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How to Keep Your Hybrid Team Engaged

Employee engagement is always an important metric, and it’s even arguably more so in a hybrid environment where you have some team members working remotely and some working in the office.

When we talk about engagement, we’re talking about a mutually beneficial relationship between employees and the organizations that they work in. What that looks like is employees are in a place where they’re able to achieve maximum satisfaction from the work that they do while contributing at a maximum level to the goals and the mission of the organization.

Industry Trends in Employee Engagement

Right now, in terms of 2021 data, the verdict is still out. We’re still collecting that information and looking at our benchmarks, but there are trends we observed from data collected in 2020. What we saw is that across client organizations, there were significant increases on some key indicators about clarity of work priorities, and managers giving feedback to their employees and creating good relationships with their teams. The positive perception of senior leadership and executive communication increased over time. These insights show how organizations succeeded in a completely virtual environment, and many things that were the largest concerns for organizations moving into a virtual environment such as performance, productivity, and connection between leaders and employees were more successful than they had been previously.

It’s great to look at that information as we think about how we move forward with a hybrid environment because most organizations had no roadmap. They were thrust into it. Even with some lead time, most organizations’ roadmaps would have included up to two years to develop and roll out a plan. Instead, organizations had to make an immediate change and are now thinking about how they can move forward and improve on their hybrid strategy.

Increasing Risk of Burnout

As for other trends, we’re seeing an increase in employees feeling burnt out. Employees are giving a lot to their organizations, but those individual needs are not necessarily being met. It’s important to consider the risks as we think about a hybrid model and as we think of increased access to virtual work and working from home.

Blended Boundaries

The lack of boundaries between work and the other aspects of our lives are challenging for many people. When the kitchen table is where we go to work, where we go to school, and where we come together as a family, the sort of mashup between work and personal life that people are experiencing can be exhausting. The lack of boundaries can be tiring.

Working Hours and Flexibility

Virtual work can also mean longer days for a lot of employees, so people are actually working harder at times when they’re working from home. It’s more difficult to disconnect in a virtual environment. Is the made-up time working instead of commuting increasing burnout, for example?

Finally, people want more flexibility. We had methods to build in some flexibility before going hybrid, but now that employees have experienced truly flexible day-to-day work schedules, it might be impossible to go back.

Essentially, employees want more flexibility between working in an office and at home and to work more on their own schedule. However, leaders need to help mitigate the risk of burnout.

Leadership Responsibilities

Leaders need to stay connected to their employees. It’s important to regularly talk to your employees about where are they with their satisfaction, how are they feeling about the work that they’re doing, what might be getting in the way of their performance, and where they might have some issues with work-life spillover.

The basic principles of managing people successfully and being a good leader don’t change. Employees need the same things—trust, relationships, conversations, empathy—but the context is changing. If an employee is experiencing burnout, leaders should help them disconnect and rearrange their priorities about what can maybe wait until tomorrow morning.

Staying Connected

Two questions emerge when leading a hybrid workforce: How do we manage at the team level, and how do we manage at the individual level?

At the team level, put digital first. For example, when we have a team meeting, we want to assume that everyone is going to be connecting virtually, and we want to make sure that we are creating an optimal virtual experience for those who are not in the office. Thinking about team dynamics, make sure that everyone is joining on their own device so that everyone’s getting equal face time.

On the individual level, it’s really about dialogue and making sure we’re asking those questions about people’s needs for their satisfaction and what they need to deliver on the results, and the dialogue needs to be frequent. It doesn’t need to be a two-hour conversation, but it should be at least weekly. Asking questions about what they are focusing on, what they are enjoying about a project, and whether there is anything getting in the way can be enough.

Lastly, leaders need to make sure they are connecting equitably with each team member.

Individual Responsibilities

It isn’t only about the leaders in your organization. Individuals also need to take responsibility for staying engaged.

Engagement is a shared responsibility. Every employee has a role to play. This applies to executives and managers alike in addition to individual contributors. Every employee is ultimately responsible for their own engagement to the extent that they need to know what drives their satisfaction and what helps or hinders their performance. They need that level of clarity. Without individuals knowing it, their managers and leaders won’t be able to help.

Self-awareness in a hybrid work environment is about what is working well and what needs some adjusting. Do you need more days in the office, or do you need more days at home? Do you need more flexibility with your schedule due to parenting responsibilities? Does working remotely make you feel left out of the group if you’re the only virtual attendee on a conference call?

It’s critical to consider all these types of questions. Identifying opportunities and team members that may be able to help.

Key Takeaway

As organizations move forward and are testing new working arrangements, it’s important to keep listening to your employees. Don’t abandon your survey strategy. Things are going to continue to change and to evolve. We’ve learned that the idea of the atomized individual is an illusion, the thought that we bring our professional self to work and that professional self is separate from our home life. People are bringing their whole selves to work with them, and all of that external context is really impacting people. We’re going to keep confronting these changes going forward. Organizations need to make sure that we’re listening to our employees to understand how those things—how that external context—is impacting employees and really get that information so we know how to respond and how we can engage our employees.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

More from Colleen Casey

Employee Surveys: Does your strategy measure up?

About the Authors

Colleen Casey
When I was about 8 years old, I made the obligatory pilgrimage of every born and bred New Jersey native to the Thomas Edison museum. The other children and I pummeled our patient tour guide with innumerable questions (mostly pertaining to whether or not Mr. Edison had died on the premises). Upon learning that Mr. Edison had not received much in the way of a formal education, I inquired “But how was he so smart if he never went to school?!” The simple and astute response of the guide – “He asked a lot of questions.” My career in public opinion and employee polling has led me to do just that – ask a lot of questions in order to better understand how others see the world and what shapes those perceptions. In my current role, I use the insights that I gain from engagement surveys to help our client organizations better understand how their employees view their work, their leaders and the organization’s culture in order to enable them to implement meaningful change based on employee feedback. I feel that my time spent studying sociology and living in France provided me with a unique opportunity to see the world through a different lens and understand how culture informs the way we view ourselves, the world around us, and the institutions that shape us. These academic and personal experiences have been highly valuable to me in my career, heightening my sensitivity and awareness of the necessity to bring a unique approach to client measurement strategies, an approach that aligns with and reflects their unique organizational culture.

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