Employee Engagement: Communicating for Impact in the Hybrid Environment
By Erika B. Ervin
April 01, 2022 | 7-minute read
Communications Written and Oral Communication Skills Content Type Article
When employees are engaged, the retention, productivity and well-being of everyone — and the organization — increases. It’s no wonder that many law firms, as they embrace hybrid work models, are seeking ways to communicate with employees to increase engagement and align with company values to foster a healthy culture.
Communicating with employees in a hybrid space requires intuitive, intentional and mindful leadership that measures engagement beyond meeting attendance or the amount of time spent working. Engagement must be measured in the presence, awareness and focus employees bring to each moment.
As the hybrid workforce grows, it’s imperative that we adapt engagement efforts to ensure the well-being, equity and inclusion for every individual.
You’ll notice an underlying theme in the tips that follow: Every employee’s experience should be treated the same — uniquely. And although this article focuses on increasing engagement in a hybrid space, these ideas are not limited to that model of work.
1. Don’t let people get out of sight, out of mind.
How true this adage can ring in a hybrid space. When we do not see people regularly, we can get caught up in our daily routine and indirectly disassociate with them. Without intentional, daily actions to address this, isolation and a sense of exclusion will begin to grow — both of which are nemeses to engagement.
Create space three times in your week to call a team member with no reason other than to see how they are doing. Add this into your schedule as you would any other meeting.
Before you pick up the phone, take a few breaths to remind yourself why this is important and shift your mindset into curiosity mode. Although the call is strategic, you want the conversation to be organic.
Be genuinely interested — ask questions and give them time to be heard. You will quickly develop more meaningful relationships based on trust and mutual respect. Your team members will feel they are working in a safe environment in which they can be open without judgment.
2. Create a continuous learning environment.
A common thread I’m hearing in discussions and surveys of employees in the post-pandemic era is their desire for continued learning and development opportunities.
Facilitate bite-size learning sessions taught by team members, followed by question and answer sessions. These are a wonderful way to empower your team to teach, question, learn and seek opportunities to collaborate and communicate.
The facilitator will allow the teacher 20 minutes to speak on something they are passionate about. Topics can range from personal hobbies to a process improvement idea. When we allow ourselves and others to genuinely demonstrate competence and effectiveness, engagement and motivation happily await.
After the short presentation, allow for 40 minutes of questions and discussion and encourage engagement.
A few important things to note:
- The facilitator must provide a comfortable and safe social environment for the group.
- Some participants may prefer to be a “fly on the wall,” and that’s okay. Encourage participation, but also show that you understand not everyone may be comfortable engaging. With time to observe and your encouragement, they may soon want to join in.
- The facilitator of this session should be an employee highly skilled in communication and situational awareness — someone who can keenly read the room, observe body language, make the space feel relaxed and can smoothly shift the direction of the conversation.
When we allow ourselves and others to genuinely demonstrate competence and effectiveness, engagement and motivation happily await.
3. Encourage better communication through divergent thinking sessions.
Divergent thinking sessions are fast-paced meetings that engage employees through creative thinking, collaboration and fun. Throw out that expert mindset — the one where you feel pressured to have all the answers — and allow curiosity to guide you toward a new approach to solving problems.
Gather the team around a white board or a screen share with the problem stated at the top. Have your team write out possible solutions to the problem. Encourage creativity and outrageous ideas. While you may not use one of those suggestions, they can lead to insights that will actually work.
This exercise allows teams to see how their colleagues think about and approach problems. When they pay attention to their teammates’ divergent styles, they can communicate and collaborate better.
In a hybrid work environment, you may find it most beneficial to do two of these events for one problem: one hybrid or in person, and one fully virtual, depending on the equipment being used. Try different approaches to create an environment in which everyone can speak and be heard.
4. Encourage employee autonomy.
During the pandemic, millions of people discovered the benefits of time flexibility. They were given back hours of commute time and spent it doing things that brought them joy. It gave them a little taste of self-governance.
Self Determination Theory is a broad framework for human motivation and engagement which asserts that “conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence and relatedness are argued to foster the most volitional and high-quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities.”
As much as possible within the guidelines of your firm’s hybrid work plan, give employees the freedom to work in a way that suits them. This can include when and where to work, as well as the tasks and order of tasks needed to complete their work.
Open a discussion for team members to voice what tasks and projects they do and do not enjoy. Set the stage for a conversation with high levels of candor and clarity.
In a hybrid work environment, there is a new style of oversight of projects and team members; to be effective, leaders have to build mutual trust. This level of trust depends on the employees’ relationship with the leader — which brings us back to the open, genuine communication emphasized in Tip 1 above. This isn’t the only way to build trust, but it is a step that studies show is lacking in the workplace, and also what people are craving.
5. Create a collaborative system that promotes and measures engagement based on all facets of an individual and organizational well-being.
The way we measure well-being now is diversified in its dimensions — it’s a beautiful place in which every person can reach their own potential (see the graphic for one example of these dimensions).
Graphic courtesy of Modern Yinster
Create a visual performance board that highlights every dimension of well-being:
- Identify firm, department and team goals within the most crucial dimensions of well-being. (Use a simple SWAT or gap analysis to aid in goal creation.)
- Identify and add activities to be done on a daily, weekly and/or monthly basis that benefit any or all of the well-being dimensions.
- With your team, identify and keep an eye on key performance indicators throughout the week.
- Have regular huddle meetings led by team members to review the overall well-being of the team and individuals.
Effort, intention and an open mind are keys to increasing engagement. Try something new or bold. Be consistent and give it time. If you’ve tried something with conviction and consistency and it is not producing results, re-evaluate with your team, revise and restart.
Have fun with what you’re trying, too. Communicating openly with others to create a common purpose in the hybrid space will make your people want to stay and work toward growth together.