4 Ways to Engage Employees Through the Pandemic and Beyond

About the Author: Annette Reavis, Chief People Officer at Envoy, spent a decade at Facebook leading HR for multiple teams. She is passionate about culture building and coaching people from good to great. In her downtime, she loves reading romance novels and spending time with her two boys.

With the shift to remote and hybrid work over the past two years, it’s been a challenge to stay on top of what’s important to employees and what keeps them engaged. 

A former colleague recently asked how I deal with the issue of engagement. How do I help colleagues stay motivated, passionate, and committed to their work and involved in community building? 

Honestly, it’s not easy. It takes intentionality, persistence, and trial and error. And most importantly, learning from those errors. The four things I stress with my People team are: work-life blend, small talk, flexibility and conversations about engagement. 

1. Practice work-life blend 

Work-life balance assumes everything should be equal. It never is. When I was at Facebook, there were days I had a deadline, which meant I might not make dinner with my boys. But I never missed that soccer game at three in the afternoon.

Work-life blend is about the in-the-moment trade-offs and choices we all have to make every day. You’re looking at how you need to spend your time and making a commitment. Does work come first right now, or is it family? Do I go into the office on Tuesday and Thursday so I’m free to pick up the kids the rest of the week?

We need to help people recognise the choices and trade-offs and give them the flexibility to do what is right based on their circumstances. We also need to teach them how to say no sometimes. 

2. Make time for small talk 

Business plus small talk is a concept I’ve started to push from the top down because socialising helps us cope and stay engaged. Pre-pandemic, it was easier to connect on a personal level when we worked in the office. It was organic. We spent time chatting and hearing the latest from our colleagues — about their holiday abroad or how their eldest is off to college.

We have lost that sense of community and we’re all a bit out of practice when it comes to chit-chat because it’s much harder to do over Zoom. On Zoom, we tend to get down to the business of getting work done. 

Doing business is a priority, but our interactions shouldn’t be just about work or even productivity. Taking a few minutes to ask your co-workers about how things are going matters. Why? Because it’s how we’re built. We remember those who’ve shared and whom we’ve shared with. Touchpoints help us develop rapport, which builds stronger relationships that help us do good work together. 

3. Embrace flexibility 

The concept of flex work isn’t new, but – thanks to the pandemic – its widespread adoption is. 

In December 2021, we asked office workers across the UK how their companies could do better. What would empower them as employees and what factors would impact whether they stay with their current company or look elsewhere? 29% said hybrid work, putting it on par with pension contributions and paid time off.

Flexible work helps all of us find some semblance of control after an uncontrollable pandemic and a period of uncertainty. For some, it’s about being able to log off to make the school run, or having days to work from home.

Those options, and that sense of control make people happier and less stressed and when implemented well, lead to a greater desire to participate, which helps us build our community and culture. 

4. Prioritise one-on-one conversations about engagement 

Don’t expect an engaged workforce if you never talk about engagement. Train managers to meet quarterly with direct reports to talk about what matters most to them. Are they finding joy in their job? What are the things they want to change, and do they have the resources to make those changes? If they received a call from a recruiter, would they take it and why? 

Once you’ve done a few of these sit-downs, you’ll notice trends. And almost always, these conversations surface problems that are within the manager’s control to solve – which may make the difference whether a person stays or leaves. 

Finally, building a great physical workplace that people love is one of the most important ways to keep people excited and engaged. I have confidence in the physical workplace for many reasons.

One of the most compelling is that people crave it and will continue to gravitate to it. If given the choice, 66% of office workers would choose to work mostly in-office. 48% say impromptu run-ins and actual face time with colleagues is what excites them when thinking about going into the office. 47% just want to get out of the house! I can relate.

In Conclusion

Engaging your folks and figuring out what matters most to them takes an intentional strategy and trial and error. The process will change and evolve over time, especially in today’s uncertain world. But one thing is certain: companies that are working on this and making it a priority will do well.

Annette Reavis is chief people officer at Envoy, a workplace platform that helps modern workplaces manage hybrid work.

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