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Infusing the post-outbreak workplace with purpose

The conversation around finding purpose at work is not new. For decades now, experts have stressed the importance of building meaning into employees’ days in order to drive business outcomes. Those organizations that heeded the calls have reaped the benefits. A study of hundreds of companies’ stock prices found that the organizations that scored highly on purpose and clarity from management performed much better than their peers. On the flip side, 70% of executives at companies where purpose at work is not a key driver say that employees’ desire for it is impacting HR’s ability to recruit and retain top talent.

As the pandemic continues to revolutionize how we approach work and life, employee attitudes are changing. Pre-pandemic estimates show that 9 out of 10 of people would take a pay cut in exchange for more meaning at work. The fear and stress we’ve all experienced in recent months will likely shift the balance of pay and purpose even further. Similarly, the expectations on employers will continue to grow as employees seek support and flexibility in the prolonged aftermath of this trauma. Companies must be prepared to rise to the occasion, or risk losing their star players at the first sign of regained economic stability.

What does this look like in practice, though? It’s likely that part of the reason so few companies have succeeded in building a purpose-driven workplace is that there isn’t a clear roadmap for developing meaning for employees. Accordingly, we’ve reviewed the research and summarized some of the key steps to building meaning for your team below:

  • Help employees to see the big picture, and how their work contributes to it
    • As humans, we always want to feel that we matter. No one enjoys just being a cog in the wheel. From the first point of contact with a potential employee through offboarding and beyond, ensure that every individual understands the company’s goals and how their work fits in. Help them feel valued through regular feedback, recognition for a job well done, and ongoing communication to keep them up-to-date.
  • Cultivate trust through transparency and empowerment
    • Whether mistrust flows from employee to managers, and/or the other way around, these dynamics make it impossible to build a strong organization grounded in meaning. While trust can be difficult to cultivate, one key step a company can take is to train managers to empower employees. If your staff feel that they are trusted to do their best rather than being micromanaged or suspected of slacking, the majority will rise to the occasion and gain a sense of purpose from it. Similarly, if you are open and communicative, your people will feel that they are truly a part of something larger than themselves, giving meaning to their work.
  • Opportunities to grow and leverage their strengths
    • In order to gain meaning and purpose, employees must have the chance to grow as people. By providing clear career paths, opportunities for learning and upskilling, and new projects for people to engage with, you leave your team no reason to look for alternative employment. They will be excited to learn and expand their skillsets, and will feel positively towards your company as a result.
  • Respect that they’re whole people, and provide benefits tailored to their lives
    • If the myriad interrupted video calls over the past few months have taught us nothing else, it’s that people have full lives outside of work with children, family members, pets, and friends, all with individual needs. Now that we’ve learned so much about each other, don’t leave that information at the door to the office upon reentry. Leverage that knowledge to ensure your employees feel valued and supported as whole people, through work hour flexibility, an expanded menu of benefit options, and wellness support for the whole household.
  • Chances to connect
    • Last but most certainly not least, in order to feel a sense of purpose and engagement at work, people need to care and be cared about by the people around them. Give your team ample opportunity to connect with each other and build the relationships that will keep them employed by your company for years to come. One of the key reasons that people report staying with an organization is getting to work with great people every day. Plan events to help employees build community, provide digital spaces in which they can interact, and encourage socializing, rather than worrying about it. You’ll see it pay off across retention, engagement, and productivity.

These are the top strategies we’ve found to help your organization drive purpose and meaning for your team as we begin to emerge from this first (and hopefully worst) wave of the pandemic. Take this opportunity to reimagine your workplace for the better. If you’re looking for new tools to help your people connect, increase transparency and communication, and provide a seamless employee experience, come see us at workrowd.com or reach out at hello@workrowd.com.

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Supporting employees while reopening offices

All clichés aside, there’s no denying that the past months have been challenging on every level. As we enter yet another patch of uncharted waters, it’s important to continue iterating on your People strategy to ensure that employees’ needs are being addressed. Unfortunately, HR teams are going to have more to do than ever as we begin reopening offices, with myriad staffing decisions to be made, workplace policies to reimagine and revise, and extensive trauma, grief, and burnout among team members to manage. Employees may be learning to navigate new familial and/or financial circumstances, different economic climates, and more, and People teams will have to adapt to help everyone remain engaged and productive.

