How to Manage & Engage Employees in a Hybrid Workplace

We have all been pushed into the inevitable dilemma of managing and engaging employees in our new hybrid workplace reality.

September 23, 2021

We have all been pushed into the inevitable dilemma of managing and engaging employees in our new hybrid workplace reality.

The good news is that most of these tools already exist, and you have used them at some point in your career. The bad news is that you'll need to access all of them to maintain a productive workplace.

We have identified seven specific habits or activities that have proven to both help and engage employees and strengthen your management of their success.

1. Strengthen psychological safety on your team

Why this matters:

When close collaboration is required for the team to function, these "safety" issues become absolutely critical for the business, but physical and time zone separation and some of the anti-social behaviors that electronic communication creates change when you ride these safety guide rails. 

Your employees are feeling the impacts of the pandemic and the difficulty of working from home. The expected risk of lower communication quality in asynchronous communication (email, Slack, or Team messages, etc.) is intensified under work-from-home stressors, resulting in an increase in "safety issues."

To a lesser extent, we see an increase in "safety issues" in web meetings, primarily caused by the lack of personal control and subtle interpersonal signals that guide us in face-to-face interactions. When a team starts to experience more miscommunication, irritability, or hesitancy to speak one's mind, it's an opportunity to grab hold of the psychological safety issue and improve the environment. 

Basic psychological safety is essential for Good Management:

Candid performance conversations are the heart and soul of business. Team members need to know they can risk talking transparently together about what's working and what's not. 

Psychological safety doesn't mean feeling comfortable all the time! It means feeling confident enough to open up and work through uncomfortable topics. 

Likewise, revisiting and revising performance expectations relies on a free, trusting communication environment. No person or team communicates perfectly, so think about psychological safety as an ongoing process of confirming, safeguarding, and fine-tuning the environment we need on the team to do our best work together.

To-do:

  • Ensure that you listen carefully in 1-on-1s or team meetings and respond in a way that moves the team towards solutions without heavy judgments and blame.
  • When disagreements or conflicts come up, big or small, name them! That's the most immediate way to depressurize a situation, acknowledge what's already happening, and move forward toward resolution.
  • Ensure your OKRs (objectives and key results) are backed up by a clear accountability framework (e.g., RACI or RAPID, etc.). Always run OKR meetings with a facilitator who monitors the meeting for tone and has the authority to address issues that come up.
  • If your team environment feels regularly uncomfortable, get support! Some simple interventions and agreements may lighten up the atmosphere.

2. Create a regular cadence of communication

Why this matters:

Creating a dependable rhythm of team meetings, where there is enough "space "to really address challenges together, with everyone's attention and participation, is a true challenge under stress. 

We use OKRs to surface the things that we need to talk about, and they also give us a tool to filter out the static and ensure we address the things that matter, but then there is the challenge of making those meetings and conversations productive. How do you do that? Try using these guidelines:

  1. Establish a regular schedule of meetings so your team has a reliable "heartbeat. "
  2. Appoint a facilitator who can track and get feedback on everyone's involvement and manage the pace of the meeting.
  3. Prioritize agenda items and identify intended objectives before beginning each item.
  4. The facilitator is responsible for helping the team identify whether the objective has been reached, whether everybody's giving input, whether more time is needed, etc.
  5. If your team rhythm gets thrown off, acknowledge that and discuss how to get back on track. 

Normalize a team system of recognizing when there's not enough time to handle everything— set expectations for the tone and process of meeting so that it's not overly rushed and so that everybody is involved.

Building a solid team rhythm of OKR meetings reinforces clarity, accountability, and support simultaneously. Everybody knows they're accountable and that they will get support for working through obstacles. The opposite is also true: when the team's rhythm is broken, the accountability, transparency, and performance impact of OKRs will degrade.

To-do:

Create a regular rhythm for talking and working through challenges.

3. Create realistic boundaries that enable you to manage your attention & energy better

Why this matters:

Setting healthy boundaries around the workday is even more critical when people are doing solo work at home. Addressing managing energy and attention with the team better is an opportunity to engage and support team members in refining group and individual work. Encourage your organization to experiment with new strategies, then set policies and best practices to optimize the WFH workday. 

