Shifting Workforce Engagement Dynamics - 5 Evolutionary Principles Leaders MUST Follow in Post COVID Scenario...

To win the marketplace, you must first win the workplace.” -Doug Conant

While the industry was grappling and coming to terms with technological disruptions revolutionising the global economic firmament and planning their strategies to leapfrog, the pandemic has created a unique challenge that is unpredictable and the highly complex, accelerating pace of shift and taking it to a new stratosphere.

Time has come for Leadership to rethink their workforce engagement strategies. It is incumbent on Leadership to re-assess existing workforce engagement paradigms in the midst of mammoth shift in business landscape in post COVID Scenario. Workplaces existed to drive collaboration, camaraderie & engagement. Now the challenge is to replicate the similar experience in the virtual world.

Challenges & Emerging New Rules...

Challenge 1 
[Remote Work]

Decentralized teams face a number of challenges that can have damaging consequences if unaddressed - but they can be overcome.

Rule 1- Remote work, once a rare and innovative strategy reserved for tech companies, is no longer a fringe business practice. The IWG 2019 Global Work-Place Survey found that 3 out of 4 workers around the globe consider flexible working to be “the new normal.” This was before the coronavirus pandemic spurred even more organizations to implement remote work policies. The remote work model offers many obvious advantages, from lower overhead and flexible schedules to reductions in employee commuting and an increase in productivity along with low attrition rates.

Challenge 2
[Low-Bandwidth Communication]

Face-to-face communication is considered high bandwidth because you can transmit and receive the greatest amount of information in a given time period. This is possible thanks to all the nonverbal cues and supplementary information those cues convey in a conversation. High-bandwidth communication results in more work getting done. For example, one HBR study found that a face to face request is 34 times more successful than an email. One of the biggest downsides of remote work, then, is the loss of face-to-face communication as companies turn more heavily toward low-bandwidth communication methods like email and chat.

Although written communication can accomplish a lot, it falls short compared with the information exchange and personal connection of face-to-face conversations. Additionally, it is asynchronous, meaning conversations aren’t necessarily happening in real-time. The real-time benefits of face-to-face interaction are lost in the delayed replies and other interruptions sprinkled in between.

Rule 2 : To compensate, video meetings have become the standard alternative for business communication.

Challenge 3
[Unproductive Meetings]

One common mistake leaders make when trying to increase face-to-face communication among remote team members is overcompensating by scheduling more meetings. In fact, a study from OWL labs found that remote workers attend more meetings per week overall, with 14% of remote workers dedicating time to more than 10 meetings per week.

While meetings can bring a team together for knowledge sharing and decision-making, if the only purpose of a meeting is to clock some face-to-face time, it’s probably not worth doing it. Unnecessary meetings are frustrating and costly. Employee time is an organizations most valuable resource, yet 71% of senior managers report that meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and subpar meetings cost billions of dollars in annual losses.

Rule 3: To stem the tide of remote work meetings, try adopting catchphrases like “No meetings without an agenda,” “No unnecessary meetings,” or, an old favorite, “Could this meeting have been an email?” Leaders can also limit the number of internal meeting hours allotted per week, which makes meeting time more valuable and worth conserving. Attendees will likely be more engaged, alert, and motivated to use their precious time wisely. 

Challenge 4
[Loss of Passive Knowledge Sharing]
Finally, remote work generally threatens the informal information sharing and open communication lines facilitated by shared physical spaces. Informal information sharing like this is tricky, but not impossible, to replicate remotely. Set aside the perception that informal conversations are tangential, nonessential, or unrelated to the organization’s goals.

Rule 4 - Teams can also benefit from virtual gatherings and chats with no formal conversational structure or agenda. Think “watercooler chat room,” where team members can engage in non-work-related conversation as they would at the office. These unstructured conversations can reveal experiences and ideas that otherwise would have remained unexpressed — and keep team members connected on a personal level. There is great value in knowing how team members think, what they’re working on, and what their challenges are.

