Employee engagement and communication in a post-coronavirus world

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Back in July, our Chief People & Fulfilment Officer, Caroline Leroy, took part in Culture Amp’s EMEA Virtual Geekup to discuss how coronavirus has impacted organisations and employees. 

Caroline was joined by representatives from Mashreq Bank, VanMoof and Aggreko. 

In this piece, we will look at how employee engagement and communication has changed since the pandemic began

Whether it be through a loss in revenue, having to let staff go or just a change in working conditions, nearly every organisation across every sector has been impacted by the coronavirus crisis. It is the last of these points which perhaps most businesses can relate to. The change of going from office-based to full-scale remote work happened more or less overnight.  

For more modern organisations that had already implemented this in the past, the change, while not easy, was at least manageable; however, in companies that had previously been more reluctant to introduce such a policy, remote work was being tested for the very first time. 

The shift has been a significant one and has led to organisations having to reevaluate the way they operate in certain areas. 

Employee engagement

One of the areas affected has been employee engagement and communication. According to Ashok Gopal, Head of People Development at Mashreq Bank, the change has meant that companies have had to completely reevaluate the way they communicate and engage with their staff.

Ashok believes that in a pre-coronavirus world there was a tendency to assume that employee communication and engagement was dependent on presence in the office. However, the crisis has forced companies to take a more active interest in the way that information is spread throughout their organisation.

COVID-19 has brought about changes on several fronts, including the way that organisations engage with their employees."

Ashok Gopal, Head of People Development at Mashreq Bank

This change in employee engagement has manifested itself in different ways, including regular team meetings, more casual phone or video calls, e-coffees, quizzes and games, or setting up online sports sessions. 

These two-way engagement activities can equally improve the way that employees engage with their organisation. 

For example, Jeranne Koekkoek, Global Head of People at VanMoof, believes that management’s increased engagement initiatives have seen employees become more invested in the company’s purpose and mission. 

Changes in leadership

There is another interesting narrative regarding employee engagement that looks to analyse the role of leadership and how this has evolved over the last four to five months. 

While the visibility and presence of leadership teams have always been important, in times of crisis even more is expected of them.

Many have realised this and used the pandemic as an opportunity to increase visibility and improve the way managers interact with teams.

The crisis has been an opportunity for organisations to build trust through transparency, and leadership have taken the opportunity to step up and become really visible.

Chris Marshall, Communication Business Partner at Aggreko

According to a study conducted by O.C.Tanner, a global specialist in corporate culture, there is a clear link between employee engagement and an increase in organisational and leadership transparency.

Employees in the UK, US and Canada were surveyed, with the results indicating that increased transparency with employees since the start of the coronavirus outbreak led to an 85% rise in staff engagement

But while coronavirus has provided the opportunity for leaders to build trust through transparency, according to Caroline, this behaviour has to be ingrained within a company’s culture before it encounters times of hardship.

Employees have to trust leaders before a crisis. It’s very difficult to build trust in times of difficulty if it never existed in the first place.

Caroline Leroy, Chief People & Fulfilment Officer at PayFit

The need to remote work has perhaps shown to some companies for the first time that they didn’t have that cultural transparency in place and therefore have found it hard to implement it in such a short time. 

So what do those companies do? 

Employee communication

One good way is to listen to employees and address their concerns. Platforms like Culture Amp provide the necessary framework for gathering vital employee information. 

Once gathered, this information can help employers and leadership teams to build and improve on areas of their business. 

However, there is a caveat to all this. There is little point in continuously gathering data if there is then no follow up and, In Chris’s opinion, the feedback received from surveys must be acted upon for that trusting relationship to develop.

Matt Timmins, EMEA Growth Markets Lead at Culture Amp, agrees and suggests that less can often be more in this context. 

Employers have used the crisis to gather information from their employees, understand their key concerns, and then act upon them accordingly. Matt suggests that one way that companies have been able to do this is by setting up shorter yet more regular surveys. 

By this, he means that companies have moved away from a more annual feedback process and instead decided to receive feedback more regularly, albeit in bite-size chunks, and implement the changes more quickly and efficiently.

Only survey as often as you can take effective action.

Matt Timmins, EMEA Growth Markets Lead at Culture Amp

What does the future of work look like?

The pandemic has changed the way that leaders define “a place of work”. Remote work has shone a light on a more modern way of working and has, by and large, proved to be successful.

It has also demonstrated that the world of work now lies beyond traditional office space and can exist in any environment in which an employee can work productively. 

Through the success of remote work, as well as the feedback collected from employees, we have decided to implement a ‘work from anywhere’ policy that allows our employees to decide where they feel they can work best.

Caroline Leroy, Chief People & Fulfilment Officer at PayFit

The flexibility that comes with remote work is clearly beneficial for those who have other responsibilities - e.g. parents or those looking after elderly or vulnerable relatives.

Not only does remote work enable employees to live outside major cities, putting an end to uncomfortable commutes, it can also help improve work/life balance by freeing up time.

Remote work also has its advantages for employers. While previously they were required to advertise for jobs in specific cities, recruitment teams can now widen their search and, as such, broaden their talent pool. 

But what does this mean for the future of offices in general? 

Well, according to Jeranne, offices will always exist, but not as we previously saw them. Instead of acting as a place where people work for eight hours a day, offices may instead become creative hubs or act as meeting points for employees who crave social interaction. 

So, when all things are considered, it could be argued that the coronavirus pandemic has had a positive impact on our way of working. 

It has encouraged employers to create a culture of feedback that they may otherwise have been unlikely to implement before coronavirus and, despite forcing individuals apart physically, enabled teams to come together in a virtual sense by increasing overall engagement, communication and collaboration.

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