Over a third (35%) of employers said remote working was one of the main challenges for their company in keeping up employee engagement since the beginning of the pandemic, according to new research from XpertHR.
Nearly one in ten (9%) said that their current level of employee engagement was was "poor", according to the survey of 220 organisations, collectively employing more than 460,000 people.
As the government confirmed plans to move to Plan B last week, as the Omicron variant spreads, people have been told to again work from home where possible.
“The call to return to remote working is not a welcome one for many organisations, ending for some what was the highly sought-after return to the office, to team building, collaboration and some normality — albeit something of a new normal," said Noelle Murphy, senior HR practice editor at XpertHR.
"However, HR can play a key role in ensuring employee engagement sits at the centre of the business response to remote working. Doing so offers an opportunity for businesses that did not fare well during previous calls to work from home where possible to recoup and improve their employee engagement levels."
Here are some top tips to keep staff engaged and motivated if your company is going back to home working.
Improving the quality and frequency of communication from senior leaders to employees was one of the most effective initiatives for keeping staff engaged for one in five (18%) HR professionals surveyed.
Speaking to the wellbeing of employees and being clear around current plans, including areas that are unclear or still to be decided can help workers feel more engaged and motivated.
Promoting a culture of listening to employees and facilitating authentic dialogue can make a huge difference.
Overall, businesses that adapted their communication plan from the beginning of the first lockdown, as well as maintaining and enriching communications as the situation developed, reaped the rewards, according to XpertHR.
Focus on wellbeing
Pandemic restrictions impacted both employee mental wellbeing and physical health, putting wellbeing at the centre of many businesses' COVID response.
Ensuring your reward and benefits package is fit for purpose can help with employee wellbeing — 12% of respondents said they boosted employee engagement by improving their rewards and benefits package.
Offering a counselling service or employee assistance programmes can also be a positive health and wellbeing benefit provided by employers.
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Businesses that had increased the focus on wellbeing and put consistent support in place for employees had in many cases they had seen employee engagement increase, according to XpertHR’s research, whereas those who did not left many employees feeling undervalued.
Preparing for the return to the workplace
While many employers are currently looking at shifting back to remote working, it's a good idea to have a plan for an eventual return to the workplace.
Many of those surveyed said that strong communication during the transition back to in-person working was vital in maintaining engagement levels.
It is important that employers explain the reasoning behind decisions, as well as encouraging, not enforcing a return to the workplace, when the time comes.
One in ten respondents said encouraging more employee involvement in decision making was an effective initiative for boosting engagement. Over a third (36%) said introducing a hybrid working model was the most effective way to boost employee engagement.
In order to maintain or improve employee engagement during the shift back to remote working, it’s vital that the everyone within the organisation is invested. Over a quarter of HR professionals surveyed said that a lack of commitment to employee engagement from senior management was one of the biggest challenges.
“As our survey shows, this improvement hinges on putting employee wellbeing at the heart of its approach, through facilitating authentic and collaborative conversations with all employees," said Murphy.
"But HR can’t do this alone — all people managers and senior leaders need to recognise the business need to take employee engagement seriously and commit to providing the time, resources and space for all to deliver initiatives.
"Employers need to do all they can to retain key employees in an increasingly tight labour market — and good levels of employee engagement are without doubt central to this.”