With so much to manage and so many restrictions to consider around reopening offices, it can be easy to let things like employee events and diversity and inclusion fall by the wayside. Ultimately however, this is the time when employees need community and support more than ever. Allowing company culture to evolve unchecked while so many people are emotionally struggling can enable unhealthy dynamics that will take years to reverse. Facilitating more remote work without strategies to keep colleagues connected essentially guarantees breakdowns in communication that will detract from your business goals.

Furthermore, abandoning diversity and inclusion efforts during this critical time has the potential to reverse all of the recruitment work your company has done and make it more difficult to hire diverse individuals in the future. This is a dangerous proposition given that diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%. As budgets tighten and difficult decisions need to be made, employee programming and benefits can seem like obvious targets. Ultimately though, most companies will find that in the long-term, savings from such cuts will not outweigh the negative impacts on retention and output.

Luckily, there are low-cost ways to offer employee supports to both retain your talent and manage your budget during these challenging times. In the aftermath of the first wave of the virus, a few pieces of the engagement puzzle are going to become more important to employees than ever before, so you can get the most bang for your buck by focusing efforts there. The real key to keep in mind is flexibility. This spans across all aspects of your organization, from wellbeing benefits, including mental health, to remote work options.

For instance, if you can make time to put in the work upfront, you can likely expand the scope of your company’s health benefits without significant expense, enabling employees to do what’s best for their own households. Offering options for additional services, even if the company isn’t financing them, will save employees the time of seeking out providers on their own, relieving stress and ensuring they can meet their needs. Similarly, enabling employees to set their own schedule of being in or out of the office can help them juggle their varied responsibilities through this transition and truly focus on their work rather than worrying how they’ll manage.

On the traditional engagement front, from happy hours and company parties to in-office perks, the model will obviously need to change. The new path forward doesn’t necessarily need to be work or capital-intensive, though. We write a lot about employee empowerment on this blog, and the concept applies here, too. Ask your employees what would be helpful, connect them with each other for support and mentorship, enable exploration within the organization so that if you’re in a position where you have to restructure, you can make the most of the people you already have. None of these strategies require significant budget, but they can go a long way towards keeping morale up amidst the current and upcoming challenges.

Lastly, for those who will miss the classic party approach, one upside of having to organize remote events instead is that it is significantly less expensive than paying for venues, etc. Hold remote happy hours where people bring their favorite beverage and share why; organize small groups to cook or just eat dinner together over Zoom and watch your employees build camaraderie on a whole new level; offer online classes or events that people can attend with their children to offer some relief to parents who are low on time (and likely patience at this point), and develop connections across departments. Double down on your employee resource groups to ensure that your most underrepresented employees feel valued and appreciated.

It doesn’t have to be costly to sustain employee engagement through times of economic uncertainty, but failing to prioritize it inevitably will be. Ensure your employees have what they need as we look towards reopening offices. If you’re looking for an all-in-one platform to build transparency around your programming for every employee, whether in-person or remote, Workrowd can help. Visit our site, or reach out at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more and see how we can work together.

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Workplace communication strategies for happy teams

One of the key issues the pandemic has exposed is the extreme importance of workplace communication. Companies without strong internal communication processes immediately saw the shift to remote work ratchet up existing issues and break down chains of command. Employees have been left struggling to access the information they need to get their jobs done, and utilizing any and every channel to contact their colleagues with no regard for the time or day. Furthermore, those organizations without a culture of transparency saddled their employees with the added stress of not knowing management’s position on potential layoffs, making it even more difficult to concentrate and complete tasks. Despite all the tools we have to enable communication within organizations, there’s still a lot of operator error in terms of how, when, and what we share.

Numerous studies have found that employees rank transparency within a company as the biggest contributor to workplace happiness. While this may not seem particularly surprising upon first reading, consider it in context of the fact that many organizations look to free food and snacks, happy hours, game rooms, etc. as first line strategies for improving employee engagement and company culture. While in reality, employees believe opportunities to volunteer are more important than these sorts of perks, employees also report that the novelty of these benefits wears off within a few months and it’s really the company culture and feeling safe and valued that drives retention and productivity.

