Jun 29, 2020

Remote work engagement: what we’ve learnt + why you should focus on it… Now!

Photo by Christin Hume via our friends at Unsplash

At Unleashed there’s a recurring question we’re being asked; what will the impact of the current remote working situation have on the future of work?

We’re starting to see some glimpses of the “new normals” chosen by companies who have been bold enough to declare that they are a leading part of the work-from-home revolution, but for the majority, the verdict is understandably still out. And that’s a good thing… A knee jerk approach to making decisions that will dramatically impact your whole team’s wellbeing and happiness is not likely to be welcomed with open arms. (Read on to discover a more measured approach!)

We bloomin’ love a metaphor at Unleashed, so here’s one that’s apt… “The beds that we make for ourselves today will be the ones that we lie in tomorrow.” Whilst our “new normals,” remain unclear, what is certain is that your company’s culture will change, so let’s tackle a far more helpful question; what can you be doing right now to ensure that it changes for the better?

We’d like to answer this through the lens of two familiar People concepts, Engagement + Culture… so let’s take a few moments up front to define both.

Engagement: the psychological contract between a company and its employees

We all (hopefully) have employment contracts with t’s and c’s that govern the basics — our job title, pay etc… but it’s crucial to also recognise the existence of a less tangible (but arguably just as meaningful) psychological commitment.

Organisations uphold their commitment to this psychological contract by treating people fairly, being inclusive, prioritising mental health, fostering a general culture of psychological safety and by creating space for people to develop their skills and grow their careers.

Without delivering against these commitments, you shouldn’t expect lots of positive discretionary behaviour in return (or to see much that exists outside of the conditions of that other, legally binding contract!) A highly-engaged employee is motivated to invest their time, energy + intellect into the organisation… putting it simply, they “go above and beyond”.

Engagement is measurable. And, as an individual, overall metric it is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in response to internal and external factors. So then, you’d expect it to change dramatically + rapidly in the face of, say… a global pandemic!

Culture: the tacit social order of an organisation that shapes, and is shaped by, attitudes and behaviours in wide-ranging, durable ways

If engagement is a single metric, culture is all about the collective — it describes and influences the behaviour of groups. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted or rejected within a group. Clearly defined + well aligned cultures lead to confident, self-correcting teams; unleashing tremendous amounts of energy towards a shared purpose and fostering a company’s capacity to thrive.

Culture is classically touted as being powerful enough to “eat strategy for breakfast.” While both are crucial, strategy without culture is like cheese without biscuits… your culture carries your strategy. (Told you we like a metaphor!)

Culture will morph and evolve over time and therefore it is impossible to directly shape it through any single specific intervention. Culture will form organically, yes, but it also needs nurture and here’s the thing: right now, your team is particularly vulnerable to stress + anxiety and changes in physical and mental health that remote-work-in-a-pandemic is causing.

By proactively working on that which can be measured (engagement) now, your culture will benefit in the long term.

Our Remote Work Engagement Survey

We mentioned earlier in this post that big decisions that significantly impact your team should not be made reactively, and that we’d share a more measured approach…

At Unleashed, we created a tool to help you focus on remote work engagement.

As a collective of People + Culture expert generalists, benefitting from diverse perspectives that encompass neuroscience, inclusion & diversity (yes, in that order!) and mental health, we collaboratively landed on three key ingredients that we believe remote teams need in order to thrive.

And then we created a short, focused engagement survey for business leaders to send to their teams to measure how they were doing.

So, how does an engaged member of your remote team feel right now?

  • They feel productive (despite creating work stations in their bedrooms)
  • They feel connected (despite the Zoom fatigue)
  • They feel happy, hopeful + well (despite everything that’s outside of our circles of control)

We’ve been able to unearth a wealth of insight from the businesses closest to us who have used the remote work engagement survey to gather feedback from their teams.

Here’s a sneak peak into what we’ve learned (and, some top tips for improvement!)

To feel more productive… People want more useful feedback from their managers

Regular, quality feedback is a key part of enabling a productive team. Not receiving corrective feedback when you’re steadily treading further down the wrong path means exponentially more time and energy is wasted by trying to find your way back.

Giving great feedback is challenging in the best of times, and clearly being remote adds more burden. To give feedback in a remote world, we have to plan for it, with purpose.

