COVID-19 has, without a doubt, created a big impact in the lives of many people – including small businesses and their employees. Many are scared of going out and catching the disease. In turn, companies have to adapt the new normal practices to protect their employees – even if this includes enforcing social distancing at work or adopting work-from-home strategies. These changes inevitably led to employees feeling disengaged at work, which significantly affects productivity.  

Employee engagement is one of the major drivers of productivity in the company. However, many employees may feel disconnected from their co-workers and leader, making them lose sight of the value at work or where they may be heading career-wise. For the business owners, lesser employee engagement could mean a loss of profit if left unaddressed.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By following some tips, employers can improve employee engagement at the office or remotely. Here are seven practical tips to enhance and maintain employee engagement despite the restrictions COVID-19 has brought:

1.    Check-In With Employees Regularly

Before the pandemic, managers can easily check-in with their employees when they meet in the hallway or call them to their offices. Doing that lets them know how their employees are doing and if they’re productive, and give feedback and praises when necessary. However, hallway catch-up sessions or quick office check-ins are less likely to happen while working amid the pandemic. This is true, especially if the company is adopting a remote working arrangement. As a result, employees could feel down, lonely, and at some point, isolated, which significantly affects engagement.

To remedy this, strive to conduct regular check-ins through phone calls or video calls with your employees. This could be monthly, weekly, or daily, depending on your preferences. Conducting one-on-one check-ins may be necessary as this will help you focus more on one employee and evaluate their productivity. While it’s important to talk about work-related issues in these check-ins, it also doesn’t hurt to ask your employee how they’re holding up during the pandemic. This will help your staff know that you care about them and let them know that their presence is valuable in the company. In turn, this will boost and reinforce employee engagement.

2.    Be More Considerate

One of the things that employers and managers should understand is that COVID-19 pandemic has affected all people in a lot of different ways. Their work-from-home workers could be facing some challenges when it comes to finding the right balance between work and life at home, or parents could still be adjusting to taking care of the kids at home and working at the same time. No matter the situation, managers should ideally be considerate of the challenges that their employees face outside of work.

If, in one of your check-in sessions, you find one of your employees experiencing difficulties associated with the changes that COVID-19 has brought, encourage them to take the time they need to adjust. It could be a week or two, and maybe more. This will show your employees that you understand the challenges and give all the support you can to help them. In turn, this will make them feel more appreciated and valued as part of the company. Once they’re ready to go back to work, they will be more empowered to do better, and their engagement will significantly increase.

3.    Allow Virtual Socialization

Remote employees can feel left out at times. While it was easier to get together with colleagues pre-pandemic– have lunch, drink coffee together in break rooms, celebrate birthdays with some music, cakes and parties – now, with the safety precautions to take, activities like these could be highly unlikely. Lesser socialization with their peers could make employees feel unattached from the work community.

Setting up scheduled virtual socialization with your employees could be a great way to combat loneliness and feelings of detachment. Even if it’s just for an hour every week, socialization will create a sense of normalcy in these uncertain times. You can make it a happy hour where your remote workers prepare their own drinks and just chat. Virtual socialization sessions will allow your staff to catch-up and maybe even give feedback to one another, which can create a sense of fulfillment and, most importantly, improve engagement within your workers.

4.    Keep Tasks Meaningful and Interesting

Switching from remote from home working arrangements can disrupt the work processes. One of your workers could take on lesser responsibilities than when working at an office, while others could be doing every day, mundane tasks that they could find less stimulating. All these could make them feel that their work is less meaningful, and they could lose a sense of how valuable their contributions are to the company.

One of the things you can do as a manager to remedy or avoid this from happening is to give your employees equal opportunities to use their skills. Try to assess what changed in their responsibilities. For example, if they are in the events’ management team, working remotely could take event planning off their to-do list. Their responsibilities may change to organizing tasks and schedules. If so, they could think that their skills aren’t being used meaningfully. Try to give your employees opportunities and to-do’s to help derive meaning back to their jobs (i.e., allowing your event planner to plan virtual socializations or team buildings).

Also, don’t forget to ask your staff what they currently feel about their workload. Always explore opportunities and relevant projects that would keep your team on their feet and encourage creativity. The more your employees feel like they’re utilizing their skills to work on something, the more meaning they’ll find in their jobs. Not only will this improve engagement, but it would also help increase employee satisfaction.

5.    Continue Providing Chances of Growth and Development in Your Employees

It’s common for many employees to feel like their career’s growth has been put into a halt because of the pandemic. Many could lose their motivation and passion for their work and become more and more disengaged because they have lost the meaning behind what they’re doing.

As a manager, one thing you can do is to keep providing different chances of learning for your employees. For instance, you can encourage them to enroll in a specific course to learn new skills or improve an existing one. Or, you can give them a chance to choose a course they want to enroll in and give them the resources as a way of supporting them. No matter what strategy you use, ensure that your employees are valued and that you’re more than willing to invest in their career’s growth and development, despite the crisis. If your staff feels like the company cares for them enough to offer a chance to advance their career, they’re more likely to become more motivated to do better at their respective jobs.

6.    Acknowledge Effort

Finally, don’t forget to acknowledge the hard work and achievements. At the end of the day, your employees want to be appreciated for a job well done. In this state of uncertainty, giving off positive feedbacks is the simplest thing you can do to keep your company workers’ spirits up.

If someone completes their tasks ahead of schedule, commend and acknowledge them for it. If you can, give them an incentive for it. It could be as simple as a thank you email to show your gratitude, a care package, or salary bonuses. The more your team feels valued, especially in this situation, the more they’ll be motivated to work hard and increase their job performance.

7.    Let Your Staff Recover

Five days of working from 9 to 5 can take a toll on the person’s body. Even if they may be working remotely, chaining yourself to work every day without a single day of rest can lead to exhaustion. It’s worth noting that work isn’t the only one that could be stressing them out. The anxiety of the recent changes because of the pandemic could also affect them. Eventually, this will cause stress and, if left unaddressed, burnout could follow, which will significantly affect employee engagement.

As much as possible, give your employees time to rest and recuperate. This will make them feel more energized and motivated by going back to work by the following week. Encourage them to take frequent breaks throughout the day. As a manager, don’t send work emails after hours or during the weekends when they’re not working. Allow them to switch-off and take those days as personal breaks. When your employees are fully-rested, they’re more likely to commence another workday full of energy with higher levels of engagement.

Final Thoughts

Now more than ever, company leaders must find a way to keep their employees engaged. As unproductivity threatens the performance of small businesses, it’s important for managers to find a way to keep their employees emotionally invested on their jobs. Whether it’s checking in every now and then or assigning more varied tasks, managers must strive to keep their team engaged and productive. Communicate with your employees often and listen more. Sometimes, even a simple inquiry can give you a lot of information about how you can keep your employees invested in their jobs, therefore, and add value to the entire organization.