Try out concrete strategies, then debrief how they work, is especially useful: to give people observable criteria they can use to judge when they need a break or have hit a point of diminishing returns. Take care of your fellow workers. Take note when they are exceeding those policies.

Research indicates that it is invaluable to break up your workday physiologically and attention-wise to maximize well-being: like taking a walk, using techniques like Pomodoro, making sure to get up and exercise at least several times a week if not daily. 

How to create realistic boundaries:

Taking care of ourselves physically by taking regular breaks, moving around, drinking water, eating, getting some fresh air is taking stewardship of your attention and creative energy and enables you to make better decisions. If you get locked into endless work, something as simple as the Pomodoro Technique can help break up your day and prevent feeling tired of working.

Clearing your head enables you to set better Objectives and Key Results, to plan and organize your activities more realistically. Ensure you have what we call "a fair deal": do not take on new Objectives without checking your capacity to complete them. And if you don't have the capacity, ask your leader which objective you should drop to achieve this new one. If necessary, set an objective about your working hours and make sure it stays green (not too high nor too low).

To-do:

  • Moving in the direction of a healthy work/life balance is a daily challenge while WFH.
  • Start by breaking up the cycle of back-to-back meetings, take breaks to replenish your ability to pay attention.
  • The good news: building better individual & teamwork habits during lockdown strengthens your team's long-term sustainability. And this will continue to pay dividends in the post-pandemic world.
  • Identifying and breaking teamwork habits that drain you, including repeatedly over-promising, is an investment in your attention, energy, and effectiveness.

4. Nurture people's non-work contact

Why this matters:

Breaking through the bubble of pandemic isolation can be tough. Physical distancing has a huge impact on our daily lives, no doubt. But the little steps you take to humanize your team's contact with each other can have a big impact on the team environment. There's solid psychological research to support the idea that relating to others is more conducive to a sense of personal well-being and flourishing than isolated acts of self-care. The bottom line, lightening the environment and humanizing peoples' contact can go a long way to building cohesion on your team!

How the right objectives support non-work conversations:

Make sure your employees have objectives that cover culture, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction. Next, make sure your practices enable and encourage the team and meaningful one-on-one contact – conversations that go beyond "doing work." Find the ways of connecting that fit your team and don't insist on participating, invite! The whole point is to allow for a positive experience that breaks through the Covid bubble. 

To-do:

  • Value the time people take to bond with each other. As a leader, you can't force this to happen, but you can encourage teammates to connect by making the space for it and showing people that every instant on Zoom doesn't need to be laser-focused on work. 
  • Consciously allowing people to "arrive" in an online meeting allows for the kind of human-to-human contact that used to happen in the hallway outside the conference room. 
  • If you look for opportunities, you'll find out what works on your team. Some teams use icebreakers at the start of meetings; some make an effort to celebrate special events; other teams create virtual watercooler events to connect with each other. In one company, a couple of the millennials discovered that the corporate Controller also plays League of Legends during an accounting call. That night the three of them formed a League of Legends team…and came in third!

5. Depend on your team - and let them depend on you

Why this matters:

Often what's missing in most instances is a social compact within a team in which they can make and revise agreements when needed about how to call upon each other for help. 

Here, the fair deal includes setting expectations about what kind of help, how quickly to expect help, and stuff like that. Setting aside time for the team to talk about what kinds of help they need and clarifying what kinds of support they can expect from each other are the kind of contracting that builds healthy interdependence. It's beneficial to designate a facilitator for this exercise so that everyone can participate fully. 

This contracting exercise is an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the importance of each person's contribution, motivate people by affirming support for their efforts, and encourage the free flow of timely information among teammates.

Strengthens healthy interdependence 

Make sure your OKRs score the team, not the individual. Ensure the team's progress is visible to all. We're talking about building healthy interdependence on your team: that means a strong commitment to shared objectives and support for each other to maximize the team's success. In big or small ways, there's always room for mutual help in your organization

To-do:

  • Be dependable - help out every time you see help is needed.
  • Negotiate what support team members can rely on from each other.
  • Structure your OKRs around team achievements, not individual ones.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Assembly SOC 2 compliant?

