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Managing Virtual Employee Engagement During Crisis

As employees transition to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, new insights on how to effectively manage virtual employee engagement during a crisis are emerging.

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After more than a month in the “biggest working from home experiment” in U.S. history, businesses are beginning to see the benefits and impacts in the use of virtual and digital interactions in lieu of in-person meetings and communications. This has encouraged businesses and leaders to manage new engagement practices for their remote workforce in critical times of crisis.

As an experienced global leader in change management and remote workforce management, Conduent Human Resource Services professionals have ascertained critical best practices associated with managing and optimizing effective employee engagement while working from home. Moreover, we see additional benefits and impacts employee engagement has on business performance, corporate social responsibility and brand recognition. 

Clear Communication

Managing clear communications is essential during a workforce transition of any kind. Clear communications around actions, behaviors and expectations with respect to the realities, goals and execution plans before, during and after a crisis is critical to ensure changes are instituted seamlessly with minimal disruption. Change management initiatives must provide a thorough and balanced approach to help ensure leaders and managers initiate and maintain virtual team communications strategies that build positive employee engagement and connection. Expect more focus on the content of those communications to evolve and be delivered in new ways in order to build quality engagement over time.

Be Aware and Respond Quickly
Being aware of potential challenges and opportunities and responding quickly with solutions play an important part in building and sustaining positive employee engagement and morale when working from home. While nearly everyone recognizes the value of agile and flexible business practices, we believe the best work plans must also include the presence of an informed and responsive team of professionals that understand and respond quickly to employees in times of rapid change. Such teams can provide necessary support and solutions to an array of challenges and opportunities that address and strengthen employee engagement.

As companies move into new phases of remote work, we’ve identified additional best practices in maintaining and bolstering employee engagement for your business:

  1. Be human, be kind: empathy, flexibility and patience are more important now than ever. Help employees maintain the balance between meeting work requirements and the challenges they may face while managing a positive work/life balance.
    • Greater flexibility – have flexible working hours, redistribute work responsibilities and team member support in the short term.
    • Develop and initiate virtual solutions that encourage employee well-being and engagement, while reducing the stress and anxiety employees may experience remotely.
  2. Maintain company culture: social connections and interactions don’t need to rely on a physical office.
    • Look for virtual opportunities to replicate the proverbial watercooler that help employees build more effective personal connections while working from home. Replicate the in-house experience and help foster personal relationship development with informal gatherings such as virtual coffee or lunch breaks, or team happy hour.
    • Look for opportunities to recognize and express appreciation towards employees.
  1. Provide technologies that support a new virtual culture: Continue to engage and/or establish new technologies that support a more virtual employee culture.
    • Employee interaction via online platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Webex, Houseparty, Facetime, etc., have become a “new normal” method of working, learning and celebrating. For example, businesses are gaining the benefits associated with virtual learning with no degradation in overall learning impact. The most ambitious businesses are even seeing an improved impact in the use of new virtual learning designs and virtual environments.
  1. Keep Hiring: employee hiring continues, so plan for more virtual hiring and onboarding strategies that maximize learning and employee engagement.
    • Prioritize key basic requirements for implementation and delivery, and get them right.
    • Over-communicate during and after the onboarding process. Establish direct and frequent communications with new hires, and then regular check-ins.
    • Find ways for new hires to create and build relationships while working from home.
  1. Balance virtual and human contact, if and when possible: as employees continue to consume virtual services through digital interaction channels and self-service technologies during crisis, leaders should expect a greater need for human contact from their employees post-crisis. Leaders must engage their HR and Learning functions to recognize the need for this balance when managing employee engagement. For example, delivering high-impact HR Services that link employee empowerment with organizational purpose in both virtual and in-person events can help employees acclimate to rapid change more meaningfully.

While businesses have implemented solutions to accommodate the current business and workforce transition and transformation, we believe some of these solutions will likely become the “new normal” to a greater extent post-crisis: 

Virtual Talent Acquisition

The future war for talent will largely be won in the virtual world. Virtual career fairs, video interviewing and fully digital recruiting — especially for high-volume jobs — will likely accelerate post-COVID-19. 

Virtual career fairs and events, fully remote interviewing process, more personalized career paths and greater insights into candidate experiences will quickly become the norm. Companies will need to rely more on virtual career events, AI and machine learning to qualify candidates and match high-potential job seekers with the appropriate positions available. While the nature of the job will dictate the level of human interactions required during the interview process, video interviewing technology and practices will certainly be key.

Once a candidate accepts a position with a new employer, the onboarding experience will be a critical factor in candidate retention. As such, HR teams will need to strike the right balance between technology-driven digital enablement and the human-centric requirements related to new hires. 

Virtual Training and the Adoption of Newer Modalities

After work and life return to something closer to how things once were, the rapid expansion of virtual learning will continue irrespective of where employees are engaged and do their work.

In fact, expect virtual learning to accompany both the remote and office-based employee more frequently with advances in rapid course design that diversify and expand the use of existing virtual modalities such as e-learning, microlearning, vILT and Virtual and Augmented Reality course simulations both at work and in new remote working environments. 

About the Authors

Leo Blankenship is a learning solutions leader at Conduent Inc. Frank Dellorco is an HR solutions leader at Conduent Inc.


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