A city billboard/sign pointing the way to engagement
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Last month, Edelman released its Trust Barometer for 2020. Published just as the COVID-19 pandemic was really taking off, it showed that only half of employees believe that office spaces are safe. In most countries, only a quarter or more will go back to the office before Christmas, according to the data.

Workplace Trust

It also showed that employees feel confident that they can work from home, while three-quarters trust their employers when they say that working remotely will not harm their career. More than two-thirds say that companies have communicated effectively on return to workplace.

Taken globally, the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Workplace Trust and the Coronavirus, which is based on a survey of 3,400 respondents in seven countries, showed that as the pandemic continues, there is little appetite for return to everyday activities.

It also showed that employees place the least amount of confidence in CEOs and senior managers to lead on return to work (only 14 %). While the objective of the survey was to examine the workplace in face of the ongoing health crisis, it also uncovered a large amount of information about workers and how they engage with their organization. Key in the findings of the report was a tacit acceptance that remote working is here to stay. This poses many problems, given the speed of the change, not least of which is how to create an engaged workforce and workplace culture when there is no common workplace? 

Driving Workplace Engagement

Research tells us that leaders and people managers are primary drivers of culture, global chair on employee engagement, Cydney Roach at Chicago-based Edelman, told us. Edelman is marketing consultancy and the largest public relations firm in the world by revenue. 

According to Roach, Edelman has developed a virtual training for its clients on leading and managing remotely. Critical to that training are empathy and leading with purpose. Clients are also finding the need to re-evaluate and re-design their employee value proposition for a COVID and post-COVID environment. 

In this respect, company leaders are asking themselves how they must show up different for their people. For example, many companies are now adding health and safety to their EVP's for the first time because unless they were a manufacturing or heavy industry, that was not a part of their essential value proposition.

Obviously, health and safety are now paramount for any employer's value proposition to their people. But more than just health and safety, she believe companies will need to redefine flexibility. “Flexibility used to be about the freedom to take a half day off for a child's medical appointment or similar,” Roach said. “Now, the definition of flexibility must be more expansive to cover employees who just don't feel safe in a workday commute so they choose to continue working from home and the employee who is eager to get back to the office because they find it challenging to work from home for a variety of reasons.”

Throughout the pandemic employees have expected their organizations to proactively communicate what measures are being taken to keep them safe. “We are now at an inflection point as some businesses and offices are gradually reopening,” she added. Keeping employees satisfied and engaged without communicating in person is not easy, however. It has had dire consequences in businesses that were slow to adapt, one of which is low employee satisfaction, which tarnishes customer experience. “Any good leader wants to cultivate a productive, growing team. A team that truly values their experience working at the company. The question I would ask myself is, 'how can I continue to do that without being present for everyone's growth?” Mark Hayes, head of marketing at UK-based Kintell, said.

It's not hard to maintain a positive employee experience, it's hard to be consistent while doing so. Finding the right tools to help you do it, like Slack and Google Hangouts is important. Enduring the ups and downs of team morale, and being there for your people when the pandemic causes stress is also a challenge.

When employees need help, they can't just get up and walk to their colleague's desk. The remote experience should replace that, and offer normalcy, simplicity and

routine. Part of that routine is strong communication. In these different circumstances, this is what a leader should do to keep the team growing. “Working alone at home feeling as though you don't belong to a team can be tough,” he added. “All leaders should seek to prevent this feeling in their employees at any cost. The most important employee experience to build is a positive one, so make sure your people stay happy, and then take care of the rest.”

Related Article: Riding the Employee Engagement Rollercoaster

The Importance of Communication

Jon Zacharias is CEO and founder of Beverley Hills-based The Search Guy, a company that focuses on building keyword strategies. He believes that the way to overcome this is to ensure open communication continuously working on open communication. He points out that if an employee is comfortable with communicating openly and knows they will be heard, they will come to you or their team members as soon as an issue arises. This will allow for a quicker solution instead of building tension and resentment, which might not be reversible later when the issue gets out of hand. 

Leaders should also provide regular feedback to your team members, he added. Make sure expectations are clear. If an employee is struggling, make sure they have all the tools to succeed. Offer regular training and promote collaboration within the teams. “[Leaders] need to emphasize an open and inclusive company culture, where all employees feel seen and valued. In addition, be present and available for your team,” Zacharias said. Furthermore these communication channels need to be accessible to everyone across all teams whether that be through Slack, Telegram, and Zoom. These tools make it so efficient to interact on a constant basis throughout the day.

This is not the only issue created by the pandemic. According to Jason Akatiff is co-founder of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Boundery, when establishing employee happiness and retention it is important to make sure your employees feel appreciated and heard especially in the time of working remotely. Employees want to have a voice within the company. They don't want to be taskmasters. They want to feel valued and needed. Understanding their needs and developing systems that showcase that appreciation is key to employee retention. 

Furthermore, managers need to stay on track with each employees' development. It is up to the manager to challenge each employee with a steady pace of growth that is pushing them to learn but not at the speed of being overwhelmed. If an employee doesn't feel like he/she is learning or being challenged, they may look for other opportunities. With that considered, if an employee feels he/she is being pushed to their limits by the speed of their growth, they may also look for other opportunities as it may be overwhelming for them to stay.

Also, executives need to make sure there is a visible opportunity to grow within the company. An employee should always have a viable position to be striving for.This will motivate them to work harder as well as provide a visible success path within the company. Lastly, integrating core values into the company culture that support the team members and place value on their best interest as well as encourage open communication and feedback.