Yes, at Assembly, security is a top priority. Each quarter, we have ongoing security work that is everyone’s responsibility. While we maintain a strong security posture, it was important for us to prove to our customers that we do everything we claim to do. This led us to pursue a SOC 2 Type II report that would provide evidence of our compliance with industry gold-standard security practice.

What's the ROI for employee recognition?

There is study after study showing that employee recognition leads to increased engagement. This in return creates an environment where employees are happier and more motivated which increase productivity and reduces voluntary turnover significantly. In order to filled critical roles, companies tend to spend nearly twice the value of an annual salary. Assembly is an investment in your employees that supports your bottom line.

Does Assembly offer longer-term contracts?

Yes, we will offer contracts for companies with longer-term agreements to help larger customers have more certainty around future costs.

The minimum agreement term is a 12-month subscription.

Does Assembly offer onboarding support?

We do! Any new customer needing further support to get started with Assembly to ensure you're set up for success can request custom onboarding support. These one-time services start at $5,000. Improving your employee experience is about much more than just using our amazing software; it’s about transforming your business to create a workplace that people love. That’s much easier to do with the personal support and advice from our passionate people experts.

Is there a free version of Assembly?

Yes. We offer a completely free plan for up to 50 team members. This plan is intended for teams or organizations that are looking to get started with an employee engagement tool. Keep in mind, this plan is limited in features.

All customers can open an Assembly account for free and get started without a credit card. Then you can change plans as necessary.

How much do rewards cost?

At the time of redemption (when your employees exchange their points for a paid reward) you'll pay face value. If a reward is a $10 Amazon gift card, your cost will be $10. All paid rewards are billed for on a monthly basis.

The good news is that you don't have to pay for rewards upfront because we only charge you when points are redeemed, not when they're earned.

Does Assembly offer discounts?

We offer discounts or educational or charitable organizations. In order to secure a discount, you'll first need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

For all other organizations, we are willing to consider longer-term agreements in exchange for discounts. To set up annual plans or longer, you will need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

How do I cancel my plan if needed?

If you're on a month to month plan, you can go here and cancel anytime. If you're having concerns or need help setting up your account for success, you can always book a demo with a customer support specialist.

If you're on a longer-term custom plan, you'll need to reach out to your customer support specialist to cancel your account or email us at support@joinassembly.com.

What customizations are available?

Great question! You can customize your core values to match your organization's to boost and track alignment. You can change your currency from the 🏆 emoji (our default) to any emoji of your choice. You can swap our logo for your own. You can also set up company culture rewards such as, "Lunch with the CEO," "Buy a book on us," and so much more!

Who can give or receive recognition?

While we recommend a peer to peer set up where anyone in your organization can give or receive recognition, you can set up Assembly however you want. If you need to limit the people who can give or receive recognition, that's perfectly fine and can be done from your Admin, here.

What integrations are available?

Assembly connects to the tools your employees use every day to offer an easy, seamless experience with minimal change management.  

Assembly has integrations with HCM/HRIS systems like ADP, Google, Office 365, and Slack. We also integrate with communication tools like Slack and Teams so you and your employees can access Assembly wherever they work now.

What's your average adoption rate?

That depends on the company's permissions set up. That said, over 90% of the employees on Assembly's platform are recognized on a monthly basis. That means nearly every employee across all of our customers are receiving regular recognition from their peers, managers, or leadership. We're extremely proud of this.

Must rewards be set up to use Assembly?

They are not required. You can use Assembly without having rewards set up. However, we don't recommend it if you intend to have a high adoption and usage rate. You can always keep the costs down by offering internal culture rewards that are fulfilled by you internally.

Are points required to use Assembly?

No, you can remove allowances from anyone or everyone. It's up to you but we do recommend using points whether they're worth a real dollar value or not. Companies that use points have a much higher engagement rate even if those points don't exchange for real dollars.

Could find the answer you are looking for?

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