In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations need to maintain a relationship with their employees while focusing, now more than ever, on employee engagement (EE) and the overall employee experience (EX).
Maintaining business continuity in the face of such a life-threatening crisis (and life-altering for your workforce) requires everyone to adapt, think and plan differently – and quickly. This will determine how strongly we emerge from this adversity.
Emergency work-from home policies and managing teams remotely while staying connected with your entire organisation presents an entirely new set of challenges for companies where working remotely was previously unprecedented.
With a remote form of management being in place so suddenly, having a resilient management team will make all the difference. Having a plan in place to keep all employees engaged and focused on their work is essential. (Fallon, 2020).
Managing employee experience (EX) in times of crisis while maintaining business continuity
As companies turn to their HR leaders for guidance and reassurance during COVID-19 associated disruptions (Granger, 2020), managers might not immediately spring to mind when it comes to organisational ‘heroes’ (Hardy, 2020). Besides those, of course, leading teams of key workers on the front line.
While perhaps not heroes in the traditional sense of the word, managers are uniquely positioned to help steer organisations through this crisis – and out the other side, making the role they play in the weeks and months ahead hugely important (Hardy, 2020).
So, how can managers, HR, and employee experience (EX) leaders help their organisations appropriately manage employees’ experiences during these trying times?
Bruce Temkin (2020), suggests the same way that all experience management (XM) professionals can, “by enhancing the capability to continuously learn how people are thinking and feeling, propagate insights into the hands of people who can take action, and rapidly adapt in this dynamic environment,”.
Thus, in most cases, this means adjusting the EX Management program.
5 principles for making changes to your Experience Management (XM) program (Granger, 2020)
As organisations consider changes to their EX management programs, it is important to anchor on foundational XM principles that apply to all XM professionals during times of crisis:
- Show humanity. As you ask employees for feedback, you must be particularly sensitive to their existing circumstances and concerns and be sure to be clear about how the collection of their feedback can help them.
- Take a hiatus on metrics. Ask employees for feedback, but your focus should be on what’s most important to employees right now, not on metrics and historical comparisons.
- Ask less, listen more. As you adjust your existing employee listening strategy, shift your measurement approach to be more open-ended and less anchored on what questions have been asked in the past.
- Build up your immediate response skill. Following up with employees on their feedback is always important, but it is even more critical in times of crisis. One of the core competencies within the XM operating framework is “RESPOND”. This is all about how organisations respond to and act on feedback. During these times, take greater care to ask about what you can act on, get feedback to the people who can do something with it, and communicate, communicate, communicate with your employees.
- Accelerate your feedback cycles. Building on principles 3 and 4 presented above, it’s critical that you collect, manage, and respond to feedback as quickly as possible. For most organisations, this likely means introducing new or different types of listening mechanisms, such as always-on feedback to digital employee experiences.
Is Your Employee Engagement in a Recession, Too?
Since there’s no doubt that employee engagement will take a hit under the current conditions, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. In fact, you can—and must—take action to protect engagement and productivity.
Measuring engagement during a crisis:
- Remember, it’s okay to measure engagement data reactively vs proactively right now. One of the keys to surviving a downturn is gauging how your workforce is feeling emotionally (Marks, 2020).
- An organisation that practices talent optimization during any recessionary period has a framework from which to start. (Dube, 2020)
Diagnosing staff sentiment: (Dube, 2020 & Marks, 2020):
On average, senior leaders spend 61% of their time solving people problems (Marks, 2020). However, for obvious reasons, these aren’t average times, and that might not be a realistic allocation given how ‘time-poor’ many executives are right now.
A streamlined strategy for measuring engagement might go as follows:
Determine the most efficient way to collect people data.
- Gauging how people are feeling, often with targeted questions will help you determine whether your talent will come out of the downturn energised, disengaged, or somewhere in between (Marks, 2020).
- Engaged employees are emotionally committed to your organisation’s success – and that will augment your ability to move forward (Marks, 2020).