5 Evolutionary Principles Every 
Leader Must Remember

Maintain Transparent & Consistent Communication.

When employees work from home, they can feel disconnected from their organisations. It has been determined that most effective communication has 5 characteristics: It’s frequent, transparent, part of a two-way dialogue, easy to navigate, and consistent. These communication principles are useful in general, but they’re crucial when a company’s workforce is distributed.

Provide support for Physical & 
Mental Health

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s not surprising that many employees pointed to company-sponsored COVID-19 tests, masks, and flu vaccines as positive actions. Large number of employees praised the steps to foster mental wellness and help them combat social isolation. 

Social isolation among remote workers is not a new challenge — in fact, 6 of every 10 remote workers reported that they felt isolated before COVID-19 — but the pandemic has helped bring the issue into focus. The most effective step to battle isolation is regular check-ins by managers to see how their employees are doing personally and professionally.

Help Distributed Employees Stay 
Productive & Engaged

Remote work can boost productivity, particularly on stand-alone tasks that require minimal coordination with colleagues. When employees need to collaborate with other teams, however, working from home may decrease productivity. One effective short-term step is for leaders to acknowledge that productivity may dip during the lockdown and to let employees know that it is acceptable.

Frequent, short meetings can boost productivity. Employees might grumble about meetings under normal circumstances, but many COVID-19 Pulse of HR respondents said that daily team huddles helped them remain focused and engaged while working remotely. Structured mechanisms to share best practices and tips on remote work were also popular.

Executives and board members at one company used their twice-per-week all-hands meetings to share examples of what was working (and not working) while remote, and another company collected and relayed employees’ success stories on its intranet.

Manage the Paradox of Remote 
Work-Life Balance.

When it comes to work-life balance, remote work poses a paradox. On the one hand, working from home cuts down on commuting and allows people to adjust their schedules and spend more time with their families. On the other hand, remote work can leave employees feeling like they must be available 24-7 and work more hours, and it can blur the boundary between their professional and personal lives. 

Various Research has consistently shown that remote workers log more hours than their onsite counterparts. A Gallup poll conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak found that U.S. employees worked an extra hour per day when working remotely, but a study by NordVPN found that remote workers have been logged on for two to three more hours per day during the quarantine than they were before the lockdown. When remote work is mandatory and children’s schools and daycare facilities are closed, it is, of course, even harder to maintain the boundary between work and professional life. 

The most popular way to help employees manage work-life balance is making allowances for them to adjust their schedules to accommodate personal obligations.

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Strategic Priorities

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, more than 70% of S&P 500 companies published strategic priorities - forward-looking objectives that focus an organisation’s attention on the handful of choices that matters most to success in the future. Common strategic priorities included improving products and services, accelerating innovation, making operations more efficient, developing talent, and executing a digital transformation, among others. 

It’s understandable that a once-in-a-lifetime crisis would distract leaders from their existing priorities, but it’s also a mistake. In many cases, strategic objectives set before COVID-19 will remain as important or even more critical in the future. The shift to remote work, however, creates new challenges to achieving these objectives. Gaining market share is hard under the best of circumstances, let alone when market demand is collapsing. 

Leaders must figure out how to build and sustain a healthy corporate culture when most employees are working from home. 

Remote work is here to stay and will bring new challenges and opportunities. Organizations and leaders around the world are experimenting with novel management practices to manage the transition to a more distributed workforce. We are still in the early days, and it’s not yet clear which of these approaches will endure.

This article has been written in collaboration with Dr. Arun Sacher, my co-author of Book Titled - Go & Get Your Success - A Kaleidoscope of Leadership Models that Unshackles Usual Patterns.

[Views expressed are personal]

About the Author -

Raj Gupta, Author of Multiple Books & Award-Winning HR Leader with 25+ Years of Experience

Dr. Arun Sacher, An Educationist with 30 years of experience with Top multinationals and premium academic institutions.

The article was originally published on LinkedIn.


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