Feedback Top Tip: Create a mechanism! Enable feedback in your 1:1s by creating a shared agenda document with simple category dropdowns built into it. The categories should include goals, coaching + feedback. Name feedback as such and get used to asking for it… You’ll not only be instantly more cognisant of the regularity that feedback is happening, you’ll be giving feedback the ‘permission’ it needs to happen consistently. As with any changes you make to 1:1s with your teams, ensure you speak with them about this new idea and ensure they’re on board — it is, after all, their time.

To feel more connected… People want more communication from the leaders of the business

It is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that everyone feels aligned and part of a team despite this new, abrupt shift to physical disconnection. To add to this, the economic uncertainty that the pandemic has kickstarted brings with it new goals, new strategies + new directions for almost all companies as we all try our best to navigate a rapidly changing world. How can we take our people with us on this new journey if they are not feeling connected to each other and to our leadership?

For leaders, running large company meetings over Zoom can feel very one-sided and messages may feel like they’re falling on deaf ears. All Hands easily become ‘webinars’ and consequently, we’ve heard many cases of them being postponed as there is “nothing new to say”. This presumption of teams’ growing disinterest is not what the data from our survey shows us — instead, they want more communication than ever before!

Connectivity Top Tip: Meet your people where they best hear the message! Remember that your team is made up of unique individuals who each have different learning styles and will process communication in different ways — it is not one size fits all! So, add variety to your comms approach. Ensure that messages come from multiple voices, not just the CEO. Turn a weekly All Hands into bi-weekly updates. Make things more bite-sized. A collaborative meeting on Zoom with 20 + people is just a nightmare to navigate! Create smaller ‘pods’ and rotate them. Try adding an “Ask Me Anything” channel on Slack for leaders to respond to, and make sure you record your messages to allow your People to watch and absorb at a time and speed that suits them.

Lastly, to feel more happy, hopeful + well… People want a company approach to working from home that allows them to find a healthy work-life balance

Whilst many people are benefiting from increased flexibility and are welcoming their ability to claim back time that was being lost to long, busy (and sometimes very sweaty) commutes, our survey nevertheless shows that finding work-life balance is still very challenging. This pandemic hit without notice, and this is not your normal working from home. Being forced to work in your living space has created a total blur between office and home for many who weren’t set up for this, and wouldn’t have chosen it if offered.

The longer that blur continues, the greater the likelihood of increased stress and burnout become. Now is the time to create an approach that enables a better balance.

One of the real challenges here for leaders is that this “overworking” is less visible. Whilst you’d start to notice when a member of your team was staying in the office until 10 pm each evening, the warning signs in remote working land are far less clear.

Companies who don’t therefore proactively enable remote-friendly work-life balance will be in breach of a key component in the psychological contract, and one that truly underpins engagement; prioritising and protecting your teams’ wellbeing.

Happiness, Hopefulness and Wellness Top Tip: LEAD. BY. EXAMPLE. Regardless of what you say, it is action and behaviour that people follow. Your behaviours should be, as leaders, evidence of those that are needed to be successful in your company!

Take your own breaks, go for your own walks, take evenings off + be loud about it! Leave loudly on Slack every day; tell people you’re switching off now.

Publicly recognise the members of your team who create work-life balance well to show that this behaviour is encouraged. Something as simple as taking a moment in a team call to say: “I saw you went on a long walk yesterday evening — well done for taking a break to get out there and recharge your batteries!” will go a long way.

In Conclusion…

We really hope this is insightful and that it challenges you to step up your approach to remote working + boost team engagement even further, no matter your starting point. By focusing on what your teams need now and strengthening your psychological contract with them, you will have started to create a culture that is strong + built to last.

On the flip side, ignoring engagement when the world has turned upside down will near guarantee a divided or toxic culture in the long-term.

Of course, please send out our survey for yourself and understand what your team needs in order to be engaged, now.

Prioritise this before you prioritise designing your “new normal” and make the bed you want to lie in a comfy one!

If you enjoy both boat puns and great insight on all things People, Culture + Leadership, then sign up for our newsletter Unleashed Thinking. One email per month, no spam.

Get Unleashed Thinking straight into your inbox

Thank you, you've been subscribed!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.