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Are we nearly there yet? Employee engagement and the ‘new world of work’

Social distancing

On 10 June 2020, Boris Johnson further eased lockdown restrictions and introduced the concept of the ‘support bubble’.  As we look forward in hope towards the further lifting of restrictions, we look into what this may mean for the world of work and consider how to keep employees engaged on the journey?

Many businesses have had their employees working remotely for months and for most, the majority of their professional interactions have been through voice or video calls.  In the face of continued adversity this ‘new normal’ will continue with no obvious indicator of a date for change.  In respect of the numbers ‘People Management’ magazine undertook a survey of over 500 readers, asking “have the majority of staff returned to work?” 4% responded that their staff returned after the 11th May Government announcement, 24% responded that ‘staff will return when the Government say it is safe for their sector and 55% of respondents confirmed that ‘most staff will work from home for the foreseeable future’.  With the continued uncertainty, we ask what we have learnt from the past few months and consider where a business may want to be.

Many positive changes have come from the period of enforced homeworking with many conceding that perhaps the old ways of working were not necessarily the best ways?  Do people need to travel to meet face to face or can time and efficiency savings be made by embracing this ‘new normal’?  Can people survive on virtual interactions or do employees need face to face contact to be productive in the long run and do employees need face to face interactions to feel engaged with and part of their organisation?  When considering the answers to these questions alone, a business can merely speculate as to the best way forward, however the route to certainty and increased engagement is to proactively involve employees and to seek their feedback and opinions on what the ‘new normal’ should be.  After all people support what they create.

Whilst businesses had to adapt overnight when lock down was imposed, the current uncertainty of when restrictions will be lifted, presents the gift of time to work out where the organisation wants to be.  Involving employees in this journey will be key to keeping them engaged during such uncertain times.   Focussing on employee engagement in 2009, the MacLeod Review (Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement) summarised the four key ‘enablers’ of employee engagement as follows:

  • Leadership that gives a ‘strong strategic narrative about the organisation’.
  • Line managers who motivate, empower and support their employees.
  • Employee voice throughout the organisation, to involve employees in decision making.
  • Organisational integrity that stated values are reflected in the actual organisational culture; what we say is what we do.

Considering planning for the future through the lens of employee engagement, a business should therefore consider:

  • Communicating the visions for the future and setting the direction to shape the values of the organisation. 
  • Ensuring line managers are regularly reaching out to employees?  Do managers understand any concerns employees have?  Are managers looking at ways to remove constraints to allow employees to be productive?
  • Opening communication channels with employees and soliciting opinions and feedback on how the ‘new normal’ should look.  What makes the organisation different or special?  Which of the business’ core values do employees identify with?  What is out of date and what has changed? What do employees want the organisation to look like in the future and can they help identify the vision.
  • Once the strategic direction is communicated and the ‘new normal agreed’ leaders should ensure the strategic vision flows and is reinforced throughout the company via aligned employee objectives, so everyone is working toward a common goal and can clearly see where their individual roles fits within the business.

The future world of work may look different for many, however communicating with employees and bringing them along on the journey, will go a long way to ensuring employees remain engaged with the business moving forward, no matter how uncertain the rest of the world may look. 

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