“When you work from home, a Tuesday is pretty much a Saturday.”
This sounds like something I would say. Having been confined to my house and working from home for over a year now, I forget what it feels like to eagerly wait for the weekend.
I know I speak for a lot of us when I say I have fallen into a rut – into a never-ending cycle of waking up, working on my laptop for the better part of the day, and then going back to sleep. My days are running into nights as are my weeks into months. I miss the ‘watercooler conversations,’ cafeteria lunches, and coffee breaks with my teammates.
Nearly a year ago, when COVID was just beginning to show its wrath, 88% of organizations encouraged or required employees to work from home until further notice. With the world being engulfed in the second wave of the pandemic, I see no signs of going back to the office just yet.
Companies are well aware of the pitfalls of working from home and are trying to do their best to push their employees out of this COVID-enabled rut. To switch things up and to ensure their corporate culture stays alive, organizations are designing several employee engagement strategies for all the employees working remotely.
What are some employee engagement strategies we use?
1. Communicate regularly with your team
This one is a no-brainer, right? With their entire team working from different locations, managers need to put in extra effort to make themselves available and keep in touch.
Although I’m new at HackerEarth, work remotely, and haven’t had a chance to meet my team yet, I’ve never felt out of place. Simply because every single person in our company prides themselves on being open, friendly, and responsive. I can reach out to anybody, be it my team or the CEO, and they will always be open to talk.
Our VP sets up periodic meetings with the entire team, as well as one-on-one calls. This helps to keep everyone in the loop. My manager makes it a point to regularly ask questions like, ‘How can I help you feel productive,’ ‘How are you dealing with working from home,’ or ‘I’m always available if you need to talk’. The way things are right now with the pandemic, having someone to talk to is important and I know I have my team to fall back on when I’m having a bad day.
2. Host virtual and fun-filled activities
Interactive team bonding activities let employees get to know each other in a more casual atmosphere. This also leads to better working relationships. Nobody wants to sit and stare at their laptop screens for a monologue on how to have fun. The key here is to make these sessions as interactive and communicative as possible.
At HackerEarth, we host MyStory sessions, which spotlight employees’ personal stories and experiences and allow others to learn from them. These sessions are an incredible way to create a feeling of connectedness where every employee is celebrated holistically. We also take some time out every other week to play fun games like Trivia Nights, organize Pet Show and Tell sessions, Fun Fridays, or even virtual Happy Hours.
3. Define specific goals and carve out career paths for your remote employees
When teams are fragmented, it falls upon the manager to ensure everything is getting done on time. The first week of each quarter is reserved by my manager for us to plan what needs to be achieved in these three months. Setting clear deliverables and specific metrics to track progress helps avoid things getting lost in translation. We follow the OKR model every quarter to evaluate and take stock of the productivity of our team.
Another important thing that falls on the managers is the discussion of career graphs for each employee. The employee needs to know where they fit into the big picture for them to stay motivated. HackerEarth proposes various learning and development (L&D) initiatives for all of us – this shows us that the organization is willing to invest in our growth rather than simply hiring new employees with advanced skills.
In these unprecedented times, it serves to define a career path for them and ease some of the uncertainty that people have about their jobs.
4. Appreciate and reward employees
It is difficult to recognize and appreciate the hard work done by your employees, especially when you don’t get to see them regularly. A virtual employee recognition experience is a must and goes a long way in letting employees know that their work is not going unnoticed.
Simple gestures like saying thank you, giving a compliment on a job well done, and then on a larger scale, holding virtual awards have a massive impact on employee engagement.
The HackerEarth Quarterly/Annual Awards is one event that we all look forward to. It brings all our people together and there are fun awards for the New Joiner, Best Performing Employee, Best Team, etc.
On a side note, I will be eligible for the New Joiner Award next quarter, so keep your fingers crossed for me!
5. Send thoughtful care packages
One way of creating a sense of belonging is by sending out fun goodies to your employees. Popular choices of goodies include scented candles, snacks, books, etc. SnackNation has whole packages designed around a theme like corporate gifting, retreat packages, workday wellness, and so on.
In the short while that I’ve been at HackerEarth, I received two care packages for two different occasions; one was a new joiner starter kit, consisting of a welcome note from my CEO and company paraphernalia, the second was a very thoughtful and beautifully curated ‘Thank You’ package. Could a girl ask for more?
What screams ‘We care!’ other than a selected curation of feel-good products?
6. Encourage learning and upskilling
Organizations should offer easily accessible L&D programs to their employees. Continuous online learning fosters better employee engagement and retention. A recent study showed that 42% of millennials are likely to leave a company if they do not have enough learning opportunities.
We, at HackerEarth, are encouraged to utilize our skills assessment software to the maximum. The L&D platform helps create tailored, self-guided learning pathways to assess employees’ effectiveness. We can schedule courses non-work-related accordingly, complete them at our own pace, and re-evaluate where we stand. Hackathons are another great way to gather our developers in one place, encourage upskilling and make learning fun.
7. Recreate those ‘watercooler talks’ in a virtual setting
Watercooler conversations are quintessential for no reason other than they form a workplace tradition that spans nations and across company cultures. It is a chance for employees to get up from their desks for a few minutes, stand around near the watercooler, and chat with their work friends.
Come the pandemic, watercooler talks are no longer a thang. With everything going remote, employees miss these little moments. There is a dire need to amp up informal conversations between employees, to boost engagement and morale.
Our L&D team set up different Slack channels to have more casual, non-work-related conversations. Each channel caters to a specific interest area like a WFH (work from home) channel, where we usually share resources, L&D training progress, and any challenges faced. We also have channels for organizing games, discussing the pandemic, and for our daily chitchat. This lets us de-stress as well as have some form of human interaction.
Recommended read: Through The Looking Glass: Hiring For ‘Cultural Fit’ In A Remote World
The pandemic has provided organizations with an opportunity to re-examine relationships with all their employees and also redefine their workplace culture, albeit remotely. Creating a positive employee experience must be deliberate and thought ahead.
While businesses are adapting on the fly and trying to keep their entire workforce connected, you have to think about ‘Zoom fatigue.’ It’s a very real thing and leads to employees feeling burnt out from constant meetings, fun activities, and other video calls.
We all crave human interaction, but maybe not so much in virtual meetings, eh?
Strike a balance between live meetings and quick text updates via Slack or e-mail to reduce the fatigue. Be empathetic and foster strong relationships with your employees based on trust.
Most importantly, let your team know that you’re there for them in these times of hardship and stress. That’s the kind of trust and loyalty that is necessary for companies to build, in today’s times.
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