A desire to feel safe and valued in the place(s) where people spend one-third of their lives makes sense; in the absence of these assurances, it’s difficult not to be perpetually distracted and anxious. Workplace communication plays a critical role in this. If employees are constantly wasting time struggling to find or access the information they need, or are experiencing slights from their managers and/or peers (whether real or perceived), how can they feel secure or effective? Instituting productive communication practices can fundamentally alter the company climate, helping to drive key business outcomes. Not the least of these is revenue, as SHRM estimates that poor communication costs the average 100,000+-employee company $62.4 million per year.

With all this in mind, what are some ways to improve workplace communication to boost employee happiness, and in the process increase retention and productivity? The first step is to formally lay out communication procedures and expectations. While it may sound overly cumbersome and difficult for employees to follow, equipping staff with clear and concise guidelines on what to do and when, will actually ease stress and reduce the time burden on employees when determining how to respond in various situations.

This should not be a quick job for one or two people. Take the time to actually evaluate where your company is today, where you want to go, and then lay out concrete steps and policies to help you get there. Designing communication procedures is a great opportunity to engage an employee task force, in order to ensure the new standards have buy-in across the organization.

The next step, of course, is to clearly communicate these policies and procedures to employees. Consider distributing them via email as well as posting them in easily accessible locations such as company wiki/intranet homepages, in a top-level folder on shared drives, or even on the wall if it’s appropriate for your workplace and guidelines. Make sure to engage employees in this process and do not simply hand down the decree without discussion. Take the time to get employee feedback, answer questions, and provide concrete examples of the policies in action.

We encourage you to go beyond just outlining when to use email vs. chat vs. in-person channels, to cover how employees at your company should treat each other, how they should treat customers, and what’s expected of them when they’re out in the community. Give your team the gift of full transparency, so they can do their jobs without the threat of unknown violations and the subsequent consequences. As the saying goes, ‘clear is kind’.

During these frightening and constantly shifting times, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your employees are informed and engaged. If you’re looking for an easy, all-in-one solution to manage employee groups and events, project teams, employee task forces, and more, consider checking out Workrowd and let us know what you think. We strive for a culture of openness, transparency, and constant improvement, so we’re always interested in feedback, positive or constructive. You can reach us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Why employee task forces are the answer

While we’ve still got a long road ahead, it seems that we may be seeing the beginnings of light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, at least on the health front. The impact of this crisis truly cannot be overstated, but we must be resilient and take strategic steps to forge a path forward. Those of us who are still employed owe it to those who have suffered unexpected losses of income to respond swiftly and smartly to rebuild what’s been lost. Towards this end, it’s time for more companies to capitalize on the power and potential of employee task forces.

Many business leaders at this point are dealing with rampant mixed messages and a long list of Catch-22s. The most pressing instance of course, is that in order to keep their companies alive and well, employees need to come back to work. However, in order to keep employees alive and well, they need to stay at home. As we start to envision what the new normal will look like, executives would do well to remember that they have a seldom-used secret weapon to draw upon: employee task forces.

Once we’ve managed to curb the rampant spread of the virus, there will be many deliverables to meet all at once. While a number of them will need to be spearheaded by executive leadership, there will be quite a few others that employees can help move forward. For instance, companies that were forced to furlough and/or layoff employees may have to bounce back from a culture deficit depending on how the cuts were handled. Others may be attempting to redesign an antiquated telework policy, while still others will be looking to restructure part or all of their organization as a result of the changes the pandemic brought with it. All of these are areas where it’s not just helpful for employees to weigh in, but imperative.

Developing effective task forces shares some of the same steps as developing effective employee resource groups, which we wrote about here. It’s important for there to be both buy-in and strategic vision from the top, so that the ideas and plans the task force devises actually get implemented. Accordingly, some form of executive sponsorship will help ensure that the team has the leverage they need to get things done. If you can’t find a high-level colleague to champion the task force, it is a clear sign that the objective in question isn’t important enough to the organization to warrant employees’ time at this point. Nothing is a bigger morale killer than having people spend time on something that immediately gets shelved, so do your due diligence upfront to ensure that you’re setting employees up for success.

