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6 steps for engaging employees regardless of their workspace

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Last year, the world underwent a mass adoption of remote work. Now, 1 year after this shift, many employees have adjusted to permanent remote work environments, while others are beginning to prepare for a return to the office or even a hybrid combination of the two. In short, if 2020 was a year of quickly shifting business operations, 2021 will be the year where companies define their long-term business environments. Wherever companies choose to have employees work, a common denominator for everyone is the challenge of guiding their employees through operational change. Employees are the foundation of every company and supporting them is crucial to business success and long-term vitality.

When transitioning back to physical offices, companies must prioritize their employees' safety and understand how their employees' needs may have changed from the last time they worked in the office. Simply put, it won’t exactly be a return to the way things were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Things have drastically changed regarding employees’ workplace expectations for safety, personal schedules, and at-home responsibilities to name a few. Being cognizant of these changes will enable companies to create agile workforce planning strategies to lead companies into a post COVID-19 pandemic work environment.

Companies must chart their course of action, including a plan for how to keep their employees supported, informed, and invested in business success. To prepare for these workspace transitions and keep employees engaged throughout the process, companies should ensure that they are completing these six steps: establishing trust, setting clear expectations, communicating frequently, offering flexibility, providing the right tools, and rewarding success.

1-Establish Trust

Working remotely indefinitely may not be feasible for many companies, so planning a return to physical office space is now a top priority. Even if the need to return is pressing, the most important thing a company should focus on throughout the process is the safety of its employees and customers. Safety protocols must be clearly outlined to employees and carefully implemented. In doing so, companies protect their most valuable asset—their people—and reinforce their employees' trust in both the company and their leaders.Set clear expectations

2- Set clear expectations

Safety measures and trust go hand-in-hand with setting clear expectations for when employees are expected to return to the office. By providing a working timeline that’s considerate of safety measures, companies can keep employees informed throughout the transition. Employees will appreciate being kept in the loop and feel confident throughout the transition process if they know what’s going on. Many companies will also create hybrid remote work environments, where employees have the flexibility to work from home or from the office, with a staggered approach to returning to offices. Ensuring employees know where and when they will be expected to work is crucial.

3-Communicate frequently

With teams dispersed to different locations and following different timelines, communicating with teams and managers is an important way to keep employees engaged and on schedule. Frequent touchpoints will keep employees aligned on when they are expected to return to the office and will help alleviate any problems as they arise. As any good manager knows, strong internal communication helps prevent misunderstandings and enables teams to address problems head on before they are exacerbated. When it comes to shifting business operations back to the office or establishing long term remote work, there are countless moving parts. What will be a north star for many employees is clear communication and transparency from management. No employee touchpoint is too small to make a difference. Managers should loop their employees into operational timelines but also in on simple changes, like for instance what location they themselves will be working in. This will ensure employees have strong relationships with the company, their team, and their role, regardless of their workspace location. 

4-Offer work flexibility

Employee expectations, needs, and their home environments have all most likely changed since working remotely. Another variable to consider is offering employees different working hours to help them accommodate their transition to a new environment. By giving employees as much flexibility as possible, companies strengthen employee relationships and trust. Providing employees with agency over their own schedule and work environment enables them to focus on performing their job to the best of their abilities.

5-Provide the right tools

Employees are most engaged when they feel empowered to do their job well. Now, with many companies offering remote work, providing employees with the right digital tools is imperative to enabling them to succeed. Digital tools support internal communication but also communication with customers. As companies prepare to transition back to their offices, hybrid environments, or continue working fully remote, the right tools will ensure a high level of performance and communication is maintained across the organization.

To provide employees with the right tools, companies must listen to their employees’ needs. Similar to when operations first transitioned to being remote, companies must identify and address needs as they shift into different work environments. In doing so companies can create as smooth a transition as possible.

For example, if an employee has been working remotely for a better part of a year and is now expected to return to the office, allowing them to keep the same tools they were using before will help them transition. Rather than switching back to the tools they used in the past, consider allowing employees to keep their new digital tools and equipment in the office.

6-Reward the right behavior

Companies can have strong communication and offer the right tools and flexibility, but if they aren’t recognizing the employees who are making the new situation work—and who are championing the transition—then they are missing a huge opportunity to reinforce and encourage similar behavior.

Companies should recognize employees who go out of their way to help their peers, follow-up with their customers, or check in with their managers. It boils down to any behavior that helps reinforce a connection to their team, their customers, and the company is a good thing that should be rewarded.

Companies can also recognize the employees who are excelling through internal announcements (Does your company have a weekly newsletter? Use it to call out employees who are doing a great job!) and through incentives, such as sign-off early cards or company swag. Focus on rewarding employees for both their large and small scale successes because through consistent recognition, employees are engaged and are more likely to buy into business success.

Ensuring long-term success

Companies are now faced with both a challenge and an opportunity to engage their employees, whether they continue to work remotely, transition to a hybrid environment, or return to the office. Following the six steps outlined above will help business leaders navigate what will no doubt be a long process. They’ll find that by creating an engaged employee population their company, as a whole, will be more agile. With all employees well-informed, supported, and invested in the same mission, companies will find themselves better prepared to adapt to any new environment.

In the end, employees will remember that their company supported them through these ever-changing times and be more invested in the company’s long-term success. By recognizing the challenges that each employee is individually facing and being empathetic to their new environments, companies will strengthen employee relationships and promote engagement across the organization.

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