Is Your Employee Engagement Ready for the New Normal?

4 Minutes Read

Things finally look like they're getting back to something approaching normal.  I’ve actually sat in restaurants, well outdoors, to eat.  I’ve spoken to people face-to-face for the first time in over a year and I’m actually carrying on discussions with colleagues without having to worry about dogs barking because the mail carrier is coming to the door.  Still there are many questions around when will we fully reopen.

The question above is one thing that  hear frequently when I’m meeting with human resources leaders on behalf of KangoGift. It quickly leads to the follow up questions. How can I keep my employees fully engaged as the stresses of reopening and/or not reopening are flying around? And then given the hybrid approach is the likely way forward, how do you engage in a work environment where you may see your team part of the time, all of the time or not at all?

This issue is split into some unique angles:

  • How does management engage in the new office workplace environment
  • Can you build a successful team if it is remote, hybrid or in an office environment with wary people
  • Is it possible to engage, recognize and reward employees you don’t see

Let’s look at this in more detail.

How does management engage in the new office environment-- We’re getting to the point where we need to start thinking about the new work environment.  Will it continue to be remote? Will it be in the office or will it be a hybrid?  Well I can tell you that engagement is engagement.  You need to make sure that no matter your employees are working that they feel like they have your support to help them grow, the impact they are having, and learn from other colleagues to share info and achieve collective goals.

One thing I am telling KangoGift’s customers is that expect the ways you’ve been engaging with your employees to be the new way you engage with them.  While we may be close to going out to eat or having a nice summer BBQ the fact is that you will need to engage with your employees like you’re all still at home, in your sweats, working on the current projects. 

So soon, I hope you'll be able to have some face time with some members of your team, but for some you’re going to have to find time to talk to them one-on-one.  You’re going to still pick up the phone and call people or maybe have those person-to-person conversations you have been having throughout the year. 

Can you build a successful team if it is remote, hybrid or in an office with wary people--I get asked this a lot when I’m talking to HR executives.  The simple answer is yes!  But now you have to turn the yes into an action plan and that’s where it gets really sticky. 

Let me tell you that there is no easy fix to this issue, no one size fits all answer.  Even for KangoGift, we use our solutions to help our clients address this issue and if there is one constant we’re seeing is that there is no constant. Where we help is keeping managers informed so that they can make meaningful decisions on when and whom to give positive feedback and when to spend more time with an employee who may be unclear on the mission and/or could benefit from individualized guidance.  Even within organizations one team’s pathway to success will differ from others. 

Therein is the solution however. Management is going to have to call on the managers to make the calls on how to engage with their teams and, most importantly, how to recognize their key successes and reward them properly.  As I’ve been saying for the past year, now is the time to double down on recognition and that won't change for a long-time.  

Is it possible to reward employees you don’t see--This is a seemingly simple question that is quite difficult.  Again the answer is a resounding yes but the devil is again in the details.  

The key to success here is something I will call “Super Engagement.”  I’ve been told some companies plan to stagger their employees.  That’s your basic hybrid environment.  Some intend to say fully remote.  I haven’t heard of anyone saying, “yeah we’re going back to the office full time.” 

So that means you need to be the super manager who makes sure to engage with your team.  Follow what they are doing very closely.  Look for those chances to find out how things are going and find ways to ensure that the team is fulfilled by what they are doing.  

You also need to engage and look for reasons to reward your employees efforts.  Call it generous if you will but I tell people that you need to open up your mindset when it comes to reward.  Maybe, in your mind, finishing a big project a certain way wasn’t something you’d recognize pre-COVID, but now, with working in converted closets, with kids running around and dogs barking, it is a much bigger deal.  

You need to recognize that and look for reasons to reward.  Gone are the days of rewarding the exceptional.  In today’s world, much of the ordinary is exceptional. 

Let me leave you with some calls to action that can help you engage in our emerging office world. 

  • The COVID work style is here to stay.  Be ready for some of your team to work remote, some hybrid and some in the office.  It’s up to you and your organization to work extra hard to engage your employees.
  • Managers are going to have to continue taking those extra steps when engaging with employees.  I’ve spoken at length about the need to occasionally pick up the phone or have a one-on-one Zoom meeting with team members.  I’ve been told by organizations that follow this idea that they are seeing positive results. Keep doing it!  Let your employees know they aren’t alone. 
  • Human resources leaders have to make sure that line managers are finding reasons to reward employees that they might not in normal circumstances. Today’s workplace environment is making what might have been regular quite irregular.  Positive reinforcement by way of offering recognition will go a long way towards helping build stronger teams. 

It seems the world is coming back to life.  While a lot of things are returning to what they used to be the way your teams are working is almost certainly not. You need to continue using what you did with COVID, you need to expect some of your teams will be working remotely and you need to go to great lengths to engage with them.  Returning to normal doesn’t necessarily mean your teams will be returning to the way things were. 

I’ve only scratched the surface on this really compelling issue you’ll be facing.  I’m happy to discuss it with you in greater detail and offer you some action steps.  Feel free to contact me through the website to talk more about this. 

Todd Horton