- Frequent temperature checks protect productivity where some employees’ personalities and work styles make it difficult for them to achieve a balance – resulting in burnout.
Determine where culture might be fraying.
- Ask open-ended questions about your culture to get real insight into whether your culture is eroding – and where (Dube, 2020).
- Business metrics (sales figures, qualified leads, NPS, CSAT etc.) must be complemented with people metrics (such as employee engagement data) to maintain an established culture.
- Address people problems quickly to mitigate uncertainty and prevent them from building up and festering.
Pinpoint where engagement may be most heavily impacted during the culture shock.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What’s causing the initial friction?
- Did leadership trust take a big hit because of a decision?
- Are employees feeling like they don’t have the resources they need?
- Are managers pressing too hard?
- Are people turning on each other?
Find out which teams are feeling the most pressure.
If you’ve restructured the company, managers are adjusting to new direct reports, and employees are adjusting to new managers and teammates. Some teams will be more stressed than others. That’s why your next step is to examine engagement data after employees complete the survey through the following lens (Dube, 2020):
- Magnitude: Who is under the most pressure? Who’s experienced the most change?
- Relevance: What are our morale priorities? What do employees need right now?
- Breadth: Do the business decisions we’ve made require further explanation?
o Assess whether the attention you are paying employees reflects the gravity of the changes you have made (Dube, 2020).
o Spend adequate time talking to impacted personnel about drastic changes. Not addressing such a significant shock to the employee system is essentially like letting the elephant set up shop in the room (Dube, 2020).
Effectively managing talent in the best of times is challenging.
Managing it in a period of turmoil or crisis adds a new dimension to the job at hand (Lipman, 2020). Dealing flexibly and thoughtfully with the realities and emotions of their teams will require good managers to be part therapist, part coach and part fireman while adhering to their normal technical aspects of their roles.
Implications and managerial attributes which may be helpful for day-to-day management”:
- “Being present”
Display ‘thoughtful’ leadership by being in the moment when dealing with employees.
- Recognising, of course, this isn’t business as usual
Stay calm and make good decisions in a time where everyone is under pressure and decisions need to be made in periods of high stress.
- Remaining flexible in a rapidly changing environment
Now is the time for managerial agility on steroids. Management must be comfortable with change, discomfort and remoteness – amongst other factors. The more comfortable you are with change, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with the uncertainties in the months ahead.
Continuous Listening to Help Support Remote Working
Miscommunication, misunderstandings and missed opportunities are only some of the pitfalls to remote working. With a decrease in face-to-face interaction, there is no such thing as too much communication and managers are being encouraged to increase points of contact with their teams – holding regular one-to-one calls where feasible, alongside virtual team meetings (Hardy, 2020).
Over the last few weeks, we’ve learnt that a lot can change in just a few days. Continuous listening is therefore vital to understanding how employees are really feeling at any time. Real-time, anonymous responses will equip team leaders with clear insights into what their employees require from them at any stage and often encourage more honest responses than one-to-one interactions (Hardy, 2020).
A Fresh Focus on Employee Wellbeing
Individuals worldwide will face new challenges in their personal lives. As Covid-19 spreads, the situation unsurprisingly shines a greater light on employee health and wellbeing.
Managers who are successful in making a difference to their teams will produce immense loyalty – supporting their organisation’s long-term retention and contributing to ongoing employee engagement which has been proven to boost overall company performance (Hardy, 2020).
Continuous listening will also give managers deeper insight into their teams and arsenal to exercise agility allowing them to take necessary actions which support their teams’ wellbeing.
Some initiatives teams are already employing:
- Digital pub quizzes
- Virtual team lunches
- Deadline flexibility to accommodate new home-life demands
- New tools and resources to effectively perform from home
Manager effectiveness in an enforced remote environment is critical, but, it can take some getting used to. Managers can look to our ‘Move to the Virtual World’ article to get better ideas and insights into managing remote teams.
