The office birthday parties and celebrations.
The office softball teams.
The lunch group that discusses politics, the environment, cooking, and how to be better parents.
The friendships that have developed in the workplace that have moved to outside the workplace.
The one-on-one meetings that focused on performance, development, and relationship-building.
The team meetings that brainstormed ideas, celebrated successes, and made work feel personal.
All of the above have always been part of what makes a workplace engaging. Yet for many organizations that have moved to remote working, especially those that will keep their employees remote as the pandemic subsides, a new challenge will emerge: How do you replicate some of these events, and the feelings that these events create, when employees are now separated by distance?
The answers are rooted in employee engagement, or the discretionary effort that employees put into their work. The more engaged an employee, the greater the person’s commitment to the organization, which subsequently impacts productivity and performance.
In a post-COVID-19 workplace, you’ll need to rethink how you engage remote employees. The starting place is to go back to what have been the drivers of engagement in our pre-COVID-19 world: alignment, relationships and development. Combined, these create a remarkable employee experience. Here’s how to deliver them remotely.
Alignment refers to knowing what each role at your organization does, the attributes required to do it well (i.e., behaviors, skills, experience, education), and using this information to ensure that employees are good fits for their roles. People are not engaged when they don’t feel capable, competent, and confident in what they are doing.
To activate engagement through alignment, start by creating a performance profile for each role, which should define the major and specific tasks of the job, as well as the specific behaviors, skills, experience, and education required to do it well — and do it well remotely. This will likely entail emphasizing greater personal organization, confidence, critical thinking, professionalism, and problem-solving. Though always important in a workplace environment, these become more critical in a remote environment.
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The connections that managers create with their employees are vital for engagement. The more personalized, supportive, and coach-like the relationships, the more included and valued employees will feel.
In a conventional, physical workplace, relationships happen almost by accident, often as a result of proximity. In a remote setting, this becomes more complicated and takes more effort. But the effort is essential — because strong relationships encourage greater communication, ideas, commitment, and performance. The reverse of the popular adage, “people quit people before they quit companies” is true: People in sound, caring, supportive, and encouraging relationships stay in those relationships.
Building stronger manager/employee relationships as a driver of engagement directs us to workplace coaching. Managers who learn how to think and act as workplace coaches approach their workplace relationships differently. Using coaching skills — like asking, listening, and guiding — improves relationships and, therefore, engagement. Furthermore, to mitigate distance in a remote work environment, managers should have frequent, guiding, and development-focused interactions with their employees.
Development refers to regularly helping employees improve their performance and skills so they can grow into their potential. This activates employees’ abilities and self-belief.
Develop your people using regular performance conversations that are interactive and structured to review an individual’s performance. Your aim is to gather information to assess successes, challenges, and roadblocks. Then work with employees to develop plans to amplify successes and address and solve issues.
Your objective should be to work together to build action plans that guide people to solving problems. This is especially critical in a remote work environment where an ad hoc learning and development session may or may not happen. Instead, your remote employees will need regularly scheduled events to ensure you can answer the question, How have I helped my employee grow, learn, and improve today?
Ultimately, exceptional performance is more about how connected and engaged an employee feels, not where they do the work.