In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with so many corporate employees working from home, how do you keep remote teams engaged and connected to their purpose at work?
While digital communication is sometimes maligned for creating artificial distance between people, the channel can be invaluable for connecting when face-to-face just isn’t possible. Of the many factors that connect employees to their work, perhaps the most critical are:
The digital channel can increase employee connection during an extended remote working scenario by positively reinforcing each of these aspects of engagement.
Connecting with Leadership:
People’s relationships with leaders are never more critical than during a crisis, especially one as severe and disruptive as the COVID-19 outbreak. With such pervasive anxiety amongst employees, maintaining a feeling of connection and disseminating accurate updates are critical. Everyone understands that information is coming in daily and management may not have all the answers. To ensure that employees feel connected, frequency is more important than depth.
Consider hosting an internal leadership webcast leveraging the live video and event features available in the Microsoft Stream, Facebook Workplace or Zoom platforms to create frequent touchpoints with updates and reassurance from leadership. In this channel, rough or unpolished video is received as sincere and authentic, meaning content can be prepared quickly. Building the video archive into an intranet page with a discussion thread can extend the conversation beyond the live meeting timeframe for those who are unable to attend. Microsoft SharePoint, Stream and Yammer work particularly well together in this case. Ensure that that the conversation is carefully monitored and leadership is made aware if their response to a critical question is required.
Wherever possible, leverage video as the preferred medium; it just can’t be beat for human connection (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bridging-social-distance-video-messages-conferencing-best-gross/?trackingId=e4HDPH3ySDmmYu3%2BdeuPwQ%3D%3D). Involve IT early in your planning to ensure they are part of the discussion, particularly around live events where network infrastructure and bandwidth considerations are required for large audiences.
For further thoughts on connecting audiences virtually, see our Live Channel Lead, Kevin Larstone’s, article on virtual meetings: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/responding-covid-19-replacing-live-events-virtual-kevin-larstone/
Maintaining Connections with Team Members:
Employees who suddenly find themselves working from home may feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues, especially against the anxiety-inducing backdrop of COVID-19. At Livewire, we typically advocate that online interaction within the enterprise come with clear business intent. But in these exceptional times, the connection and camaraderie that we typically take for granted are suddenly both scarce and business-critical. Through the social distancing period, every organization will have to find new ways to create a sense of community.
You can do this by leveraging simple video conferencing technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WebEx and encourage smaller teams to start their day with a quick coffee huddle. Even in the absence of a formal agenda, the quick touchpoint can provide a sense of community and the calm and reassurance that come with it.
Ensure your invitation mandates that attendees enable video and specify that comfy home attire is fully expected. The goal is to make the meeting as frictionless and human as possible.
Open a discussion group in an internal social platform like Microsoft Yammer, Facebook Workplace or Salesforce Chatter and encourage company-wide social conversation around the work from home experience. Issue specific and periodic challenges for remote workers to respond to with photographs: Have employees post pictures of their home office setting, their favorite mug and the story behind it, or a photo of the pet that keeps interrupting conference calls. The resulting content is relatable and creates an instant sense of community.
Consider extending the community with specific groups for offers/requests for support with the COVID-19 issue, important news updates, etc.
With any employee campaigns during the outbreak, ensure you pay special attention to reaching those employees outside corporate office environments who may not be able to work remotely, particularly those working in logistics whose workload may be increasing as social distancing drives demand for delivery services. This notoriously difficult-to-reach audience benefits most from employee mobile apps and digital signage, and there are many technology platforms available to rapidly establish these channels. Keep this special employee audience at the forefront of your content planning and target them with features and campaigns that express the organization’s gratitude and recognition of their efforts.
Access to Information:
Finally, it’s important to recognize the loss of the “grapevine”; those thousands of short, casual in-person interactions that spread news around the organization, often at the pace of wildfire. During a period like this – and particularly in the remote scenario – employees need access to information more than ever.
Now is the time to gather your intranet stakeholders and re-invigorate efforts to ensure your intranet is an effective portal to the key tools and resources required by remote workers and as a single-source-of-truth for news updates and important announcements. If possible, refresh your content plan and ramp up the editorial team to increase frequency. Consider the special content requirements of the remote audience and target your journalistic efforts accordingly. Don’t be afraid to renew your efforts to promote your intranet. At a time when employees are actively seeking information, an initial investment of time to promote content on the intranet will drive engagement with the channel to new levels.
Communicating effectively in these challenging times isn’t a matter of implementing shiny new tools. With some technical creativity, there are often ways to use existing platforms in highly effective ways. Start with user needs and the context of the COVID-19 scenario, work up a matrix of message, audience, and platform, and invite your IT partners to the table as early as possible. Your company and community will be much better for it.