There’s no two ways about it – this past month has been a real challenge for Australian businesses of all sizes, at all stages and from all industries. Even from the perspective of a start-up, the challenges we faced at Sympli in the weeks leading to forced remote working and the month to follow, were not unique. There are, however, some incredibly valuable lessons for all Australian businesses if we choose to learn and grow from them.
Naturally, we now look to find some normality in our working lives with the hope we can return to working the way we did before. The real question is, should we?
The current COVID-19 situation has reinforced what 20 years in the business of keeping employees engaged has taught me – the need to connect with employees’ hearts, heads and hands.
Have we got some things right? Absolutely. And our employees have told us so. However, there are also things we probably (definitely) missed the mark on.
So, what does the ‘new normal’ workplace look like?
Fostering positive mental health in the workplace should sit pride of place
While the importance of positive mental health at work has taken the lead in recent years, this past month alone has shone a bright light on a typically ‘dark’ subject.
- Mental health awareness training should be more than once every so often. I think businesses should take this as a prompt to increase training and increase its visibility.
- Employee Assistance Programs are one of the most valuable resources a business can invest in and their assistance can truly make a difference in employees’ lives. From 1-1 counselling, manager support programs and general wellness – its something I encourage all businesses to look into.
- Regular, non-work-related check-ins should become second nature. Caring about our employees as people is more meaningful than snacks in the kitchen or free booze on Friday nights.
- Value adds – from a marketing perspective, they’re nothing new. But businesses should now consider what value adds you can continue to provide to employees when we return to ‘normality’. A good example is maintaining the flexibility to work remotely (because we have proven that it can work). Value adds shouldn’t exist solely in the vacuum of a pandemic
Communicating with purpose, not just for the sake of communicating
There is such a thing as over-communicating. But silence is also not the answer. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
- In times of crisis, employees need to be reminded of the company’s compass: what is it that we are trying to achieve and why? This is not a time to be silent in any respect.
- If leaders and managers don’t know the answer, admit it and own it. Employees naturally have a heightened sense of insecurity now and their ‘BS’ metre is laser focused, so be honest in your communications.
- Adapt and utilise all available communications channels. Don’t assume everyone is engaging with or using just one method. Try emails, try Slack, try text messages and pay attention to who engages with what medium.
- The measurement of employee engagement shouldn’t be whether every employee is dressing up for theme Zoom calls or takes up your challenge of posting a terrible baby photo on the company-wide communications channel. Yes, my plank challenge fell on its proverbial (kind of like I did after 30 secs) because it was overkill. We all engage in different ways – keep it varied, keep it fun but again pay attention.
- Yes, you can over-communicate and have it become a distraction if it starts to become ‘noise’. People still have a job to do. The key is to be targeted in your intent and method of communication.
Remote people management: work smarter, not harder
In my experience, managers who have shied away from remote working have done so because they are concerned about output. The critical element of remote working is to hold people accountable for their work – simple as that. And if remote working is not working for you now, turn not to your under performing employee, but to their manager for answers.
- It’s critical that managers understand what motivates their teams and how to hold them accountable.
- People move through the change curve at different rates and managers need to be willing and able to adapt to that. That change can be more than just moving to work remotely, there could be many other factors at play.
- When there is no physical boundary to separate work and home, many employees are working around the clock. Monitoring workloads and output coupled with regular check-ins will ensure employees are not burning the candle at both ends.
- Managers need to be clear with their expectations. Some employees may choose to work earlier and later because their at home family situation dictates they are not as productive during the day. I can attest to that, given the current home-schooling environment.
- Managers should be encouraged to let their guards down, there’s real power to be found there. Empathy can go a long way.
While I’m looking forward to being back in the office with my colleagues, the past month has taught me some valuable lessons that can’t be ignored. By focusing on what’s important to people emotionally (hearts), intellectually (heads) and in a practical sense (hands), we can motivate and be more connected with our employees than ever before.