Focus on: employee engagement in the age of COVID-19

Prior to the great quarantine of 2020, working from home arrangements held some novelty. Nowadays, after months of working from home, office workers will tell you about the novelty of working from work.

The impact of COVID-19 has been dramatic. There are predictions the shift to WFH may become permanent for entire workforces or at least some segments of workforces. US tech firms Twitter and Square said their employees can work from home even after all social restrictions are lifted and Google and Facebook declared their people may stay home for the remainder of 2020.

It is early days, but it is likely there will be enduring change to our modes of work. Gartner research released last month revealed almost two thirds of US CFOs intended to shift at least 5 per cent of previously on-site employees to remote work permanently. Nearly a quarter of these CFOs said they’d consider moving at least 20 per cent of their on-site workforce to permanent remote positions.

While these intentions are generating alarming headlines on falling office rents and rising HR workloads, an issue yet to be fully explored is the challenge of adjusting communication styles and channels to maintain and foster employee engagement. From an internal communications perspective, this challenge is now more complex and urgent. No one has written the playbook on how to onboard a new recruit who has never met their co-workers or build a team located entirely remotely. Staying connected and building the right corporate culture in a period of uncertainty is critical and will likely look different in these pandemic times.

For mid-sized to large organisations, a review of the adequacy of internal communications tools would be the first step in ensuring the employee engagement strategy remains fit for purpose. Many companies are already using specialised internal social media tools by vendors such as Yammer, Chatter, Slack, Cisco, and Facebook at Work to reach workers. These tools are effective because they render well on a mobile device. This becomes even more important for businesses managing ‘employed’ persons who have been stood down but must stay connected with the organisation.

Powerful employee engagement strategies and tools impact discretionary effort and advocacy and this in turn influences productivity and the bottom line. Smart companies know good internal communications is not simply a nice-to-have.

There are still many chapters to be written on the impact of COVID-19 on the work landscape, but companies have the opportunity to shape the story they want told. The old Churchillian wisdom of never waste a good crisis is as relevant as ever. But perhaps the best way to approach this is to turn to Lenin who observed that there are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen. Now is the time to make those weeks count.

Tracy Lee is a Director, Corporate and Financial Communications for GRACosway in Sydney. Tracy never likes to waste a good crisis and has deep experience in developing digital communications strategies to support organisational change.


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