‘survival imperative’.

We had some complex internal systems that were getting in the way of our ability to innovate and support our most critical resource, our people. Cloud allowed us to focus on strategy and systems that give us better visibility into our talent. It gave us one end-to-end solution that is easy to use, has strong reporting and analytics and is flexible enough to support our growth and acquisition strategy.

While we all are currently operating remotely, our HR teams have been hard at work, shifting priorities to place a virtually healthy, engaged, and supported workforce while we all navigate this unprecedented time.
(Nisha Ramchandani is Manager, Outreach, Axilor Ventures and a writer focussed on Future of Work)
Nisha Ramchandani
first published: Nov 12, 2020 03:42 pm

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