By Joey Forster, VP People, On Board Experiential (OBE)
For even the strongest of leaders, a pandemic followed by an economic turndown, political uncertainty and racial unrest has made maintaining employee engagement, morale and productivity a struggle. Nurturing and sustaining culture and its values are important for any leadership team, but 2021 will be a uniquely critical time to support employees, as the definition of “company culture” continues to shift. These are the changes leaders need to keep top of mind, along with supplemental tactics to support employees now, and post-crisis:
Take Responsibility for Health and Wellness
While last year was one of the push-up challenges and Zoom workouts, many employees have since found new skills and hobbies during quarantine. Find ways to help them continue these habits and foster new personal growth. Offer your team subscriptions to services like MasterClass, and ask them to share what they learned at the next all-hands meeting.
Employees are balancing a lot in terms of work, life and well-being. As a leader, reminding them you care is important. Consider a virtual ergonomics workshop led by an expert to help with computer/monitor placement and posture to ensure they are set up for success. Kick off a daily TAKE30 or TAKE60 initiative, blocking 30 or 60-minute slots on everyone’s calendar to encourage time free of scheduled video and phone calls. Use this time to reset, re-focus, re-energize, walk, run, meditate or get whitespace.
Look into sending a wellness kit to each employee, including a yoga mat, workout bands, herbal wellness tea, or essential oil and diffuser; source from local small businesses to give back to your community simultaneously. Offering benefits around meditation and fitness app subscriptions can also encourage and provide helpful tools for mental and physical health. In fact, more than half of the professionals that have participated in a team workout feel more connected to their colleagues afterward. This can also be extended to employees’ families, with a customized gift including games to play together, toys for pet owners or mister bottles for plant parents. Continue to show them that you listen, and care.
We all need a break from Zoom. Period. Great HR leaders in 2021 will be using innovative digital platforms to continue the connectivity of 2020, but with a fresh new approach. Use a service like Cameo to have a celebrity or athlete record a custom video calling out the name of your company and the team for its hard work. Or, simply try a new meeting tool such as BigMarker, InXpo or spatial audio rooms like Loom. Normalize allowing people to turn off video for calls at their discretion, consider shortening meeting slots by 5-10 minutes, and instead of a video call, encourage the team to chat by phone while everyone takes a walk.
Playing music at the start of staff or large group meetings also helps keep energy high and makes people smile. Ask a different employee to “DJ” each staff meeting, in turn allowing them to share their musical tastes with the team.
Finally, treat staff interactions as experiences, instead of just meetings. Use a service like Airbnb Virtual Experiences to hire a drag queen for a sangria making demo, a paint and sip class by a local artist, a K-Pop dance tutorial, a magician who engages adults and kids. And give employees an allowance to order supplies so everyone has what is needed to participate.
Provide Feedback and Communication
Survey fatigue is real. However, in the remote working world, it’s important to quickly understand how your team is feeling and what support they need. Use services such as Lattice, Culture Amp or Reflektive and consider running smaller, targeted surveys to gauge employee sentiment, asking questions like:
- Is my company taking the appropriate measures to address the current situation?
- Do I feel supported by my manager and connected to my colleagues?
- Do I have the tools and resources I need to work productively?
- Am I happy with my WFH set-up?
Internal communication between team members is imperative. Use instant messaging platforms like Slack or Teams to encourage employees to engage with others via mutual interest channels such as “cooking crew,” “plants parents” or “animal lovers.” This helps team members connect no matter their location and is a nice way to help integrate new employees with similar interests as part of remote onboarding.
Offer a Safe Space
It is important to remember, at this moment in time, we are each impacted very differently. The act of offering a safe space for employees to express their feelings goes a long way. Use the breakout room function in Zoom to offer a monthly, optional “Holding Space Session” for all employees. Set ground rules and send out a few discussion thought-starters prior. Hold space for ALL aspects of the human experience to show up. Let the team know you may not have all the answers, but you are giving room for the questions and collecting resources to support them. It is important to remember that certain timely conversations, particularly those around racial injustice, should not continually fall on employees who might already feel marginalized in the workplace and who might be more directly impacted by such injustices. Help do your part by initiating or developing such conversations so it doesn’t remain an additional burden on our most marginalized colleagues. This does not mean you are speaking for others, but it does mean you are sharing the responsibility of discussing difficult and important topics.
Look Forward With Optimism
Lastly, focusing on the future is just as important as any “in the moment” action. Allow teams to be a part of the planning process for the company. What have they learned, and how will it impact your industry moving forward? Host an employee feedback session to understand concerns about reentry, and potential vaccine requirements.