Founder and Principal Analyst, ZK Research with a focus on emerging technologies that enable organizations to transform digitally.
The U.S. is in an odd state of limbo: with nearly seven million cases of Covid-19, almost 200,000 attributable deaths and difficulties developing a safe and viable vaccine, organizations are preparing to support remote workers for the foreseeable future. A large part of this effort involves finding ways to keep workers engaged by promoting their health and wellbeing as people and not just employees.
Many companies are struggling just to survive this pandemic. But other businesses, especially those providing professional services – such as law, accounting and technology firms – haven’t skipped a beat. In fact, some are doing exceptionally well. These organizations need to ensure that surplus is being shared with employees.
In the absence of in-office perks that employees appreciate and expect, companies must reallocate their resources to boost morale while employees work from home. Support is most important in four key domains: financial incentives, technology, physical fitness and mental health.
Many businesses relied on in-office benefits – free meals, unlimited beverages, on-premises gyms – to attract talent. Now that everyone is working from home, companies need to offer replacement benefits to make workers feel whole. There are many creative ways to do this. First, businesses need to step up for their employees financially – whether that’s reimbursement for workday meals, home internet, a new computer or simply issuing an equivalent cash bonus.
Today’s employees are more satisfied working for businesses that also support the larger community. The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey revealed that 76% of millennials regarded businesses as a “force for positive social impact.” The 2020 edition of this survey shows the pandemic further heightened 75% of respondents’ sense of social responsibility.
Many popular meal delivery services offer coupons and corporate discounts that can be used to feed your employees and support workers in the gig economy. Delivering lunch to working parents who may no longer have time to go out and grab food can make a huge difference.
Companies need to think about what technology they can buy their employees to enhance performance and satisfaction. Professional lighting and higher quality cameras can greatly increase engagement in virtual meetings. Some new camera and microphone setups can even follow employees as they move about their home office, encouraging a more dynamic work environment.
Many people join virtual meetings from their computers, but it’s difficult to take notes and pay attention to your colleagues on the same screen. Cisco and Zoom recently announced dedicated devices that can double as a second monitor, giving workers a more efficient desktop. Both companies also now support Facebook Portal, so workers can use their consumer video endpoint for business meetings.
I recommend companies strive to standardize devices in order to simplify troubleshooting for users and IT. It’s also important to have a backup provider in the event of an outage. While Zoom is the popular choice for many organizations, USA Today recently published a list of alternative vendors such as Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and Microsoft Teams.
Physical fitness is an area that companies have historically tended to neglect. At minimum, explore reimbursing your employees’ gym memberships. Gamification goes a long way toward increasing motivation and generating camaraderie. A simple and effective way to promote fitness and fuel better productivity is to host contests that incentivize people to move.
Walking can do wonders for easing the pain and stiffness that can result from sitting at a desk all day. Incentivize your employees to take as many workday steps as possible, in addition to their regular exercise. For example, they might take a walk in the park during meetings that don’t require them to take notes at their desk. Encourage managers to promote virtual team contests that get employees moving. Employees need to be physically fit to be mentally fit and it’s up to their company to ensure that happens.
Virtual events are a great way to bridge the gap between charitable giving and physical fitness. For example, the Michael J. Fox Foundation recently hosted a virtual bike race to support research for Parkinson’s disease. By promoting virtual fitness events internally as well as matching employee fundraising, companies can foster a strong sense of unity and purpose.
You should always provide mental health services to your employees, but during a pandemic, it’s essential to expand access. Furthermore, lack of social engagement is a silent killer for many companies. Once employees become disengaged, they become far less productive.
Video communication can help mitigate social isolation. If you have one of these platforms, it’s helpful to require that employees use video to build and maintain better relationships. Even though being on camera can be awkward at first, most people experience appreciable benefits once they get over their initial discomfort.
Pre-pandemic, most companies had all-hands meetings once every month or two. When most of your workers are remote, however, consider having company-wide virtual meetings at least once every two weeks.
Supporting employee mental health often comes down to managing differently. Leaders need to understand the position their employees are in. For example, many companies have taken for granted that they could simply keep the same schedule when they switched to remote work. But for employees with kids, it’s difficult to be fully present for meetings in the morning and early afternoon while they’re supervising virtual learning.
A silver lining of Covid-19 is that companies now have an opportunity to become a lot more human. It’s easy enough to overlook an employee’s health and wellbeing when you don’t have to consider the whole person. But when people are working from home, it’s almost impossible to ignore everything people have going on in their lives. The good news is that the more you work for your employees, the more they will work for you, and the healthier your employees are, the healthier your business will be.