So many articles and videos are posted on this website with the intention of emphasizing the necessity of social interaction for organizational prosperity. Human connection is the key to employee engagement. Unfortunately, we are moving into an unprecedented moment in modern history that is forcing us to reorient our focus. Here, we grapple with working remotely and discuss techniques that executives should employ to maintain the team environment we work so hard to build.
So, it looks like we’re in for the long haul.
The 24/7 coverage of coronavirus across all forms of news media has made one thing abundantly clear: this pandemic won’t die out quickly. Victoria is now, officially, in a state of emergency (although it has felt that way for some time anyway). Medical experts predict that we are months away from the peak of the illness.
Things aren’t looking great.
The fragility of human society only becomes obvious in these times of panic. We seem so set in our ways until we are disrupted – then you realise that it doesn’t take much for our systems to break down. Obviously, we aren’t at that point yet. But, even in these early stages, you can see how quickly we jump off norms and customs that, while commonsense in our day to day life, become unattractive in times of crisis.
For centuries we have shaken hands. Within days of coronavirus becoming a problem, we’re now touching elbows. Suddenly, there’s no sport, music or festivals happening for the foreseeable future, which is unheard of in Melbourne. We’re sacrificing culture, the economy and social interaction. Ultimately, it is for a good reason. Public health bows to no one.
In a similar sense, the norms of corporate culture are in the midst of change. People who put slight ailments to the side and come into work for the good of the team have always been celebrated. Now they are being condemned. It’s too risky for them to be at work. The most likely scenario is that more and more of our team members will be forced to work from home.
This is the reality that executives must accept for the coming weeks and months. We are no longer in our ideal world. We can’t sit around in groups, fostering close ties with our colleagues to boost engagement and productivity. Instead, we must try and find something of a compromise, where we keep our staff at a safe distance without destroying the engaging environment we have all endeavored to cultivate.
So, what are some of the things executives can do to guide their employees through these trying times?
Think about the experiences that bring employees together once they arrive at work in the mornings. You need to find a way of recreating these sorts of phenomena online.
Forbes Agency Council, for instance, recommends setting aside time each day for ‘water cooler conferences.’ By giving your employees the opportunity to discuss the things that they would normally chat about at work, you make inroads into the distancing that might otherwise occur because of remote work. More often than not, the prospect of working from home results in executives focusing too much on ensuring that work remains at the forefront of their employees’ minds. If you leave your employees in a position where they are cut off from their colleagues and facing more pressure from their boss, their engagement levels will drop drastically. The atmosphere of solidarity you want to achieve at all levels of your organization will evaporate. To reverse that trend, you need to make time each day for your employees to connect with those around them.
A second option for executives is presenting this event as an opportunity to develop leadership capacities in their employees. Positions of responsibility are unique because you don’t have someone looking out for you and your mistakes. You are only answerable to yourself. If you empower your employees to view remote work as an opportunity to exercise greater autonomy and responsibility, you are much more likely to see a better quality of work over the course of the isolation period.
Nobody envies executives at the moment. Not only are they experiencing the same fears and pressures as the rest of the world, they are expected to provide a guiding light through the crisis.
The most important thing to remember as we head into a period of remote work is that your employees will not be used to this experience. It needs to be managed in a way that does not cut them off from their workplace entirely.
In many ways, engagement relies on our connection to our work and our office. We need to put measures in place to keep these ties alive.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay engaged.