How to maintain employee engagement and productivity during COVID-19

Now that much of the country has adjusted onsite work and settled into a work-from-home routine, it’s important for leaders to actively foster engagement and productivity in the daily lives of employees. Given that it will not be business as usual for quite some time, how can you help your people stay focused and mentally healthy in the face of such significant change?

All hands on deck

You don’t have to figure all of this out on your own — in fact, you shouldn’t try. Engage your team in planning the response to COVID-19. Where some job responsibilities may have decreased or stopped entirely, new priorities have popped up to take their place. Together, determine what activities and responsibilities staff should be focusing on in the short term. Ensuring people have enough work (but not too much) and providing decision-making opportunities supports mental health in general, and it’s particularly important in times like these.

If you haven’t had a career development conversation recently, now is the time to quickly evaluate where your people want to grow and what skill sets they can offer other areas of the business. It’s likely that you are going to need to redeploy resources if you haven’t already; make sure you have good information to make good decisions. 

Check in on remote practices

In the last few weeks, we have all scrambled to establish the remote work protocols for our teams. Given that we are likely to be remote for an extended amount of time, it’s important to assess how things are going. Are teams sufficiently connected? Is current technology supporting the work that needs to be done? Do employees have access to everything they need to be productive? Make any necessary adjustments to minimize frustrations. 

Work from home realities

Given the degree of distraction employees are facing at home, managers need to be flexible around work hours and productivity. With everyone at home, many employees are having to share the dining room table with partners and deal with kids and pets, while also trying to coordinate live video calls. Trust is incredibly important right now. Trust that your team cares about the company, their work and wants to do a good job. If the productivity of an individual becomes a concern, have a conversation to talk through what might be contributing to the issues. Your thinking should be people first right now; start with empathy. 

Great managers make great remote managers 

The practices that great managers use are amplified when the entire team is fully remote and under stress. Leadership communication is critical right now, so don’t worry about overdoing it. Your team may be cut off from familiar organic information flow, so leaders need to make time to drive new channels of communication and cascade information effectively. Don’t forget to make digital social interaction a priority.

Managing outcomes, rather than inputs, is generally a good approach to people management.  

Under current circumstances, however, it may be important to recognize efforts over results for a time as we all adjust to new priorities and challenges. Clearly outline desired outcomes and time frames, and support your team in how to deliver them.

Actively make more space for feedback during this time. Don’t assume that your team will bring concerns to you or feel comfortable sharing how they are feeling. Ask the tough questions and find out what they need from you. What roadblocks are individuals facing? Are they clear on outcomes and know how to get there? How are they coping?

On the flip side, actively offer feedback. Provide feedback in quick sound bites to help your team course-correct quickly. As much as possible, feedback should be delivered over video conference, not over messaging platforms. 

Keeping pace with goals

It’s much easier to track productivity and outcomes when you link work to specific objectives. If you don’t have goals or OKRs (objectives and key results) in place, there are other ways to keep everyone on track. Host team stand ups — on Monday, have the team outline their top three priorities for the week. At the end of the week, they can report back on fulfilling those priorities. Managers may need to step in if there is any misalignment of priorities. Set employees on track to make sure they are contributing to the most valuable work. 

Some things haven’t changed

It’s important to remind your team that plenty of things remain constant during this upheaval. While this may vary across organizations, make it a point to provide an anchor and reinforce what’s not changing to provide a much-need sense of stability. 

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