Beyond having high-level support and engagement, it’s important to recruit the right mix of people to drive your task force. For starters, it is crucial for the task force to be comprised of folks from a variety of different departments so they can socialize the group’s progress across the company. Additionally, members should be dynamic and active players within the broader organization who are excited about the work to be done and prepared to share their passion with their colleagues. Front line managers will likely have the highest motivation to make changes as they feel they will benefit their employees, but make sure the selected individuals are respected leaders who can rally the troops. Change is hard and uncomfortable for most employees, so without charismatic leaders to communicate the value and importance of the new initiatives while simultaneously calming fears, the task force’s work may be met with resistance and fail to gain traction.

Just as with your ERGs, employee task forces can drive positive change within your organization from the bottom-up, as long as the right supports are put in place. As we head into a new, post-outbreak era, it is time to move away from fully top-down, authoritarian processes and give employees the autonomy they’ve been seeking. Assemble and empower employee task forces to help you build a healthier, more successful organization coming out of this crisis.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of employee task forces to help grow and improve your organization, we encourage you to check out Workrowd as a way to launch and manage your various groups. We’ve got all the tools your employees need to collaborate, along with administrator settings for you and analytics to give you ongoing insight into the process. You can reach us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Shifting your mindset from employee to team

As we begin making plans to resume some of our ‘normal’ behaviors, it’s time to think more seriously about whether what we knew to be normal was really a good way of doing things in the first place. For many of us, a lot of our habits may have simply been picked up subconsciously, or perhaps we were forced to do things a certain way when we joined an organization. Now that everything has been turned upside-down, we have the chance to not just go back to business as usual, but to make thoughtful decisions about what processes and systems are best suited for the workplace and work day of the future.

One of the most significant opportunities we have before us is the chance to reframe the way we structure our organizations. Historically, the units of a company have been single employees, or rolling up to a higher level, departments focused on one specific function (e.g. sales, marketing, HR). As many industries continue to see increased complexity year-over-year though, and as technology fundamentally changes the mechanics of many jobs, we have to change our approach. In order to succeed in the world of tomorrow, including rebounding effectively from this crisis, we should begin thinking of our companies in terms of shifting, cross-functional teams.

At least since the time of the Industrial Revolution, the ideal worker was the one who would put in the most hours at the highest productivity level for the lowest pay. Without commenting on the workers’ rights concerns related to this model, this generally made sense for roles like manufacturing and some service jobs. With more than half of U.S. employees now qualifying as knowledge workers however, it’s time to reevaluate towards a team mindset. When your employee’s role requires mental alertness and creative thinking, evaluating them based on number of hours worked doesn’t really make sense. Similarly, given the risk and expense of turnover in this sector of the economy, trying to minimize salaries isn’t logical either. When 43% of workers would switch jobs for just a 10% salary increase, companies must provide more incentive to stay.

Instead, adaptability, collaboration, innovation, and a team mindset should be among the key traits of the new ideal worker, at least in knowledge-based industries. Business demands can shift extremely rapidly, and unless the team is ready to change formations and work across departments with new colleagues and requirements at a moment’s notice, it will be difficult to stay ahead of the competition. Companies should now aim to become ecosystems of dynamic, cross-functional teams, with employees building up collective knowledge and developing new skills as they recombine into new groupings. By empowering staff to work across departments and deliverables, communication will improve, productivity will increase, and employees will feel happier and more engaged in their jobs.

In order to achieve this however, it’s not just a mindset shift that is needed; toolsets must change as well. We can’t continue to rely on the same old programs and structures that were designed decades ago to maximize individual employee productivity. We have to begin thinking of our workforces as a series of circuits that we can connect together to generate light, and our physical and digital spaces must reflect this as well. Such a transformation and the shift to a team mindset won’t happen overnight, but it is essential to ensure the continued growth of our organizations and to restructure our work environments to align with the new world of work.

