Guest Blogger

By Takashi Sato, managing director, Unipos

The past two months have seen the country’s working habits upended, with nearly every office worker in Britain now working from home. With uncertain times ahead, it’s still unknown when – or if – the pre-pandemic norms of office life will return.

Many businesses are introducing a variety of HR solutions to try to prevent a drop in productivity and employee well-being across their decentralised workforce. But all too often these efforts fall short of a genuine engagement strategy. The office is an important place both socially and economically, and replacing the benefits we gain from office-based interactions is not easy.

How going remote threatens engagement

Up to a quarter of Britons report feeling lonely because of self-isolation, which corresponds with a surge in mental health issues reported among the public. Loneliness can also erode the sense of “belonging” teams have with their business, which can result in reduced productivity and increased turnover.

Even if the volume of emails and digital messages remains the same among your team, it shouldn’t be underestimated how much of our office-based communication is lost remotely. In an office setting we are constantly able to calibrate responses to the body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice of our colleagues – all of this information is extremely difficult to access remotely.

This communications gap particularly threatens positive engagement. Psychologically, we’re wired to derive a great deal of motivation from the acknowledgements and opinions of our peers. However, much of the recognition that we take and give in our day-to-day lives comes from those minor, unplanned, uncodified, and tacit gestures that we can only access in-person.

That means that acknowledgement and recognition become scaled back in a remote setting, unless we make a conscious choice to replace the spontaneous and unplanned displays of acknowledgement with planned ones. The result can be drastic, especially given that 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite feeling unappreciated as the main reason they leave.

Building a remote engagement strategy

This is exactly why businesses need to create a remote engagement strategy, with the first objective of that strategy being to ensure every employee feels acknowledged and recognised. To do this, businesses that have been forced to go remote should take a look at the uncodified ways they give recognition already. You should consider how, when and in what format you normally share recognition with your teams, and, crucially, what your teams gain from it. Then, you should look at a written and codified way of doing the same and achieving the same results.

Different companies have their own approaches to this. However you pull it off, your goal should be to foster a culture where engagement and recognition is something everyone in the team thinks about, among both management and employees.

Another key objective of your remote engagement strategy is to ensure the continued upward flow of opinion. Every employee wants to feel that their thoughts are heard and valued. This is especially pressing on issues that directly affect them, such as the plans to reopen your office, and the working patterns that teams can expect in the future.

One of the most challenging parts of building and executing this remote engagement strategy is securing buy-in among your team. Some top-down direction will be essential in putting together and initially implementing a remote engagement strategy, but it won’t survive on managerial diktat. Team members have to feel that the engagement strategy works for them – engagement and interaction among team members has to feel natural, not forced.

Why recognition matters

An employee engagement strategy should be seen as an absolute necessity in these remote working times. Gartner has found that during disruptive periods, the desire of workers to be recognised for their contribution increases by roughly 30%. Alongside making sure your employees feel content, effective recognition is proven to increase productivity and boost staff retention rates.

Going further, it’s likely that the current crisis will usher in a permanent change to working habits, with 45% of workers expecting to work more flexibly after lockdown restrictions are lifted. That means that rather than a short-term, emergency measure, a remote engagement strategy will be vital to ensuring your people are able to effectively communicate and celebrate successes into the future.

If you can successfully implement a remote engagement strategy, there’s a good chance that your team will be better off than before the crisis. The Global Happiness Council estimates that a meaningful increase in workforce well-being can yield a productivity increase of roughly 10%. Even after lockdown ends and even if your team all go back to working in the office, a better defined engagement strategy can boost teams, usher in positive cultural change, and ultimately benefit the bottom line.

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