The coronavirus is a wake-up call

Brands around the world are being forced to rapidly revise their employee engagement strategies, as they unexpectedly switch to remote working to combat the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

Some of the world’s biggest corporations, like Apple and Google, have instructed employees to work from home. Data from Vodafone shows that internet data usage in the UK is up 30%, giving an idea of the scale of the change.

We’re in the same position: the whole Redhouse team is currently working from home. (Our hours and capabilities are unchanged, and clients can still reach us as usual by email or phone.)

Look for advice on employee engagement, and you’ll find many variations on the same theme: that technology is all very well, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. As such, in-person meetings are still a big part of many organisations’ engagement strategies.

This worsens the crisis. Not only are employees dealing with uncertainty, and having to get used to unfamiliar systems and working practices, but the usual strategies for keeping people supported and engaged aren’t built for a workforce of isolated home workers. There’s a big risk of people feeling adrift, losing direction, and teams losing cohesion.

The usual engagement strategies aren’t built for a workforce of isolated home workers

The coronavirus has accelerated the issue, but it’s something brands were going to have to reckon with sooner or later. Remote working was already on the rise. In 2012, 39% of employees worked remotely, even if only for a few hours a month. By 2016, that was up to 43% of employees.

Because of the virus, more organisations now have infrastructure in place to support remote working. Even once the immediate crisis has passed, it’s unlikely things will go back to exactly like before. Now that remote working is possible for more employees, more employees will choose that option.

It’s a wake-up call for brands to rethink their internal engagement strategies. How do we keep people feeling supported, feeling part of the team, when the option of bringing everyone together in the same room is off the table?

In the coming months, we’ll all need to look towards organisations that adopted remote working early, to discover new best practices for internal engagement.

Adapting to this shift is likely to require new channels, tools and technology, but these won’t make the difference on their own. To make them effective, you’ll need an internal culture change. Your people will need to feel trusted and empowered to work independently. They’ll need to feel supported by their colleagues even when they can’t just tap them on the shoulder for advice, and understand their responsibility to support others in turn. And all your people will need a stronger understanding than ever of your brand: the vision and purpose they’re all working together to achieve.

So when the all-clear sounds and there’s no more need for social distancing, don’t just slip back into the old way of doing things. Take the opportunity to learn from this difficult time; to learn what your organisation and your people are capable of, and how best to support those capabilities and succeed in a changing world.

Your people will need to feel trusted and empowered to work independently

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