Workrowd is designed to enable you to quickly set up and break down digital teamwork spaces for shifting groups of employees. While we have a strong focus on culture and engagement, krowds can be put in place for project teams as well, giving everyone a place to centralize documents, chat, plan meetings and events, connect with other members, and more, all in one place. If you’d like to learn more about how our lightweight software can help you transition to a more flexible, team-based structure, don’t hesitate to get in touch at hello@workrowd.com.

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Remote volunteering to engage employees

One of the many challenges of being under a shelter-in-place order during such a major crisis is that it’s hard to know how to help. For those of us used to springing into action when a problem arises, the fact that one of the best things we can do right now is absolutely nothing (i.e. stay at home on the couch) presents a unique dilemma. Fortunately, companies can play a key role in helping their employees through this struggle while simultaneously sending key resources to organizations on the front lines of the pandemic: organize remote volunteering opportunities!

Social impact activities have long been a pillar of employee engagement programs for good reason: data overwhelmingly indicates that company-sponsored volunteering is important to employees. According to Deloitte’s Volunteer Impact Research, 89% of U.S. workers believe companies that offer volunteer opportunities have a better overall working environment than those who do not. Moreover, 77% consider company-sponsored volunteer activities ‘essential to employee well-being’. Seven out of 10 even think that volunteering is more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours! Volunteering is clearly a key engagement driver, so as we shift so many of our processes to remote frameworks, shouldn’t community service follow the same trend?

The answer is yes, especially when our country’s nonprofit sector is getting hit from all sides. The need for assistance is skyrocketing as the pandemic batters the economy, while the uncertainty ahead is prompting many to be less generous with their donations. Some charities are already operating with decreased staff capacity as people fall ill or need to stay home to care for children and other family members. Volunteerism is down as well amounting to an all-out crisis for many nonprofits. Some organizations are reporting as much as an 85% drop in volunteer turnout, amidst rapidly rising need.

Fortunately, there are ways to help without endangering your employees’ health or violating current restrictions. While social distancing obviously prohibits us from participating in many of the standard community service projects (e.g. serving food at a pantry or shelter, offering activities for seniors, assisting with after school programs), our brave and innovative colleagues in the nonprofit sector have pivoted to offer remote volunteering just as the rest of us have settled into remote working. Needs may vary by area, but some common opportunities include:

  1. Placing phone calls to isolated seniors to conduct wellness checks and provide social connection
  2. Tutoring children and youth who may be struggling with the transition to remote schooling to help them keep up with their coursework
  3. Making items such as masks and hand sanitizer for organizations running low on protective supplies
  4. Offering pro bono skills such as language translation, legal assistance, web design, social media marketing, etc. to help small businesses and/or nonprofits stay afloat
  5. Supporting folks facing pandemic-related mental health challenges via text message

All of these activities offer the opportunity to boost engagement during (and after) this difficult time, and can improve employees’ well-being by providing productive outlets for their stress. If you don’t have an organization in mind you would like to work with, look for volunteer clearinghouses in your area, such as New York Cares or HandsOn Bay Area. They typically list volunteer roles directly on their websites for easy searching, or you can reach out to their staff for guidance.

If you’d rather focus on fundraising, organizations are certainly in need of donations too, and you can rally your entire team around the same cause. You can start a GoFundMe for your employees to contribute to so that everyone can see the goal and your progress towards it, however it’s best not to post donor names and amounts publicly so as not to make anyone feel pressured to give during these financially tenuous times. Another low-pressure way to help employees give back is by committing to match employee donations to organizations responding to the crisis. This enables employees to choose where they give, and lets them know you support both them and the broader community.

While the switch to remote work has been hard on many of us, some of the old methods of engaging employees still work, including leveraging affinity groups and organizing remote volunteering sessions. If you’re looking for an easy way to share information with employees and organize events, activities, and groups, send us a note at hello@workrowd.com. We’d be happy to chat about how we can make it easy to keep your employees engaged and informed no matter where they are.

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Lightening up the new remote work day

We can all agree that the past month has been tough. The pandemic has unsurprisingly brought with it a great deal of pain, sadness, frustration, confusion, and a whole host of other negative emotions and experiences. Whether it’s our standard routines, our economic security, our friends and family, or just the ability to freely walk outside, we’ve all lost a great deal as part of this crisis. Everyone is grappling with new, uncomfortable, and often frightening circumstances, and it’s bound to take a toll on employees’ productivity.

