Social distancing and employee engagement

How do you revitalise employee engagement in times of social distancing and increased remote working?

The many measures our governments, societies and workplaces across the world have taken in response to Covid-19 may have been different from country to country or company to company. However, one thing remains the same; social distancing is a recurrent measure every community and every workplace is requiring. Along with social distancing, working from home has also increased, at least for the industries and the professionals who are able to. For most of us, we find ourselves working from home more and being apart from our colleagues more. Even when we do work from the office, a few days a week, for example, we have to keep the 1.5m or 6feet distance from the few colleagues we can encounter. While these measures are important and necessary, we need to anticipate and compensate for their consequences and negative effects on teams’ bonding and employee’s engagement.

Whether we are working from home or from the office, we are all recently experiencing more distance from our colleagues, figuratively and literally. And if you are on the HR team, Facilities Management team, Real Estate team or any other workplace and community team, you must be wondering about the possible negative consequences of such distancing on your teams’ social wellbeing, professional performance and engagement.

When it comes to employee engagement, you as a Workplace Professional know, that face to face interactions play a vital role. Or at least they have, until now.

“Face to face involvement is the premier communication tool. Unmatched for subtlety and efficiency but also a present of a wasteland of mysterious inhibitions and limitations, it requires revitalisation.”

According to Propst, white face to face interactions are priceless, they can definitely be improved upon. So how do you revitalise face to face interactions in times of social distancing?

Boosting employee engagement and strengthening team bonding when we can barely meet each other, let alone be close and shake hands, is challenging to say the least. However, in light of recent events, it is now more important than ever to have your employees engaged so they can remain proactive, effective, energetic, healthy and happy.

Through some of our recent workplace projects here at AKKA, I learned one of the most important yet counter-intuitive insights. As you may know, as part of our architectural approach, we engage people – employees as well as management team and other stakeholders – in a thorough participatory process. Through the questions, we ask and the insights they uncover, we realised one fundamental notion. In these challenging times, if you want to really boost your employees’ engagement, stop thinking of them as individuals and start thinking of them as individuals in context. It is not enough to consider people people as stand-alone individuals, we need to also consider them as people in groups, people in teams. Let me elaborate.

Throughout the day, the week or the months, all employees engage in an array of different interactions. They alternate between working alone, having one-on-one conversations, going into small brainstorms, attending larger meetings…etc. All these are different team configurations, remember to include the one-person team set up when someone is working individually. Think of it like a dance being performed by all your employees, with some parts choreographed and some more improvised. Employees will flow from one configuration to another, from one ‘pose’ to another, including solo pieces.

When you take inventory of these different configurations happening, you will be able to have a better insight into the needs of your employees during but also in-between these different configurations. With the different configurations in mind, the dynamics that people are going through become clear. And you can then look into how to boost engagement and support people in these specific configurations. That shift of thinking has created tremendous clarity for many of our clients in HR and Facility Management lately.

Do not think of your employees as isolated individuals but rather as individuals in context, individuals in different team configurations.

As you take inventory of the different configurations your employees engage in on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, you need to keep in mind a number of differentiating factors. Here are the four most important ones to look for:

1. Scale of configurations: as I previously mentioned, the team configurations come in different sizes. Make sure you include the one-person configuration as much as the company-wide 5.000 people configuration (for some companies) that may only happen once a year or even less frequently.

2. Character of configurations: in addition to differences in size, different teams have different characters. A team of programmers may interact differently than a team of accountants, and differently than a team of designers. The differences in character are not only due to different fields and work processes but also to different management styles. Are the teams structured and micro-managed or are they improvising and playing off each other like a jazz band?

3. Mix of personalities: taking into account the types of personalities and how they are mixed within the configurations will help your inventory be of better quality. How many of the people in a certain team configuration are introvert or extrovert? are they planners or rather spontaneous? Get to know, not only the individuals but also how they come together. Get to know your teams.

4. Nature of configurations: another differentiating factor to keep in mind is the nature of the configuration. Is it a formal gathering or an informal one, was it planned or did it just happen serendipitously? Is it face to face or virtual? It goes without saying that digital meetings hold a larger and larger share of our daily interactions and should be considered as seriously as more traditional forms of meeting and interactions.

If you aim to improve employee engagement in this time of remote working and social distancing, you first need to shift your thinking. Do not think of your employees as individuals but rather as individuals in context, individuals in different team configurations.

Consider the different configurations your employees engage in throughout the day, the week and the month. How do your people flow from a one-person band, a solo to a duo to an entire band? Are they a well-rehearsed orchestra or an improvising jazz band? Take inventory of all the different configurations, their scale, character, personalities mix and natures. Then ask yourself how you can make these configurations, these dynamics and interactions more engaging for your people.

“In the long run, all businesses and business leaders will be judged not by their profits or their products but by their impact on humanity.”

When it comes to your employees’ engagement, to make real progress, you need a real breakthrough. The notion that employees are unique individuals is the correct one. The misunderstanding it sometimes creates is the notion that we, therefore, need to consider employees as stand-alone individuals. As John Donne would tell you, ‘No man is an inland’ – no women either by the way. What this means is even if you, as a Workplace Professional did the honorable and well-intentioned thing to get to know your employees one by one, your job is not done. Your blind spot may be that, while you now know your employees, you may know them as stand-alone people, and not as people in context. By nature, people adapt to each other and behave differently in different contexts, surrounded by different people. We all play off each other. In essence, we are all Jazz players at heart. 

Discover here your top 3 ways to improve your employees’ engagement and interactions right now. And the best part is, they are based on your input and therefore are tailored to the situation in your very own company!

Three ways to improve your employees' engagement and interactions right now.

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