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Engaging people working remotely with empathy

Since the growth of remote working, many employers have begun to raise concerns about employee engagement. Well, unfortunately, both employers and employees have a different definition of employee engagement.

From the employer’s perspective, employee engagement means how well their employees are fully engaged in performing their tasks remotely. Employers wonder if the employees have clocked in their time at work effectively. Somehow, at this juncture, most employers do not think their employees are productive working from home. Several studies have revealed that the majority of employees of senior-level executives were more productive than expected. Maybe only a smaller percentage of unproductive senior-level executives has resulted in the C-suite's concerns about the productivity of everyone working from home.

C-suite also had the impression that the junior employees are disengaged. Those who do not have direct supervision of junior employees will wonder about the productivity of the junior employees working from home. Lack of regular interaction across multiple levels of employees would have resulted in C-suite and senior-level executives' lack of information about junior employees in general.

From the employees’ perspective, especially junior employees expect to have more regular employee engagement as they see engagement as their opportunities to learn from their direct reports. Based on the same studies above, the majority of the junior employees felt disengaged in terms of lack of mentorship and guidance. They did not feel that they have adequate support and guidance working from home. They did not have the opportunities to interact and network with their direct reports and C-suite regularly.

Similar to junior employees, the senior-level executives would expect their immediate supervisors to support and coach them working from home. The C-suite should not have concerns about their productivity working from home because they would have set specific targets for their direct reports.

Therefore, most employers are emphasizing finding ways to monitor and measure employee productivity. Although some are finding ways to improve employee engagement, the engagement tends to be interpreted as a way to meet virtually (preferably in-person meeting) for work only. Very few non-work-related engagement activities are being planned in most remote working arrangements.

Furthermore, organizational culture will be diminishing if organizations are not paying attention to sustain organizational values. Employers are developing remote working policies that tend to focus on work ethics, discipline, and productivity. Trust between employers and employees is steadily disappearing. Of course, such challenges do not arise in organizations that have already implemented flexible work arrangements (e.g. remote working) long before the current shift from the physical workplace to the virtual workplace.

I am of the view that company leaders must continue to live the organizational values in engaging their employees at all times although their employees are working from home. For example, convert your weekly huddle into a weekly virtual huddle, make unscheduled check-in with your team virtually (the check-in is intended to understand the team’s state of mind and emotion), allocate time to check-in with your team during a scheduled virtual meeting, convert your scheduled town-hall meeting into a virtual town-hall meeting.

Company leaders must continue to lead people working remotely with empathy. Greater empathy is needed to manage the emotional adjustments of people moving to remote working. Company leaders must consciously allocate time to check-in with their people whenever there are scheduled and unscheduled virtual sessions. The check-in routines should focus on asking the right questions with active and empathetic listening. This will also provide company leaders to continue to coach their people in making emotional adjustments and unleashing their potential in making effective contributions albeit working from home.

In conclusion, employee engagement is not about engaging for productivity. It is really about getting employees of all levels engaged in their passion for work excellence, personal growth, and career development. Employers must transition their organizational values from physical environment to virtual environment at all times. Everyone must continue to live the organizational values in the virtual environment. Let’s begin now with your organizational values to make employee engagement goes beyond productivity measurement.

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