While there are no easy solutions here, one simple way to help incrementally lighten the emotional burden on your team is to intentionally build positive moments into the remote work day. Studies have shown that people who watch a funny video clip before starting a task are 10% more productive than peers who did not watch the clip, so now is not the time to keep those cat videos to yourself. Many employees are struggling with a newly full house, upended schedules, the constant threat of illness, escalating cabin fever, etc.; creating opportunities for stress relief is essential. Accordingly, today we’re writing with some suggestions for helping your employees stay sane and engaged during these highly destabilizing times.

As we’ve noted in prior posts, one of the most important steps you can take to support employees right now is to encourage connection during check-ins and other meetings. Going one step further, providing opportunities for laughter can be transformative for your team members staring down another month or more of social distancing. While casual conversation will not be appropriate for every call, making time to share funny stories from people’s quarantine chaos can not only help your team blow off some steam, but will also help bring them closer together. Finding common ground and cultivating understanding is one of the most significant gifts we can give to each other today (and every day). Amidst the strain of ‘normal’ life under these new restrictions, the brief respite of just chatting with colleagues can be a critical line of defense against burnout.

If you want to expand the conversation outside of meetings, consider using your company’s communication channels to launch a daily or weekly question to get employees chatting. It could be as straightforward as joining the twitter trend of sharing pictures of your new ‘coworkers’ (i.e. pets, kids, plants, etc.), or something more related to your business such as strangest customer stories, most interesting place you’ve visited while wearing company swag, etc. Even simply prompting employees to share the books they’re reading and TV shows they’re watching to pass the time can help brighten people’s remote work days and improve their mental health.

Another way to approach this task is to plan events for employees. While we know that virtual events are not ideal, continuing to plan programming for your team and even for their families remains critically important to boost flagging morale. Some companies have organized times for employees’ children to read to each other. Others are planning virtual coffee breaks and/or happy hours. You could even schedule yoga, cooking, strength training, or other well-being sessions for your employees to join. Building in these opportunities for positivity will not only help your team members focus during remote work hours, but will make them happier all around during this difficult time.

Yet another way to surprise and delight employees is with gifts and food. While not the easiest to orchestrate with many stores closed down and deliveries slowed, assembling care packages or ordering food to be delivered to your employees can create much-needed bright spots amidst the monotony of staying home all the time. Some companies have arranged for their team members to receive pizza or baked goods, while others have created thoughtful gifts to distribute to make working at home a bit easier. These kits can include items such as headphones/headsets, hand sanitizer, ergonomic seat cushions, tea/coffee, mugs, snacks, etc. You could also offer free subscriptions for exercise classes, meditation apps, or similar services so employees can more easily build stress relief into their schedules.

There are many options to support employees during this crisis, but the best way to do so within your company is to ask your people what they need. While some may be too overwhelmed to know right now, just the fact that you checked in and showed that you’re available and open to listening to their requests will be a step in the right direction. As always, if there’s any way we can help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Leveraging lockdown to improve company culture

While the pandemic’s impacts are undeniably negative across the board, it may be possible to salvage a couple sips of lemonade from these deeply sour lemons. For those companies able to retain their staff and transition to remote working, there is a clear opportunity to transform the way we work to better align with people’s lives, including whatever new accommodations may be necessary as we emerge from this crisis. From remote and flexible work options, to allowing people to bring more of themselves to their roles, we essentially have the chance to build a new employee experience from scratch.

As of 2019, 80% of employees reported wanting to work from home at least some of the time. Similarly, 78% of workers believe that flexible schedules and telecommuting are the most effective nonmonetary incentives a company can provide to retain employees. This is an 11% increase from just the year prior. While the pandemic has obviously forced a number of compromises outside of normal operations, having seen that remote work is possible will make it difficult to convince employees to resume business as usual.

Instead, once we’ve weathered this crisis, People teams can engage employees around what the way forward might look like. Perhaps employees are allowed to work from home as they choose a couple of times per month, or once per week. Maybe managers can move more towards truly performance-based evaluations, rather than counting people in seats as a measure of productivity. Possibly, some companies will see the value in becoming completely remote, slashing their overhead and forging an entirely new path forward.

