Six steps to maintain employee connections during a pandemic

LinkedIn (published article)

The ‘Connection Cause’: Six steps to maintain employee connections during a pandemic

Without a doubt, forging strong employee connections, facilitating great company culture and keeping team morale high are all vital elements to an organisation’s employee retention strategy and to ensure an organisation has the best people giving their best work. But how does this look during a pandemic? And is it even possible to maintain strong employee connections and experience during a period of such uncertainty?

One doesn’t need to look too hard to see that employees of all levels are showing signs of feeling less connected to their team as the pandemic continues. And this is not just limited to those who are furloughed or having to work from home either, even those who are still required to to attend their place of work, such as those working in the healthcare, education and manufacturing sectors are starting to show signs of feeling disconnected.

Glint, the people success platform, has been tracking these levels of connection (or disconnection!) throughout the pandemic, and has found that compared to their lives before the pandemic; 31% of employees feel less connected to their leaders and 37% of employees feel less connected to their team. Indeed, a study by polling firm Survation for the Woolf Institute and featured on the BBC yesterday, claims that people are at risk of going “ back into isolated silos” with continued working from home. They stress the importance of workplace friendships as being ‘vital to breaking down misconceptions’ and warn that less connection ‘could lead to a rise in racism and prejudice’.

Certainly, bolstering employee experience and helping employees to feel connected during this pandemic is one of HR’s, and indeed management’s, biggest challenges. It’s clear that both time and money will need to be dedicated to the ‘connection cause’. And as such, now is not the time to be cutting the people and culture budgets. Rather we believe that now is the time for businesses to intensify their commitment to health, wellbeing, diversity, employee experience and engagement. Because businesses who focus on techniques that give their employees a real voice, enabling them to maintain connections and to continue to build relationships with one another, will reap the benefits longer term.

But how can this be done, especially during a time when so many of us are working in isolation from home or having to socially distance themselves from one another in the work place? Here are our six steps to foster employee connections and bolster employee experience in a pandemic world:

  • Connect remote workers with a social intranet
    Creating a good company culture isn’t just about aligning your employees to your company’s core values. Rather, a strong company culture must encourage communication and connections between all employees. Often those forward-thinking ideas and innovative solutions that we try to invariably cultivate come – not from the boardroom – but from chit chats by teammates on their break or at the printer. Bringing people together is essential.

    Incorporating social feeds into your firm’s intranet can help to bring about these moments; allowing people to share ideas and brainstorm solutions in more informal settings. The key is facilitating conversations that aren’t always about the job at hand or related to the here and now. They should be much broader, often about the purpose of the business and the company values that employees resonate with.
  • Interest Groups and chat channels
    One of the key ways to build on employee experience right now are methods to allow employees to join in and create informal interest groups online. These groups, which could be completely non-work related and focus on running or pets for instance, allow employees the opportunity to build relationships and new connections with co-workers through shared interests and values. Indeed, it could be argued that these types of informal groups can bring people together who may have never otherwise met due to their business location. This is really quite exciting when you think about it.

    Employees want to feel that they have friends at work, people to talk to, people to vent to and people to talk about their hobbies with. Informal interest groups offer a solution to this and could also help negate the risk outlined by Woolf Institute of isolated silos. There are multiple chat platforms out there, from WhatsApp to Slack, but always be sure to be clear with employees what these functions are to be used for and how they are monitored.
  • Regular communication
    This may sound obvious if, like me, you spend much of your day on Zoom calls, but when you think about all the different types of organisations and work places out there, sometimes having regular communication could be easier said than done. Think of those working in a factory for instance who may not be equipped with a work laptop or even a company mobile. Given we know that regular communication is key, managers will need to think of a variety of innovative methods and channels to communicate with their team. Giving employees the opportunity to use their own devices for work, and perhaps compensating them for their spend may be necessary. However, don’t forget to check your Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies before you make any decisions on this.

    It’s also vitally important to maintain a level of communication with furloughed employees to ensure that the whole team feels valued and motivated at all times. Again, do check with your organisation’s HR department about how you may communicate with furloughed employees.
  • Collaborative problem-solving and team work
    Providing an opportunity for employees to get involved in a team strengthening activity designed to reinforce brand values and give fresh focus, can help reconnect employees who may be feeling a little isolated. Workers should never feel like they are just another cog in the work machine. Enabling employees to work in teams (even if socially distant/distanced!) to devise and implement their own solutions to business issues can foster a great teamwork environment and can actually help increase the bottom line too.

    And let’s face it, collaborative problem-solving or finding a fun way to bring people together like this is also likely to provide some light relief from the inevitably more regimented way we’re all going to have to go about our daily roles and responsibilities for the foreseeable future.
  • Create a learning culture
    At its core, a learning culture is about unlocking knowledge and skills, upskilling and reskilling, collaboration and most importantly employee empowerment. As such, now might just be a good time to ramp up your training budget.

    Don’t forget too that a furloughed employee can undertake training as well. As long as the purpose of the training is to improve the employee’s effectiveness in their employer’s business or the performance of their employer’s business, then that’s fine. Offering training not only gives a furloughed employee something to do during this time, but it also keeps their mind focused, ensuring they can pick back up when they do return to the business. Most importantly though, it reminds the employee that you care for their development.

    Certainly, increased training for the team shows everyone that the organisation cares about them. It also creates an environment of trust and empowerment and reminds team members that you want to continue their progression, something that will pay dividends long term.
  • Online events
    Virtual events are slowly becoming the norm when it comes to engaging with employees, and it’s going to be no different when it comes to the Christmas celebrations this year. Ideas for a virtual Christmas party might include, sending out fancy dress for employees to wear together as part of a wider theme or sending out a hamper with cocktail ingredients and tasty goodies in advance of the event for everyone to try together. Remember though, as mentioned in a previous point, that not everyone will have access to a company laptop or mobile for Zoom or Teams virtual parties so make sure you plan ahead and find solutions to be inclusive to all.

    Christmas is a great opportunity to try and pull everyone together to reinforce your company culture and to give your employee experience a boost to help foster greater engagement. It will also ensure greater motivation going into the New Year; something I think we all need.

To conclude, how a business reacts to the pandemic and uses it positively to forge connections between employees can, not only make a difference in the here and now, but longer term too. There really is no better time for leadership teams to champion and instigate a stronger engagement mindset and truly drive the work culture forward. Now is the time to re-affirm business culture, foster employee connections and drive employee engagement longer term.