Director of HR and Training at Pick Everard, Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith
Director of HR and Training at Pick Everard, Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith

Now two months into lockdown, making sure that you have an effective employee engagement strategy in place is incredibly important to the ongoing success and wellbeing of your teams. This HR Day, Director of HR and Training at Pick Everard, Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith, examines how best to manage employee engagement during this period of extended remote working, why it is crucial to companies navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and how businesses can use this time to effectively adapt the employee experience.

We are at a time where we need to have trust in our leaders and compassion from our colleagues. At the heart of every organisation’s response to the ongoing pandemic there is a well thought through People Strategy.

Ultimately, we won’t be able to all return to the office in one big rush for the sake of our own safety, so we must ensure strategies are in place for support and that we accelerate initiatives critical to our current environment. The most important thing we can do as HR practitioners is to provide listening opportunities – and actually pay attention to our team’s ideas and feedback.

Our circumstances allow us to examine business practices and to think about opportunities for new ways of working, so that we may recover and thrive in the new normal.  There have already been multiple studies into how much more productive we may be when working from home. For example, less distractions and greater opportunity for creative thinking can lead to higher levels of productivity and output.

Flexibility is not just about people having their requests considered, but also thinking about new ways of being an agile employer to foster a healthy work-life blend. Many people are currently juggling different aspects of their life alongside work, and employers are having to respond with empathy, enabling increased flexibility for caring responsibilities through options such as staggered and compressed hours.

True employee engagement is about empowering your staff members, giving them a real purpose within the organisation and allowing them to feed into the overarching direction of the business. Regardless of where you are in that journey, right now getting the basics of your strategy is really important.

1-2-1 time for staff with their line managers will make sure that employees do not feel unsupported or metaphorically isolated and will allow them to feel connected to the business through onward communications. Smart objectives and feedback can be used to ensure that direction is provided, and professional development is still being addressed. Celebrating successes together and encouraging virtual staff catch ups will foster the sense of community many of us associate with the office space.

This sense of community brings us round to the wellbeing of our staff in a time they may be physically isolated if living alone or having to juggle the many life demands lockdown has on us.  Early intervention on wellbeing is crucial.  Leaders can provide an element of self-service here, with personal resilience toolkits and access to listening services as well as company-wide morale surveys and online social clubs.

No matter our opinions on the political management of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need trust in our employers and how they are responding to the latest guidance. Regular updates on what the latest government announcements mean for your business and your staff will help to manage anxieties around the return to work. And, when the time comes to return to the workplace, the communication around how you will ensure staff safety will be crucial.

As well as this, employers that can show compassion and empathy with staff will help foster a relationship of trust, making staff feel valued and able to speak up when they need additional support. This sense of safety when sharing thoughts, anxieties and worries is crucial for paving a positive way forward for the future. Remembering to say thank you and acknowledging work well done whilst we remain remote ensures that people also feel like they’re visible and part of something bigger.

At Pick Everard, we’ve been weaving all of this together and embracing the technology we are now all very familiar with to look after our staff. We have regular company-wide broadcasting, live Q&As for staff and have launched an initiative called The Staffroom, which aims to bring back some of the social aspects we are missing from the office. This allows staff to catch up and chat about the everyday parts of their life – from what DIY they are up to in the garden to where they’ve managed to get hold of flour for their latest bake. We also have a dedicated communication site called ‘People Hub’ which addresses staff needs for wellbeing information, our ‘return to base’ plan, professional development and company policies.

From this I am confident you will see engaged employees that are proactive and put their best efforts in every day. So, all the efforts we put into our employee engagement strategies will ultimately feed into other areas of our business – for example community engagement or client interaction.

None of us could have predicted the immense impact COVID-19 would have on us and this sense of connection will extend from your employees to your customers as well.

Ten tips for employee engagement:

  1. Provide regular 1-2-1s and line management support
  2. Use technology to encourage social interaction between peers
  3. Communicate and celebrate successes together
  4. Provide listening opportunities for staff to feedback what they want and need
  5. Consider additional flexibilities individuals may need
  6. Provide signposting to additional and external resources such as employee support helplines and mental health services
  7. Introduce surveys to measure engagement and inform actions
  8. Ensure access to professional development opportunities
  9. Communicate regularly what latest updates in the pandemic mean for the business and staff
  10. Acknowledge and reward your staff for hard work where possible

Pick Everard employs more than 550 staff across its 13 UK offices, providing a range of project, cost and design consultancy services.