Working from Home – How to Engage Employees & Build Your Culture Virtually

During this time of uncertainty with the impact of COVID-19, and the daily influx of new information on this crisis, it is imp...

February 12, 2021

During this time of uncertainty with the impact of COVID-19, and the daily influx of new information on this crisis, it is important to recognize that all of us as humans are more stressed than usual. Each of us is working through changes and challenges in our daily routines, how to care for our family members and households, not to mention concerns about our jobs and workplaces. Company leaders and HR professionals are scrambling to make changes to keep employees as safe as possible. We also have an opportunity to find new ways to show employee appreciation, engage our teams, and keep our culture thriving.

There are many considerations regarding what may be best for your workplace. Here are some answers to common questions that you may be grappling with.

Should I let my staff work from home?
With many jurisdictions requiring businesses, buildings or events to close, your organization may face this decision before you are ready. Please follow the guidelines of the CDC and your state and local resources to understand the specific guidelines in your area and city.

Otherwise, this will depend upon the company, the type of work performed, and the technology available. The federal government is now urging companies to mobilize telecommuting for their workforce. If you have the technological ability to allow staff to work from home, it is something you should consider in order to help prevent the spread of the virus between coworkers and others they encounter.

If work from home is not feasible for your organization, you may want to consider staggering shifts, to reduce the number of workers at your workplace at one time. Work with your cleaning staff to wipe down doorknobs, countertops, conference room tables, to reduce the chance that the virus remains on workplace surfaces.

What is a good reason to work from home?
If employees experience any symptoms of cold or flu or if they report a close contact with someone who has such symptoms, they should be urged to stay home, per guidance from the CDC. If possible, and if they are well, consider allowing them to put in as many hours at home as they can. This will enable them to continue to earn income and will help the business continue to get work accomplishes.

How do you create a work from home policy?
Be as flexible as you can for your business, but set clear expectations. If you have rigid work schedules or strict attendance policies, now is the time to consider relaxing them. However, you should still be clear about the changes you are making, and what you expect. For example, you may need to set rules or processes about how to record work time, expected work hours, acceptable locations for remote work, or proper usage of technology. If you are concerned about setting a precedent for remote work when your business would ordinarily not allow it, make your policy clear that it is only temporary and specific to the dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

How can I make sure my employees are working from home?
Some managers fear that if we allow folks to work from home, they will instead focus on personal matters and not be as productive. Most people are well-intentioned and strive to do a good job for their employers. Start by treating them as adults who are capable of meeting the demands of their job without requiring micromanagement. In managing remote workers, it is important to focus on results and hold employees accountable for meeting those expectations. While non-exempt employees are paid based on time worked, managers should focus on the outcomes of a day’s work to determine if the employee has been productive, versus focusing on precisely how many minutes they worked.

How do you manage remote employees?
Leveraging technology is a great way to help remote work teams be most productive. Many organizations have some type of video conference technology and instant messaging program. Also, using file-sharing technologies allows real-time cooperation on team projects. Cloud collaboration platforms such as Slack have many of these features to help your teams engage with each other, wherever they are. This can also bring a sense of teamwork and connection to your workforce when team members may be feeling isolated or craving interpersonal interaction.

Furthermore, when employees separated from one another, it’s important to continue to celebrate successes. This helps improve camaraderie, increases employee engagement and builds your culture. Particularly while employees are working remotely, put some extra attention and energy into your employee appreciation programs. Reward and recognize employees who go above and beyond, and leverage technology like Assembly to allow peers to provide public praise to one another. If you normally recognize birthdays and celebrate in the office, perhaps you can bring this to a virtual environment. Consider additional employee appreciation ideas such as allowing employees to earn badges, or collect points for redemption, and align these programs with the expectations of telework, company values, and goals.

Last but not least, increase communications one on one, in teams and company-wide. Now is the time for managers to increase the frequency and quality of their check-ins with employees. Make sure employees know that they can access their manager as often as they did in the office, and ensure that all contact information is shared. Team and company-wide communication should become more frequent as well – employees will want to hear from leadership regarding what is going on with business activity, customers and what adjustments they are making to deal with the virus and the economy. Don’t underestimate the power of employee appreciation – take time for genuine expressions of gratitude – and do so often, and publicly.

About the Author: Allison Shaw
For nearly 20 years, Allison has helped organizations and their people succeed. Allison’s true passion lies in helping organizations to hire, inspire, engage and retain the talent they need to achieve their goals. In 2019, she founded Alacris Talent Solutions LLC, a Talent Optimization Consulting firm, dedicated to helping clients intentionally, consistently and strategically design teams that serve their business strategy.