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Celebrating the team: keeping employees engaged during lockdowns

The prospect of further winter lockdowns and continued, widespread remote working has created a number of challenges for businesses seeking to boost morale. Innovative employee engagement strategies emphasizing recognition and celebrating employee success have become more important than ever before.

Impact of lockdown on mental health and wellbeing

The negative impact of social isolation in the context of national lockdowns is becoming increasingly apparent, with documented effects including depression, cognitive decline, and an inability to sleep. The casual social interactions employees used to take part in every day are no longer there, and while businesses continue to adapt to the situation it’s undeniable that this change can have a profound effect.

These problems are likely to be exacerbated by restrictions encompassing Christmas and  New Year, further reducing morale for those unable to get together for annual Christmas parties and other group celebrations. Consequently, business leaders and managers face an additional challenge when it comes to celebrating employee success and boosting recognition and engagement.

Employee engagement strategies for winter remote workers

Fortunately there are strategies you can adopt to boost employee engagement for remote workers. The run up to Christmas is the time for celebrating employee and team success, and with the right processes and technologies you will be able to generate the feelings of positivity and ambition needed to start the following year in the right way.

1. Connect the remote workforce with a multi-channel communications platform

Adopting a multi-channel communications platform and integrating Microsoft Teams with performance management software helps to ensure engagement occurs across all processes with openness and transparency. Managers and team leaders can use these channels to ensure the right information gets to the right people in a timely manner, with push notifications and critical alerts available for high priority updates.

A customizable approach incorporating emails, SMS, and notifications for desktop or mobile devices allows for leaders to deliver updates with confidence, including social messages, blog posts and articles, as well as worksheets and reviews complete with digital sign-off. Multi-channel communications should sit on the foundation of your engagement strategy, marshalling the strengths of various channels depending on the situation.

2. Create constant engagement with news feeds

News feeds are an important mechanism for keeping employees engaged, circumventing well known problems with emails and giving employees an at-a-glance overview of the updates which matter the most. As the end of the year approaches, news feeds can be used to celebrate individual, team and department achievements, as well as delivering useful information to help motivate remote workers and keep them up to date on changes—for example, to ongoing lockdown legislation.

Social intranets provide an important space for social interaction, encouraging collaboration and offering a forum for the sharing of new ideas. Managers should encourage staff to use the intranet to brainstorm employee engagement ideas and ways in which the company might deliver new, innovative approaches to the challenges which lie ahead.

3. Use Microsoft Teams to create an additional network for engagement

Using Microsoft Teams allows employees to create teams and channels, encouraging cross-department engagement and creating spaces where employees can chat freely around a wide number of topics. Teams is a versatile tool, so make sure you maximize its potential for improving your communications network by creating new channels as part of your communications strategy.

4. Brainstorm ideas for Christmas-themed employee activities

Now that you’ve established a broad-ranging multi-channel strategy, it’s time to use them to help boost morale throughout the workforce. Since employees are not able to meet up in person, 

encourage a virtual office party to bring in the festive season. You could also suggest an office “Secret Santa”, or perhaps a Christmas movie online watch party (there are a variety of methods you can use to set these up).

Chances are your employees will have plenty of ideas of their own for festive-themed activities, so get them to brainstorm ideas using MS Teams channels or within the social intranet. These discussions will boost engagement across teams and departments and are perfect for lifting moods and giving staff something to look forward to.

5. Initiate company-wide programs to address employee well-being

Investing in health and wellness programs to identify any employees who might be struggling with work/life balance provides managers and leaders with the opportunity to offer assistance in overcoming these challenges. By using HR data analytics and reports to help identify employees who might be struggling, you can more effectively manage your employee engagement programs to address the needs of staff who might be struggling the most.

Employee analytics and reports can be pulled together to highlight employees and departments with lower engagement or who might be struggling to meet performance targets, allowing managers to address these issues before they become a huge problem. Likewise, sentiment analysis tools can be drawn upon to detect a range of emotions, including sad, happy and angry, giving managers an opportunity to offer targeted feedback and encourage engagement for the individuals and teams who might be falling behind.

A better understanding of the pulse of the organization leads to a more effective implementation of any well-being initiatives you can introduce during winter lockdowns, focusing your efforts on those who might benefit the most.

6. Increase employee engagement through knowledge sharing

Encouraging knowledge sharing is another effective method for boosting engagement and collaboration. Learning new skills gives people a greater sense of agency and confidence, so you should consider creating forums, MS Teams channels and other methods to deliver knowledge and resources throughout the workforce. Consider setting up committee groups where employees can brainstorm new ideas and share information (these could also be conducted via the intranet, or on dedicated channels based on MS Teams).

By understanding how various skills are distributed throughout the workforce, you can help connect employees with complimentary skills to boost their respective talent stacks and encourage a degree of personal and professional development which is aligned to the goals of the company. 

Frame returning to work after the Christmas break in a positive and proactive light. Some employees may be uncertain and pessimistic about the future, so reassuring them that you’re keen to see them progress and succeed is another way to keep them engaged and boost morale.

7. Celebrate employee success with recognition and awards programs

Recognition programs are a tried and trusted way to celebrate employee success, complimenting a competitive compensation structure and any end of the year bonus schemes you may have in place. Remuneration measures go some way towards boosting engagement, but recognition of achievements adds a much-needed layer of appreciation, strengthening their connection to company and its identity.

Celebrating team achievements is also worthwhile, not only for boosting collective engagement but also for improving the cohesion of team members. With team members likely to feel isolated from their colleagues during lockdowns, praising their collective efforts in a visible manner and looking back over the previous year’s triumphs will help to remind them of the payoff their teamwork has brought about. Additional peer-to-peer rewards offer team members a chance to celebrate those colleagues who have contributed towards these achievements in an organic manner.

8. Amplify a company culture which values engagement

Deloitte’s study exploring core beliefs and culture identifies clear links between a well defined company culture and employee engagement, with 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. A strong culture is focused less on the “what” your company does and more on the “why”, and as your company approaches the end of the year it’s appropriate to revisit your culture to ensure it’s reflective of the company’s core values.

When reviewing your company culture, ask employees to offer their input into the values and purpose to help make sure the culture aligns to the values and behaviours of the workforce. Placing recognition and a process of engagement and recognition at the centre of your culture will help guarantee these positive values are echoed in future performance.