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'Business as unusual' generates more human impact, resilience and new experiences

  • Posted on August 14, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

This article was originally published on Forbes.com

Whoever came up with the adage “Life must go on” probably wasn’t imagining a 21st-century world where a virus could so quickly, and without warning, wreak havoc on such a global scale. Even the most mature companies have never encountered this level of turmoil before and have joined the ranks of others who were underprepared. But they also probably couldn’t have imagined the resilience of people, societies and businesses to adapt and overcome challenges with equal speed.

Looking beyond the immediate crisis, what’s truly emboldening and exciting to me is the innovations that have emerged (and continue to emerge). This is, in many respects, a once-in-a-generation opportunity in which we must reimagine and redefine the way we work, live and interact with our peers, teams, families and friends.

Prior to the pandemic, 63% of employers had remote employees. When the research was published, projections were that by 2028 this figure would rise to 73%. So much for projections.

Now we sit in our kitchens, at dining tables or in our spare rooms, connected to the world through Wi-Fi routers and copper wires, interrupted by deliveries, children, spouses, partners and others, as we work remotely at a scale never seen before. 

But at a time when company culture and employee experience has never been higher on the C-suite agenda, what does this new world mean for how we feel about the businesses we work for and the people we work with?

There’s plenty of research to show the clear, irrefutable link between engaged employees and the impact on a company’s bottom line. In my experience, this extends beyond simple sales or productivity profitability to talent acquisition and talent retention, which have indirect impacts on costs.

Alarmingly, according to research from Gallup, only 34% of employees are engaged at work. Higher employee engagement is linked to 21% higher profitability, not to mention better customer engagement and higher productivity. And those were pre-pandemic figures.

Lean into a new role as a leader of the people, regardless of level
As CEO of a business solutions and cloud services organization, my focus is on my people. Employee engagement is something I’m passionate about. It's important to recognize the efforts your employees are making and how they have adapted and remained focused and engaged in helping each other and clients, as well as their communities.

Whether your company was already operating remotely or in-office, I would argue that the psychological impacts of the lockdown are the same regardless of whether you’re a remote work veteran or a newbie.

Especially when you factor in all the other demands and distractions, such as being isolated at home, caring for family members or managing e-learning. I truly believe that it's our job as leaders to focus on the employee experience and that it is just as important to the success of a business as our clients’ experience.

Here are some best practices that have proved useful in generating more human interaction, along with new experiences and business.

Embrace personal experiences in communication
Unsurprisingly, regular and open communication is a critical factor in driving engagement, but arguably more critical than ever before is two-way communication. Taking the time to listen to your employees, understand how they feel and show empathy, and using that information to take appropriate action, is key. This is where the emotional quotient (EQ) enters.

But it doesn’t end there. Recognizing that people are experiencing different impacts of the pandemic at different times, depending on where they are in the world, and factoring in the cultural diversity, which provides global companies with invaluable perspectives, must be considered. The role that leadership plays in supporting and delivering messages can make or break the impact or reception. Communicating internally isn't just the job of internal communications professionals.

Tap into your transparency — it is more important than ever
It’s vital to speak openly to really gauge evolving employee needs during this time. Look at protocols that may not be working for your employees, especially right now. Schedule calls so people can share their real-life stories and situations. This will help create a sense of community, camaraderie and support.

What’s most important, though, is for leaders to share experiences with their employees — it’s our responsibility. Leading with transparency can create a stronger trust within groups and encourage more comfortable dialogue. Through this sudden shift, it’s become clear that in a digital world, video calls make a difference in driving engagement and helping employees feel more connected.

Encourage your teams to embrace personal exercises and forge new connections. Take the opportunity to set up a video happy hour or “virtual watercooler” meeting where people share their home workspaces or newfound hobbies. Simple steps can go a long way in making employees feel inspired, confident and cared for — but it must come from the top down.

Think tactically and act on it
Beyond verbal communication, try using tactics that will help you get the new insights you need to pave the path forward for employees. In normal circumstances, roll out a biannual survey to take the pulse of the people at your company. The questions can cover a range of topics from business strategy to engagement and team related areas.

Be flexible with going off script and reinventing your plans. Consider how an impromptu survey could help navigate through the now — and don’t wait. In the wake of the pandemic when everyone is in different places and sometimes feeling busier than ever, it’s a strong option to pivot and lead with an employee survey solely on topics related to how people are feeling and the impact of the situation.

Results and feedback from these types of surveys can really help shape what your organization does next and help leaders support teams and individuals around the world in a more interpersonal way.

Final Thoughts
As leaders, we owe it to our employees to be transparent, communicative, understanding and responsive.
 

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