The potential here is not limited to just remote work, but can expand to include other benefits as well.  Many of us have learned more about our colleagues’ lives than ever before as we see them in their home environments with all of the distractions and disruptions that accompany it. This presents an opportunity to improve company culture by building stronger bonds and tailor employee policies to foster more work-life integration. From increased flexibility and support for those with caregiving responsibilities, to perks for pet parents and more, these glimpses of employees’ lives can be used to inform People teams’ work. Throwing away this critical data would be adding insult to the deep injury this pandemic has caused to all of us.

Similarly, if your company has successfully cultivated more openness between team members as a result of these new working circumstances, this is your chance to capitalize on it to drive inclusion and belonging. As the lines blur even further between home and work, employers can move towards the ideal of enabling employees to bring more of themselves to meetings and projects, and thereby increase engagement. Consider this an opportunity to improve company culture by really tailoring it and the employee experience to your employees. HR can emerge from this panic with a focus on employee needs and innovative responses, rather than trying to claw back all of the privileges allowed during the pandemic and destroying employee trust in the process.

The impacts of this crisis will doubtless be felt for a very long time, but we can take steps to ensure that at least the progress made on workplace flexibility is not lost along with so much else. Companies will need to assemble a new toolkit to ensure their success in the post-office workplace, from communication tools to engagement platforms. If we can be of any help at this challenging time, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re now offering free trials of our streamlined communication and employee empowerment software, and we’re happy to serve as a resource to those struggling to find the way forward. You can get in touch with us at hello@workrowd.com. Take care, everyone.

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The importance of affinity groups in times of crisis

The rapid spread of the coronavirus around the globe has highlighted a key feature of life today: we are all deeply and inextricably linked. As social creatures, almost everything we do in industrialized societies relies on a long chain of other people to make it possible. Across cities, states, countries, and continents, we are all interconnected in ways that we rarely acknowledge. Unfortunately, one of our most effective pandemic responses, social distancing, has forced us to reckon with almost total isolation.

While the economic impacts of this virus will be both wide and deep, even those who are lucky enough to be able to work remotely are experiencing interpersonal effects. In 2019, 16% of companies operated with a fully remote workforce. For those in the other 84%, the social distancing measures of late have required a whole new approach to the work day. The one-off interactions with people at their desks, before and after meetings, in the kitchen/lunchroom, etc. that we used to take for granted are now nonexistent. Our new coworkers for the foreseeable future are the people we live with and our pets. As people struggle to adapt to video calls and to navigate shifting priorities on projects facing uncertain futures, we need the support of our colleagues now more than ever.

We’ve written before about the importance of culture and employee communities, but it is in times like these that those elements really come to the fore. As life as we know it slips away and the weight of this new reality sets in, employees who were dissatisfied before the crisis will only disengage further. Without the daily context of the workplace to keep them tuned in, and no motivation to support a company they feel doesn’t support them, their performance will suffer even further. Those companies that have been resistant to allowing remote work up until this point because they were concerned employees would ‘slack off’ at home were likely right. It wasn’t an issue with the employee however, but an issue with the company and its approach to talent management. If the company doesn’t trust their employees and recognize them as more than just cogs in the wheel, they can’t expect their employees to go above and beyond for them, particularly at such a distracting and distressing time.

One of the key reasons employees cite for giving their all day after day for a company is getting to work with great people. When employees have deep connections with their coworkers, they have a built-in support system that makes the bad times manageable, and the good times even better. In a situation like the one we’re currently facing, having a strong network of colleagues through one or more affinity groups to commiserate, share tips, and just chat with to stay sane can make or break an employee’s success. Amidst fear and uncertainty, it’s your team that keeps you going and helps you muddle through in the face of the unknown.

