“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” —Rupert Murdoch
Whether introducing work-from-home frameworks in record time or drastically changing business models to sustain service delivery, organisations across the globe have risen to the challenge. As we take stock of the year, a key takeaway is agility. They’re markers of competitive advantage today, which no longer arise from position or scale, but from first-mover advantage. Companies brave enough to learn to do new things and fast to read and act on signals of change are thriving.
The wave of remote working is a great example of this. Although the concept was never alien, there was scepticism about how effective the workforce could actually be if they were allowed to work remotely full time. Now, there is widespread acceptance of a work-from-anywhere model that is here to stay. And companies that took the lead and acted fast have enjoyed the many benefits – cost savings, convenience, access to a wider talent pool including employees willing to return to work after a career break, better environmental footprint, and so on. Today, it’s no longer a matter of planning remote work – it’s making rapid but strategic adjustments around this new way of working.
But a challenge still remains – maintaining regular connection with employees.
With remote work, people are not just physically separated; they are also not emotionally as connected as a team in the office. The absence of casual interactions that happen naturally at the workplace, such as impromptu team lunches, informal hallway chats, or a strategy huddle during a coffee break, have led to a disconnection. Coupled with the stress of a pandemic and blurred lines between home and work, employee engagement and communication today are increasingly necessary.
Organisations have for long deployed traditional methods of communication through emails, posters, intranets and town halls. Now with workforce dynamics changing drastically, these methods are becoming obsolete. In search of solutions, while some organisations are jumping on the technology train, others are going back to basics.
So, amidst rapid changes in the workplace, what methods, when deployed fast – and well – may lead to powerful outcomes in employee engagement?
Tune them in
According to an AZ report, over 64% of the population in India listens to FM Radio every day. During the lockdown, Association of Radio Operators for India revealed a 23% increase in time spent by people listening to radio. As an entertainment medium, radio never fell off the radar in India – so using it to power workplace communications almost seems like a no-brainer!
Driving internal communications through radio can be highly scalable and holds the potential to bring a staggered workforce together on the same ‘frequency’. When used to broadcast business developments, policy changes, culture updates and introduce new processes, radio may be a medium more personal than emails and non-intrusive than the occasional town halls. This generates opportunities for companies to utilise it to drive strategic initiatives. A judicious mix of formal and informal content, regular or preset programming, music and talk-show style podcasts with employees can not only boost communications but can also be a productivity enhancer. Streaming audio content on demand may be preferred to attending zoom-meetings in the middle of the day with undivided attention. Another big advantage of this medium is the ability to stream simultaneously in many different languages. This can be particularly useful for large conglomerates with operations across geographies and with a workforce that speaks multiple languages.
Communication of company culture becomes far more accurate and authentic compared to the written word (emailers, newsletters). In fact, it can be the next best thing after ‘face time’ with leaders. Having the leadership team use radio as a means to talk to their employees and share their personal growth stories can help bridge the gap in communications when employees have limited accessibility to their leaders. Moreover, it should not always be about updates and learning but also include the culture of coherence and fun where employees can participate in activities and be privy to personal stories to feel they’re part of a team.
Say yes to watercooler chats
Water cooler chats are a chance to let people reset between tasks and bond casually with their colleagues by talking about less stressful things like hobbies and personal interests during coffee or lunch breaks, in between meetings, or while printing copies. Unfortunately, remote work has disrupted this dynamic. Even with a seamless transition to work-from-home, creating organic conversational situations has been challenging.
Naturally, the answer is to pivot to a remote version and intentionally create opportunities to encourage informal interaction between employees. Think virtual happy hours, trivia night, virtual book clubs, TikTok challenges, Netflix Watch Parties, online bulletin boards or even lunch-and-learn sessions to break the monotony of everyday work. The key is co-creating with them to build a virtual culture that they’re excited about.
The benefits are multifold. Downtime for casual interactions helps build mutual trust and respect by letting colleagues know each other on a personal level. It allows them to feel connected with their subordinates and managers, which may even make them comfortable to address professional issues. It’s also a great way to bring new joinees out of their shells. Contrary to popular belief, virtual watercooler chats are a casual way to brainstorm and problem-solve, hence fueling productivity. All of this eventually contributes to the experience of every team member.
Keep the side hustle going
Google’s famous ‘20% time’ and Facebook’s ‘hackathons’ have been the genesis of some exceptional innovation. By simply encouraging creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship from within, these companies have spotlighted the value of a side project in creating a symbiotic exchange between the organisation and its employees.
Giving employees – especially the zoom-fatigued remote workers – the chance to redirect their strengths towards a passion project can lead to game changing solutions, encourage prioritisation and time management, and help grow their network through collaboration. Allowing employees 10% of company hours each week is a good start. Providing mentorship through employee resource groups is then taking it a step forward.
In addition to keeping them engaged, giving the workforce the freedom to recognise their entrepreneurship spirit can strengthen internal brand advocacy in the long run; showing them that the company cares more than just its bottom line.
COVID-19 changed the world in many ways including the workforce. Companies want to raise team communications and engagement to a higher level, while keeping business afloat. This has created demand for simpler, cost-effective, dependable solutions that can be implemented quickly. However, the key lies in making them meaningful, people-centric and keeping the social aspect of the workplace alive.