The pandemic forced organizations of all types to re-imagine the way employees work. In many fields, this meant the introduction of remote and hybrid work models. While this shift was necessary to address immediate health and safety requirements, it also resulted in some unintended consequences.
Remote work: pros and cons
Respondents in a recent Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report, agree that remote work has improved work-life balance and productivity, offering increased flexibility, less time commuting to and from work, and more time engaged in work. On the flip side, over half (54 percent) reported a decrease in the mental wellness of their tech teams.
Even as COVID restrictions are increasingly relaxing, the tech industry still favors flexible work arrangements, both in location (59 percent) and hours (64 percent) according to a Gartner survey of digital workers. Therefore, both tech and human resource leaders must work together to build stronger connections and promote a healthier, happier workforce in this new normal.
[ Also read Remote work exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]
Here are five ways to ensure that your remote employees feel connected, collaborative, and engaged:
1. Start with engagement
Look for ways to enhance your team members’ emotional commitment to the organization and its mission. Start by recognizing the high-stress times in which we are working and thank employees regularly for their hard work – if not in person, then through a phone call, email, or text. Consider implementing or re-igniting engagement initiatives such as employee recognition events, mentoring programs, volunteer projects, and e-clubs. Focus on building connections and sharing company news, especially with new hires.
Some clients have had success in welcoming and acclimating new hires through a virtual buddy system: Each new hire is paired with a colleague who understands the organization and helps the new hire navigate the onboarding and transition process. It’s helpful if this mentor can relate to not only a new hire’s work experiences but their personal situation as well.
Engagement improves employee morale and reduces absenteeism. It also boosts productivity for the organization through greater work-life satisfaction.
2. Achieve more by doing less
Since the spring of 2021, according to the BLS, roughly 33 million Americans have voluntarily left jobs that didn’t support their needs or match their values. The highest resignation rates were in the tech and healthcare fields. Yet only 41 percent of tech leaders said their organization had relaxed rules on holidays and working hours, and a mere 32 percent said employee offerings were redesigned to suit remote working options better.
We all play an important role in delivering the tools and support needed to attract and retain people in a post-pandemic world. Trust your teams and make sure their work has meaning and is tied to measurable outcomes. Keep in touch with employees on workload to avoid overextension and burnout, and ensure employees understand the corporate vision and greater purpose of their work.
3. Empower employees to speak
Understanding employee sentiment is always important, but during times of change, it’s crucial. Focus groups, town halls, employee surveys, and other methods of soliciting feedback can help influence both business and tech decisions. Asking for employee input sends a positive message, but most importantly, sharing and acting upon that feedback builds trust.
The shift to remote work has removed opportunities for informal interactions that occur in hallways, on lunch breaks, and at the coffee machine. Harness ways to recreate encounters that lead to the natural exchange of thoughts and ideas. One example is organizing regular, opt-in coffee or lunch conversations with no agenda.
Also, make time to reach out proactively one-on-one to give employees an opportunity to share feedback in a smaller setting. This makes it easier for some employees to speak up and know they are being heard by leaders.
4. Lead by example
It is important to be purposeful in your actions and your narrative to motivate employees and create an inclusive environment. Start with personal connection by encouraging on-camera conversations. Send an agenda in advance to enable attendees to collect their thoughts. Varying facilitators and inviting all participants to share at least once gets more people involved in the conversation.
[ Read also: 5 tips to prevent IT team burnout ]
Look for ways to engage with and relate to team members by sharing personal connections and welcoming unplanned interruptions by pets and children, for example. Break the habit of interacting in the same way every day.
5. Be mindful of work-life balance
With remote work, the lines between work and life are often blurry. It’s important to check in often to see how people are feeling. Encourage colleagues to step away from their computers to take a walk, download a mindfulness app, or eat lunch outside or in a different room. Consider coordinating a virtual fitness class or suggest that employees take a break for self-care.
This is another opportunity to lead by example. One client regularly includes downtime activities on her calendar so that other employees feel comfortable doing the same. Another encourages employees to work in a new location, even in a different country if possible, for a few weeks at a time.
Thoughtful action now can help leaders and teams build healthy habits and strengthen relationships, which creates an inclusive culture where everyone wants to work, no matter where they sit.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]