The pandemic has offered the opportunity to rethink many things – how we conduct our business, how we connect with others, how our physical safety has become our priority as we self-quarantine, etc. We have learned many lessons during this time and if we are smart, we will carry this learning with us into the “new normal.” Leaders have had an opportunity to do things differently as they have responded to this crisis, and what they do now as they prepare for their organizations to reopen will determine how their staff will respond as companies emerge out of this crisis. As organizations reopen, staff will begin to take their own action—will they stay and re-engage or will they quit?

As staff returns to work, in whatever phased model it is, leaders will face more of a challenge than ever to provide a workplace that inspires engagement. In fact, is it the employER engagement that will determine the long term development and well-being of employees, and that employER engagement falls into three categories:  safety, connection and self-esteem. This can be accomplished by taking small steps toward goals in these three areas.

Safety is everyone’s priority right now

Physical safety is on everyone’s minds, and leaders must ensure the workplace is taking every precaution to provide safety from danger in the form of protective gear, cleaning of the workspace, and limiting contact by managing space. These precautions are critical to people wanting to return to the workplace, but leaders must also be prepared to respond to those workers who prefer not to come into the workplace and continue working from home. Emotional safety involves knowing that their job is secure, whether they choose to come into the office or work from home. Leaders must be transparent with their intentions about the work force. Some companies have had no choice but to furlough or lay off employees, but others have been quick to include employees in developing creative ways to keep staff on board.

Necessity of Employee Connection

Group cohesion — being together in work and social settings is so important to emotional well-being.  During times of change people need more contact and communication, not less.  While everyone I talk with bemoans the amount of time they spend on Zoom or other meeting platforms, it is a way to be together that isn’t otherwise possible. One podcast I listened to suggested that instead of thinking of Zoom and other programs as a meeting program, to think of it as platform for human connection, and encourages companies to have staff keep the Zoom connection open during the day, a virtual “lunchroom or lounge” where employees can reach out to each other with a question or comment without having to schedule a meeting.

Sharing success stories is another way to connect—what are people hearing from others about how they are thriving during this time. Last year a client provided on-site visits from senior executives and others to remote markets for the sole purpose of connecting with those remote workers. These visits were intended to make the connection between the remote worker and people in the corporate environment, so that they knew they are part of something larger than themselves, working away in their home office.  For logistics reasons, some of these visits included virtual visits by some of the executives, but the purpose was achieved—to see the faces of the company leaders, to know what’s going on in the bigger organization, and to have the opportunity for two-way communication with these leaders. The response from the staff was overwhelmingly positive, and is currently being provided in a virtual model, with a continued positive response.

Leaders must nurture self-esteem

Many things have been suspended—classes, new programs, projects, etc. However, leaders still have the opportunity to support staff through creating a grateful and welcome work community. We have seen many examples of how leaders continue to show appreciation to their staff for the value they bring. Now might be a good time for some development opportunities, while many have some time to work on long-term growth.

Things are going to be different as we move forward, and it is to every leader’s benefit to make sure that they are taking the actions that will bring their workforce back stronger and more loyal than before. The two Chinese symbols for change are translated as “challenge” and “opportunity.” We continue to see the challenge. Let us also not lose sight of the opportunity this crisis brings.