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Worried About Employee Engagement Among Remote Workers? An Expert Weighs in On How to Boost Morale While Working From Home

Five months into COVID-19, we now have a good understanding of what our “new normal” looks like.

It’s an anxious montage of face masks, outdoor seating and a nostalgic yearning for a pre-coronavirus world. And for many office workers, this “new normal” represents their debut as remote employees.

The work-from-homers are by now accustomed to Zoom meetings and a de-facto cubicle just steps away from the fridge. But as remote work continues, managers need to find new ways to engage with employees – something that seems nearly impossible in a socially-distanced world.

How do we keep workers motivated when they’re cooped up during a global pandemic? How do we foster connection between employees and give them a sense of purpose? After all, an effective culture pays off – engaged employees are happier and more productive.

We talked with Josh Levine, author of Great Mondays and a workplace culture expert, to discuss the importance of employee engagement among remote employees and how to create meaningful connections as we work from home.

What is employee engagement and how does it affect productivity and overall quality of life?

JL: Employee engagement is the amount of discretionary effort that a worker puts in above and beyond the bare minimum, the bare minimum being what will get you fired.

Highly engaged employees care deeply about what they’re doing; they’re going be thinking about solving that work problem while they’re in the shower, without thinking ‘Am I getting paid for this?’ That’s the hyperbolic example, of course. But you do want to inspire discretionary effort. You want engaged employees so that they give their best often.

We’ve seen some information that annual/employee reviews aren’t always taking place during lockdown. How important is employee recognition right now?

JL: First, let’s not conflate review with recognition. What we need more of in the review category are check-ins. That annual review will continue (at some point). What is not happening are check-ins: “Hey, how are things going?” People don’t have a lot of time – the meeting starts, business gets discussed, you hang up.

This was a problem even before Covid-19. A manager should set up time to check in and say, “Hey, do you have a few minutes this afternoon? I want to see how you’re doing.” What that really means is that the manager sees me as a person; he or she cares. It means my manager wants to understand not only my work but also who I am as a human being.

How important is it to recognize employees’ social tendencies during COVID? We know, for example, that this time might be extra hard for extroverts.

JL: Everything has changed. You need to be very attuned to who your workers are and what they’re going through now more than ever.

One of the big examples in the last year or so is how do you reward people in the right way. I’m an extrovert, so if you bring me up on stage, I’d think “this is the best thing ever.” An introvert would say that’s punishment. It’s about having empathy for and really understanding who these people are. Most people aren’t extreme introverts or extroverts, they’re in the middle

Some people might think, “We just had three meetings in a row – I don’t want to have a Zoom cocktail hour.” It’s a whole new set of environmental circumstances that are pushing against what each individual knows about themselves. We’re all learning how we work from home. This is a huge transition – it’s critical to know yourself, but also know what my team is going through.

It seems like WFH could become a lot more common – even as COVID wanes. What do companies need to take into consideration as they overhaul their culture practices to accommodate this change?

JL: You absolutely need to put your culture into practice and you need to document and share it with people — especially as an organization grows. And now that we are away from our offices, we don’t have that leader walking around inside an office; we don’t overhear the office conversations; stories don’t get shared very often.

Leaders need to realize that culture must be managed for. They need to understand how effective their culture is and what their goals are. Today more than ever, we need to be deliberate in how we connect and work with one another.

Josh Levine is the author of Great Mondays. Get the book here.

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