The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to rethink the way they work – and at a very fast pace. And when a significant change is implemented quickly, the odds are that both expected and unexpected challenges will emerge.
However, this pandemic will be with us for some time to come, meaning that issues such as social distancing (for those who go back to work), working from home and part or full time furloughing will have a big impact on employees and their employers – especially for employee engagement, motivation, wellbeing and performance.
This means that new structures and systems may need to be in place to ensure that employees feel supported, safe and heard. An organisation’s duty of care has never been more important, whether it supports staff working from home or people who are returning to their work environment under social distancing rules.
What hasn’t changed is that employee voice is vital. The key to success during this time is to maintain good communication levels and positive working relationships.
Communications During Covid 19
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, organisations should have a clear plan of communications during times of crises. Their tips include:
- Use credible data (in this instance, public health bodies, the Health & Safety Executive and the NHS)
- Use video messages from senior managers to give reassurance
- Use the same information channels so that employees know where to go for information
- Be honest about what the organisation doesn’t yet know, and ask staff for opinions, suggestions and questions.
Beneath all of this is the understandable concern that employee have about what work will look like for the foreseeable future. Trade unions and the media have published guidance for people who are worried about their rights, including challenges such as childcare, remote working and the reporting of concerns.
The use of technology to encourage employees to raise issues will make a vast different to how staff engage with their employers. User-friendly routes for people to speak up (perhaps anonymously, and including whistleblowing) – with efforts to listen and respond quickly – will increase staff motivation and retention over the short and long term.
Investing in Engagement
It is essential that trust and understanding within employee-employer relationships remain high during a crisis, but it is easy for those relationships to be railroaded by fear, miscommunication and poor planning.
However, with the right approach, difficult times can act as a driver to support employees to innovate and change. Organisations can use systems and processes to encourage staff to come together (virtually in teams or through apps and platforms) to help solve the problems facing the organisation.
Some steps to achieve this include:
- Tell employees how you will communicate with them, and how often – consider creating a communications calendar and ask staff to input to it
- Make sure that leaders are visible through methods that are interactive so staff can have their say to the top of the organisation
- Ask employees how the organisation’s values and culture should be enhanced or changed in light of the pandemic
- Give employee wellbeing a high profile – send out caring messages and remind them of any supports available such as employee counselling, a helpline and discussion boards
- Give employees the chance to feed in to a platform that looks for ideas to improve ways of working, devising it so that staff have to fill in a suggestions box before submitting their comments.
While it may be difficult for organisations to focus on employee engagement when there are so many other challenges facing them, bringing their workforces with them will actually improve their chances of getting through the pandemic successfully. Our Resource Hub has more information and ideas on how to manage and improve employee engagement.