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Lockdown 2.0: what we’re doing to maintain team engagement

For some businesses the re-introduction of Stage 3 in Victoria triggered a return to remote working and for others, an extension of the current working from home arrangements.

Fostering a positive workplace culture and strong employee engagement is more important than ever. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety is more prevalent (see our article published last week which highlights the increase in stress and mental illness since the start of the pandemic) . Employees are facing a greater degree of uncertainty and for some, the return to Stage 3 (or in other states the mere prospect of reverting to stricter restrictions) has brought resentment and frustration.

Prior to the recent announcement the leadership team at FCW Lawyers were finalising a policy to support a permanent arrangement that allowed all team members to work remotely for a few days each week – while the decision was an easy one to make, it was not a decision we took lightly.  For us, one of the critical points that influenced our decision was ensuring that we had a clear and strong system in place that would allow us to maintain a strong connection between team members and importantly, that the leaders were all committed to this.

As a firm we moved to remote working before the government directed employees to work from home where it was possible to do so.  As a result we’ve had nearly 4 months of experience – some initiatives that were introduced with the intention of maintaining employee engagement worked while others failed.

This is what we learned:

  • What worked pre-COVID-19 are not necessarily as effective.
  • Communication and contact that is regular and consistent is critical. Whether it is a 5 minute call to check in on a team member or weekly Friday night drinks via Zoom – these regular touchpoints are all opportunities to demonstrate you care.
  • Sharing information in a timely manner. We have twice weekly firm wide “face to face” Zoom meetings. Our MD shares information with the team but most importantly we are all asked to share something – it doesn’t have to be work related.
  • Our clients have responded positively when we share our experiences (the good and the bad) with leading and managing a team remotely.
  • Giving employees access to a wellbeing initiative isn’t enough and can bring about the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. The workplace culture needs to support the implementation of the initiatives. Our team members can participate in two meditation sessions a week. Everyone else in the team knows when these sessions are on and who has signed up – why? So those who don’t participate can plan their meetings and work flow around these sessions and the person who wants to attend meditation does not feel anxious for attending because their colleagues are waiting on work and that person can focus on the meditation (rather than work) during the session.
  • Continuous improvement. As a young business we’ve learned the value in trying new ideas and moving on quickly if we don’t achieve the desired result.  Being agile when it comes to employee engagement is just as important.  The trick is to ask your team members what they want. Don’t assume what works for you or others will resonate with everyone.

These lessons are going to continue to be important even when things go back to ‘normal’ (whatever that may mean). As will be the case with our team, flexible working arrangements will continue after the end of the pandemic. Rather than trying to re-create the workplace we had pre-COVID-19, we will take what we learnt during this time and use lessons to develop other ways to look after our team – if we do that well we know that high level employee engagement and productivity will follow.

Written by Sotheary Bryant