Remember with increased written communications, there is a higher risk of misinterpretation. Summarise the most important messages and tasks in a daily email so nothing slips through the net. Be vigilant about the language you use too. (Hardy, 2020):
The 3R Approach
We’ve all had to press the reboot button on how our people were working before the crisis. New and novel ways of working will help not just during the crisis but also in a post COVID-19 world – for example, utilizing cloud technology platforms which create quick and efficient virtual connectivity with employees
Most team members are home-bound with some extra time on their hands as physical premises remain closed. Organisations should grasp this as an opportunity to transform current ‘work-from-home’ scenarios into high engaging learn-from-home scenarios with the following activities (Chakraborty, 2020):
- Consistent Knowledge Sharing session between inter/intra teams
- Byte-size Lockdown learning sessions on a wide variety of topics related to personal and professional enhancements
- Industry expert sessions
- Need-based e-learning modules
Feeling at ease during this crisis requires everyone to balance the body, mind and soul (Chakraborty, 2020).
Group bonding sessions
Companies can introduce a wide range of programs to meet this need for balance with the added benefit of bringing employees – and even their families together. Different initiatives may be scheduled on different days of the week and may include:
- Talent showcasing
- Daily morning wellness sessions
- Home strength training
- Cooking classes
- Cocktail-making workshops
- Musical evenings
In addition to group-bonding sessions, staff members in distress can be provided with one-on-one virtual counselling with the help of an appointed expert in the field
Organisations can ideate and launch their designated CSR initiatives during this time in collaboration with renowned NGOs to help those who are struggling more than others to make ends meet.
With all these efforts, HR teams can foster an attitude of resilience and build an anti-fragile organisation. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb said: “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” (Chakraborty, 2020)
In these uncertain times, many things are unclear. But, one thing that remains clear is that, in any environment, optimising talent and staying closely attuned to the human side of the business will always help an organisation.
In the last major crisis (the Global Financial Crisis (GFC)) is had been noted (Chakraborty, 2020), that the entire world faced (2007-2009), most of the organisations turned to corporate finance for survival but the COVID-19 pandemic is a human crisis that brings the need for Human resources (HR) to be at the forefront of ensuring success in sailing through the crisis. Thus, HR needs to redefine employee engagement in such challenging times (Chakraborty, 2020).
Given the current rate of change, staying on the pulse like this is arguably more important now than ever. A regular stream of feedback will ensure that every worker has a voice during this difficult time and will enable managers to stay in tune with their teams’ fast-changing needs and expectations (Hardy, 2020). This will empower managers to make rapid but well-informed decisions that evolving situations such as this call for.
Managers, HR, and EX Leaders clearly have a vital role to play in supporting employees and organisations through this crisis. Where they succeed, organisations will be better equipped to weather this storm, and be in sound shape to hit the ground running once it’s all over (Hardy, 2020).
- Allen, Mark., (2020). Talent Management During the COVID-19 Crisis—Part 1: Employee Engagement. Pepperdine Business Blog
- Barks, A., (2020). Is Your Engagement in a Recession Too? The Predictive IndeX
- Dube, J., (2020). How to Measure Engagement During a Crisis. The Predictive Index
- Fallon, N., (2020). Managing from Home? Here’s How to Keep Your Team Engaged During Coronavirus. U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Granger, B., (2020). Adjusting Your Employee Experience (EX) in Times of Crisis. Qualtrics
- Hardy, E., (2020). How Managers Can Become Heroes of the Covid-19 Crisis. HR Exchange Network
- Lipman, V., (2020). Managing Talent in a Time of Turmoil. The Predictive Index
- Chakaborty, K., (2020). The 3R Approach: Key to Employee Engagement in Covid-19
- Mishra, A. N., (2020). Managing employee experience in times of crisis while maintaining business continuity. People Matter GlobaL
- Temkin, B., (2020). Adjusting Your CX Program to Deal with Covid-19