In order to help employees build such connections, it’s critical to provide forums for them to interact substantively with others outside their department or project teams. The easiest way to do this is to set up the infrastructure for employees to self-select into affinity groups that resonate with them. Start a group for parents of young children to share tips and trials related to trying to homeschool kids while also working full-time out of the house. Start a group for the mass of new pet parents that the coronavirus has created so they can bond over animal antics. Start a group for those caring for older relatives who may be especially frightened at this time. Give your employees the ability to share what they’re going through with colleagues, rather than expecting them to turn off 70% of themselves and plow through their work like machines. We promise it will pay significant dividends when we can all return to the office and your team is reinvigorated by seeing their support system in person rather than returning to a group of strangers with whom they share no connection.

If you’re interested in providing more social infrastructure to keep your employees healthy, sane, and engaged throughout this trying time, we’re now offering free trials of our software as a way to support. It can be difficult to launch new employee initiatives such as affinity groups from behind a screen, but with Workrowd’s flexible engagement solution, you can set up employee communities in a few quick clicks. With everyone newly geographically distributed, our tools also provide you with critical insight into what’s happening, from what initiatives are being scheduled and who’s engaging, to which programs and sessions employees like the most.

If you think we can help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to hear how you’re doing, what you’re struggling with, and what you need to make things better. Stay safe, everyone!

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The many benefits of a truly employee-driven culture

With the current talent market skewed in favor of jobseekers, company culture and employer brand are growing increasingly important to success across both recruitment and retention. Great company cultures don’t simply crop up out of nowhere though; without buy-in from the grass roots to the grass tops, efforts to boost culture can go unacknowledged, or worse, backfire. Many organizations are looking for a silver bullet, but the truth is that culture change is a slow and often difficult process, as many negative aspects become entrenched over a number of years and can take similarly long to roll back.

A company struggling with a sub-optimal culture frequently experiences its effects across the entirety of the employee lifecycle. Recruitment becomes more difficult as word spreads about the undesirable environment. Retention drops as employees leave for healthier workplaces. Engagement and productivity suffer as staff feel unappreciated and grow increasingly disengaged. Even customers may lose interest in working with the company as they learn more about the corporate climate. These are gambles that few businesses can afford to take in such competitive times.

Fortunately, one proven change that companies can make is to give employees a seat at the table. From increasing transparency around business decisions to asking for feedback (and actually acting on it!), making your employees feel included and appreciated is a solid first step. We’ve all seen examples of personal relationships where one person values the other, but it’s not reciprocated; it never ends well. The same dynamics occur in companies. If the organization doesn’t invest in their people, how can they expect their people to invest significant time and energy in the organization?

The next step beyond simply giving employees a voice is giving them the ability to actually make some of the changes they would like to see. By empowering team members to truly influence outcomes, companies can begin to transform themselves from the inside out. Employee empowerment is one of the true drivers of employee engagement. It creates an ‘all hands on deck’ environment in which every employee is working towards the goal of a healthier company culture together.

Unsurprisingly, empowered employees are more engaged and productive, contributing to the company’s bottom line. Highly engaged workforces see 67% lower turnover, 21% higher profitability, and 10% higher customer ratings. Happier employees are stronger brand ambassadors, championing the cause of recruitment and amplifying the culture strides at every turn. Staff who are truly invested in their companies even take fewer sick days. In fact, businesses with weak engagement saw employees take three times as many sick days as their more engaged peers. Investing in employees pays significant dividends; companies are leaving money on the table by not seizing this opportunity.

We know it’s not easy to deliver on the myriad employee culture needs and requests that the average company fields on a daily basis. We also know that for compliance and legal reasons, it can feel scary to share the reins with employees. Ultimately though, the combination of higher engagement, happier employees, and increased transparency will help create a self-regulating community. If employees are happy, they won’t be inclined to launch programs or initiatives that may reflect poorly upon the organization. If you build transparency around your programming, you’ll have full insight into what employees are doing, and therefore oversight with the ability to step in before anything gets off-track. With the appropriate checks and balances in place, empowering employees can successfully reduce the time burden on HR as employees not only self-serve for programming, but organize their own events taking some of the onus off of taxed People teams.

It can be difficult to empower employees, but luckily, Workrowd makes it easy! With our straightforward community management tools and activity roadmaps for employee leaders, it’s a breeze for your team to drive a healthier, more inclusive company culture. If you’re interested in leveraging these tools to achieve better business outcomes at your company, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at hello@workrowd.com.