How to use digital solutions to drive employee engagement during the pandemic
People and Culture
Maintaining high levels of employee engagement throughout the ongoing pandemic has been understandably challenging for companies to achieve. The blending of work and home life for first-time remote workers, uncertainties around job security, new family dynamics and health considerations, continuous 'bad news' news cycles, and many other factors continue to chip away at employee's motivation levels and well-being. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows 47% of employees say they don't feel connected to their companies and are struggling to stay engaged.
A staggering and impactful statistic when you consider how much engagement matters. One MIT study found that companies that ranked in the top 25% for employee experience were more profitable.
Whether companies' workforces are entirely remote, in-office or some blend of the two, organizations nowadays must have a tech-driven vision to reconnect all employees to their purpose within their company. This can be accomplished by leveraging digital solutions for collaboration, communication and learning and development. The importance of this type of connection cannot be overlooked. In fact, one Harvard Business Review's Technology's Make or Break Role in Employee Engagement report shows 82% of employees say the technology they use for work has a direct impact on their happiness.
From collaboration platforms to virtual learning modules to employee communications and engagement programming, there are many ways next-gen technologies can be effectively implemented. Read on to learn how digital solutions can be used to design, build and deliver more positive employee experiences during the pandemic and beyond.
Learning and development is more important than ever
Learning and development is crucial to driving employee engagement, which is why many companies now offer online courses to their employees. In 2019's LinkedIn Learning survey, 59% of talent developers said their companies spend more of their budget on online learning than three years ago. The same survey showed 74% of talent developers planned to make Gen Z-friendly changes to their L&D programs.
“L&D is absolutely moving online," says Victoria Dew, the founder and CEO of business coaching company Dewpoint Communications.
Dew says that she's seen more companies pairing pre-recorded training modules with live Q&A sessions and small group discussions. “These live sessions are critical," she says, noting that doing so allows employees to connect and collaborate across business units and functions, and provide valuable opportunities for employees to ask questions in real time.
In addition, virtual learning helps combat the isolation that can come from remote work, and is essential to keeping up with fast advancements in workplace and industrial technology. L&D programs can also encompass personal growth and skills development that help workers gain new knowledge that is not specifically tied to their role or company.
TELUS International can attest to the fact that demonstrating an interest in helping its team members grow both personally and professionally positively impacts employee engagement and retention. Through the TELUS International University program, held in partnership with local, accredited universities, the company invests in its team members' careers by enabling them to complete their education/degree through subsidized tuition and classes, regardless of whether they stay with the company or not.
Invest in remote collaboration
With employees no longer in offices sitting side by side, it's important to offer plenty of collaboration tools to keep them connected. Slack, Google Docs, Trello and Microsoft Teams are a few of the more popular platforms and tools.
“Encourage your team members to focus on leveraging cloud-based documents that multiple team members can access, edit and collaborate on simultaneously," says Freddie Laker, a founding partner of marketing and consulting agency Chameleon Collective.
Doing so reduces the confusion that can arise when multiple people are working on the same document or project off-site. It also speeds up work and increases the number of natural collaboration touchpoints, says Laker: “Over time, you'll discover that this behavior inherently creates more collaboration, regardless of whether you're remote or onsite."
Another effective practice that aids in communication and collaboration is a daily “stand-up" meeting - a concept taken from the "scrum" team approach to software development. “It requires that each team member stand up and share what work they completed since the last meeting, what they're actively focused on now, and if they have any impediments to completing those tasks," Laker says. Videoconferencing tools like Zoom are great for daily stand-ups when working remotely.
Conduct (and follow-up on) employee engagement surveys
It's important to tune into what employees are feeling and what their concerns are. Even quick, regular pulse surveys — designed to spot insights that deserve immediate attention — can turn up some crucial findings, says Dew. "I've seen that many companies have been doing these much more frequently throughout COVID," she notes.
There is, however, one big caveat with online surveys: companies should be prepared to respond to employee pain points as soon as possible.
“If you survey and then don't close the loop letting people know that you've heard them and taken action, you will actually hurt engagement," Dew says. “Don't ask people what they think or feel unless you're prepared to respond to it in a very real way."
Create social interaction opportunities
Many employees are missing the social elements afforded by a physical workplace.
Around 51% of American workers reported feeling less connected to their company culture while working from home, according to recent research by TELUS International. Those surveyed said they missed having in-person interactions and collaboration opportunities.
Combatting disengagement means reimagining how to boost morale and create serendipitous connections in a remote setting. This is further complicated by the fact that some employees may have been newly hired virtually during the pandemic and never set foot in a physical workplace. In addition to not having an established network of colleagues, this group won't have a baseline comparison to how in-person interactions with colleagues were carried out when onsite, while others will have the historical experience and established relationships, says Dew.
To remedy the isolation, companies are using Zoom, Google Chat, microsites and software platforms to offer social activities to their employees, including cooking classes, coffee breaks, happy hours, pub quizzes and yoga. Others are using purpose-built apps like Donut, which helps connect teams serendipitously for virtual coffee, peer learning and valuable discussions on diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI).
Align technology with your overall communications strategy
It's one thing to offer the latest and greatest technology, but if it doesn't tie into your overall strategy, experts say it won't be as useful.
“All too often I see companies leaping to implement a tech solution to a people problem, but this approach very often fails because they haven't put the rock-solid communication strategy and resources around the tech solution that it needs to succeed," Dew says.
So while technology can drive employee engagement, it's crucial to align choices with your company's overall communications strategy. Examine the "why" behind each choice and make sure the technologies you choose match up with key strategies. Looping in internal communications to incorporate key messaging can also help with this execution.
Helping employees feel engaged may feel harder in a physically-distanced era, but with the right technology and complementary strategy, companies can create more meaningful experiences for employees during the pandemic and over the long-term, too.