How to localise engagement during lockdown

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Many organisations with distributed workforces have struggled to keep messaging and communications consistent during a series of lockdowns. Digital platforms can help reach a range of workers, from those in the office to those on furlough or self-isolating, says Mark Seemann.

The struggle to establish and maintain a consistent culture and set of behaviours across a workforce is nothing new. Large organisations have always faced the challenge of delivering a consistent customer and employee experience across continents, countries, regions and cities.

However, for the most part, they have at least had the advantage of having the majority of their staff within a corporate office environment, able to communicate face-to-face on a daily basis.

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely altered the landscape; businesses are having to manage, support and motivate staff who, overnight, had their entire working lives turned on their heads and are forced to work from home.

And it’s not just large enterprises that are having to react to these seismic changes – small and medium-sized companies are now experiencing the challenge of managing a distributed workforce, with no time to prepare and very few of the methods and tools available to larger businesses.

As so many businesses have found over the past nine months, geographical isolation, a lack of face-to-face encounters with co-workers, difficulties coordinating work on projects and many other issues inevitably emerge, and this can have a huge impact on employee engagement and productivity.

Embedding culture

Making use of culture embedding mechanisms so that non-centrally-based workers understand your company’s way of doing things will stop these problems from arising and make sure everyone is aligned towards the same goals.

Data from performance to employee sentiment can identify disengaged departments and individuals, in order to resolve issues as quickly as possible.

Location is no longer a differentiator for businesses, but employee experience is – which is where more time needs to be spent bringing disparate workforces together.

A company’s culture communicates the values of the business and the way things are done but workforces split across different, and often remote, locations struggle to identify clearly what that culture means to them.

When dealing with remote workers your key principles need to be clearly highlighted and accessible through digital communication platforms, in order to encourage the behaviours that align with those core values.

Transforming communications

A good example of this is Pitacs, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of heating products and electrical cables in the UK, and with operations in 38 countries across the world.

With one third of its workforce non-desk based, increasing employee engagement was high on the company’s agenda, especially during the first lockdown.

Pitacs had previously relied heavily on paper-based communications or word of mouth, for everything from Health and Safety information and employee benefits to training and development initiatives.

However, at a time when very few staff were going to their usual place of work, the company struggled to keep staff informed of crucial updates.

By providing access to a digital performance platform for all its employees, not just those who were office-based, non-desk staff started to feel like part of the team and the company saw a 20% increase in employee engagement (from 63% to 83%) almost immediately.

The warehouse staff finally had access to the same digital tools as workers in the central office. Pitacs also used the digital platform, accessible by staff on their own mobile phones, to share mental health information and employee well-being tips to help build resilience across the team during this challenging period. Not only did staff feel more motivated, but the warehouse went from being the least engaged department to one of the most engaged.

As part of Pitacs’ approach, it integrated a company news feed. This brought more transparency to remote workers so they could clearly understand urgent priorities.

A company’s culture communicates the values of the business and the way things are done but workforces split across different, and often remote, locations struggle to identify clearly what that culture means to them.”

Delivering real-time updates to all workers, regardless of their location kept everybody in the communication loop at the same time with the same information.

Reaching everyone

A digital platform with multichannel communication capability is essential for businesses needing to segment sections of the workforce and target real-time and urgent communications to people based on their own specific circumstances.

This ability to ensure groups of workers receive timely and relevant information has been critical during the pandemic, where different parts of the workforce have found themselves under different lockdown rules with some staff furloughed.

For example, when Leicester went into local lockdown, I urgently needed to communicate to all staff based in our Leicester office to ensure they remained at home and didn’t come into our local office the next day.

This was made easy with a digital platform as I was able to filter all staff who worked in that office or lived in the affected area. We were able to offer this section of our workforce the ongoing support they needed and keep them updated on contingency plans and evolving priorities. If I had been reliant on email, the job would have been so much harder, and the chances of something falling between the cracks so much higher.

Companies cannot afford to get these types of communications wrong in such a high-risk and sensitive environment.

Along with real-time, clear communications, they need to ensure they have the right engagement strategies in place to help employees living in local lockdowns or those that are on furlough.

Feedback mechanisms

With the absence of regular face-to-face conversations, businesses need an array of well-structured and consistent staff touchpoints, to improve employee satisfaction and retention, with regular one-to-ones, check-ins and feedback mechanisms such as employee surveys.

Quantitative data can give insight into how staff are feeling in terms of motivation, engagement and overall job satisfaction and help to identify areas which may become at risk of productivity loss.

These systems identify how well a remote employee is aligned to their broader vision and key goals, understanding where such alignment might be lacking, which lines of communication are the most effective, and how key performance indicators can be revised to deal with the unique challenges being faced.

Having a clear digital culture linked to performance is the very backbone to offer consistency in disruptive times and bring greater business resilience.

Building a culture which values transparency and continuous feedback and, most importantly, consistent and well-structured communication, allows a greater focus on performance and delivering on business objectives and goals in these challenging economic times.

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