How to boost
employee engagement
in 2021

The pandemic has accelerated our use of technology and transformed the way we work. Organizations are now dealing with a new set of expectations from both their customers and employees. Here is how you can create and support a more engaged and satisfied workforce. 

The new world “order” or lack thereof forced organisations to change their way of working and adopt almost instantly a digital approach to work. Yet, the urgency of the change did not leave much room for the development of a reliable consequent approach and thus, employees were thrown into deep waters without having had swimming lessons or being given the right lifebuoys.

2020 was a year of trials and errors, of experiments – it was a year of many failures, but, looking back, we could say that it was in some aspects one of the best years so far because it taught us some lessons the hard way and it is our moral obligation to share our leanings to prevent all of us from making the same mistakes. 

Books can be written about the experiences of 2020, but let us have a look at some of the things we learnt. The list will never be complete, but it is a starting point in the continuous improvement process.

Expedite workforce digitalization

Leaders and managers rightfully expect employees to deliver great results, nevertheless, poor employee experience does not lead only to poor results, but also to frustration, stress, absenteeism and in the end high employee turnover.

Great employee experience begins with the onboarding of new hires, from the moment they are informed they are the right candidate for the job to the point when employees are fully integrated in their teams and understand the expectations of the leaders and organisation. We can all remember how such an integration was smoothly achieved when new hires interacted face-to-face with their colleagues, but that has changed significantly. Nowadays, we work with people we have never personally met and we rely on communication tools to chat or have video conferences. Yet, this has proven not to be enough, as long as the new hire does not have access to the work the team is doing, or to an ordered and prioritised backlog of tasks that the manager defined, as long as they cannot be shadowed by more experienced team members when working on their first tasks or synchronise with a common purpose of their team and organisation in a transparent manner. 

We have learnt that synchronous communication and lists of tasks written down in notebooks or simplistic apps are not sufficient and that you need a reliable digital environment where work gets done. This is actually important not only for new hires but for all employees, even those changing positions or roles within the same organisation.

Another aspect we have all struggled with was communication. As most of us work from home, our working hours have become more flexible and availability for instant communication has been significantly reduced by factors that are no longer under our control (e.g. a child’s connection to online classes has failed and our help is requested, partners have meetings in parallel and space is limited, etc.). Therefore, we cannot only rely on e.g. instant messaging, which you should only use for really urgent things at least as long as we are talking about our work, or video, as part of our communication becomes asynchronous and it is up to us to decide when to communicate on a topic as long as we answer or react on time and when needed.

The new way of working in 2020 forced us into an accelerated upskilling of employees’ digital capabilities. So far, most of us used emails and editing tools as part of our daily routine, while now, our office work environment has shifted into a fully virtual one, where everything is done online, from collaborative editing, to file sharing and meetings. We have an unlimited range of digital tools that help us do our best at work, but we must choose wisely, as even the most digitally savvy people find certain tools too complex and complicated and will always try to find a way out. Our experience, so far, taught us that the best tools for a smooth upskilling process are expert-free intuitive tools that do not require extensive training or deep IT knowledge. We need to choose tools that are scalable which all employees can use so that we do not end up having different tools in different areas of the organisation for the sake of diversity. However, the most important aspect we need to consider is the depth of functionality. We need tools that have enough functionalities to serve the purpose of employees, but not complex, otherwise usage will drop dramatically.

Provide a more modern experience of work to support hybrid ways of working

Something that people have learned during the pandemic is how to work from everywhere, and it turned out pretty well. Employees have already expressed their enthusiasm for new working arrangements, and remote working will persist after the crisis in a more hybrid model. The question for you, as an organization, is how are you going to bring that at scale, that everybody has all the information needed available, that you deliver what is expected and still keep the feeling of “belonging” to a team and work for a common purpose?

As the worldwide situation improves, office work will again become a normality, yet the expectations of some employees will have changed by then. Furthermore, research has shown that some employees are up to 20% more productive when working remote. Not all employees can work remote, due to the nature of their job and some prefer coming to the office every day, but offering a choice, a hybrid way of working where employees and team leads agree on an office – remote work schedule will lead to an improved employee experience.

The 2020 experience taught us that the digitalization of communication, collaborative tools and processes reduced the risk of misalignment or missing deadlines. Everyone accessed the same information in real time, wherever they were and people could still work together.

This means that organisations need to become more flexible in terms of work hours and locations, but also to provide a working experience that is centered on bringing work to people instead of bringing people to work.

Support the changing nature of work

Describing people’s jobs used to be easy. People were recruited to perform the tasks on their job description, and, on rare occasions, they had to work with people from other departments on cross-functional teams. This way of working has been shattered.

First of all, people still have to perform what they are “supposed to do”, but the most redundant and time consuming elements of work have been automated. Today, tasks are less repetitive, knowledge intensive, and they are changing all the time. The average employee spends 25% of their days reading or answering emails, and there is no program to simplify that continuous flow of work.

Secondly, as we became a service oriented economy, the problems to solve do not belong to one line of business but to the entire organization. People have to get out of their comfort zone and participate in agile and cross-functional activities that foster better solutions, innovation, and growth.

The real issue we have here is alignment. How, as managers, can we keep people coordinated and aligned to goals?

Given the scope and the scale of the current changes, it is critical to provide managers and employees with tools that bring in a larger vision and facilitate goal management, work planning and team management. The responsibility to create a more efficient and innovative human-driven work environment does not belong only to HR. Team managers have to serve people as team leaders, being guiding partners, mentors and advisors for employees to feel engaged, trusted and valued.

Encourage feedback and coaching in the context of work

In this period of transformation, people have proven their resilience. Just as customers embraced new forms of delivery, employees have used digital technologies to communicate, work as teams and to deliver work from anywhere. What people still want more from their leaders is feedback and coaching. Yet, some means of giving feedback cannot be used that easily any longer in a remote and digital world, e.g. the 5 min chat face-to-face, the impact of body language and need to compensate for.

Giving feedback makes little sense if it does not help people in their roles and professional growth. That’s why feedback must be action oriented. Your feedback system can be re-engineered, so it is provided where people need it: right where work happens. Make feedback a routine and encourage your team to engage digitally with colleagues on daily tasks.

Also, technology can be injected to shorten the time to action. Advanced analytics and insights can sense behavioural change, and behaviours are very useful to evaluate and predict people’s performance. Those new models are rapidly evolving, and managers can use those types of data to start conversations with team members on their well-being and productivity.

At the end this is all about making the employee experience better; because, if people do not feel supported, encouraged and rewarded, they will be less productive.

Wrap up

Implement the following steps in your organization, and you should see employee engagement skyrocket.

  • Help new hires find their place in the organisation
  • Support the digital re- or upskill of employees
  • Encourage asynchronous communication
  • Create a culture of sharing, learning and working together
  • Enable people and teams to work from where they feel productive
  • Intensify feedback and adapt to a digitally driven work environment

  • Although we are still in a pandemic driven world, we do expect that once we come back to normal, that normal will not be the same as the pre-pandemic one. We believe that employees will expect to be given the opportunity to have flexibility regarding working hours and work locations, to be supported by digital tools that make their life and work easier, to be connected to their colleagues anywhere anytime. So, if we adapt our digital work environment right now and focus on boosting employee engagement, changes, transformations or transitions will happen almost seamlessly.

    If you need help to implement those particular solutions, drop us a message or connect on LinkedIn.

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