Employee engagement is down – and it’s especially difficult to keep hybrid employees engaged.
In fact, engagement was dipping before COVID-19 came into the picture, according to research from Gallup.
And now? Well, just a third of employees are engaged. So almost two-thirds are somewhere on the scale between “I’m indifferent” and “I don’t give two hoots about my colleagues, this work or the company!”
“There are workplaces that don’t think about their employees, and that’s f^@$!ing insane,” said Dan Levy, producer and co-creator of Schitt’s Creek, when he spoke at Workhuman Live 2022. “But when the top sets a high bar on how we should act, the ripple effect is so incredible.”
When the top sets the bar, you have a better chance to improve engagement, even when you must face the biggest obstacle for hybrid employees: the proximity principle. People tend to form bonds with others who are physically close to them. Less contact, fewer friendships.
Despite the odds, leaders can keep hybrid employees engaged. Or re-engage those who’ve lost interest.
Here are five ways to make it happen.
Employees will more likely enjoy connecting with their bosses and colleagues when they’re satisfied with their work schedule.
At least that’s what Verizon found through its Work Forward program, which allows employees to balance personal and professional lives.
“We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all, so the teams define their hybrid schedules to align with their workflows and identify when they come together in-person for those moments that matter,” says Christina Schelling, SVP, Chief Talent & Diversity Officer at Verizon. “This means the teams are not just engaging in their daily work, but making decisions together about how they work best.”
So, talk with your team about structure and business demands. Then let them work together on how to meet business expectations and their personal demands. And remember: Work and life won’t likely ever get equal attention on any given day. Business may take precedence today and life takes precedence tomorrow. Keep the end goal – not the daily tasks – in focus.
Make a plan
Employee engagement often builds organically – there’s a reason people linger in the break room or stay on Zoom calls longer. But those moments don’t happen without some groundwork.
The groundwork is a team-inspired plan for how to make the hybrid situation work seamlessly. That’s why Clara Shih, CEO of Service Cloud at Salesforce and former CEO of Hearsay Systems suggests hybrid teams create a “working agreement.”
For the agreement, get each member to cover their needs – for instance, how often and when they’d like to meet and the most effective way to communicate – so they can better support each other. Take that into consideration when you set up regular group meetings and, if your team is into it, social events.
Be deliberate about face-to-face
Shih also recommends leaders be deliberate about how much time is spent together – and the quality of the face-to-face time. Regularly schedule in-person offsite events (look into meeting space at hotels or communal work spaces, or more economically, at local chambers of commerce or community park spaces) for collaboration-heavy work.
Add a social element to in-person time. Use the formal meeting to celebrate wins, and praise employees so everyone shares in positive news. Try to share non-work experiences, too. You might arrange to watch a virtual musical performance together or meet up at a park for a team picnic.
Plan big and little
Meetings matter in the hybrid work space. They can’t be left to happenstance. And meetings of all sizes and kinds have a role in keeping employees engaged.
For instance, at Verizon they meet for “moments that matter,” says Schelling.
That includes “all-employee webcasts for big picture business conversations, town halls for teams to dive deeper on the work they are doing, roundtables to gather insights and feedback from our ‘V Team’ and volunteering opportunities,” Schelling says.
As you can tell, meetings on all scales are important. The key for managers: Balance the meetings. If employees are tied up in town halls and big picture conversations one week, hold off on your smaller group meetings until the next. Give them time to stay balanced.
Make culture matter
Culture is more difficult to express and build over the phone and through video. Compound that with the fact people aren’t in the office at the same time, and company culture can fade into nonexistence.
“Culture’s not just what you surround the work with,” said Matthew Whiat, Founding and Senior Partner at Chapman & Company Leadership Institute when he spoke at Workhuman Live 2022. “It’s also the work itself and the chance to improve it.”
Get that? Hybrid employees will feel like they’re part of their company culture when they have an impact on it. So encourage them to look for, give and implement ideas that improve:
- their roles
- team efficiency
- company culture, and
- overall organizational well-being.