How Business Owners Can Successfully Navigate Uncertain Times

From full national lockdown and the gradual easing of constraints, to a three-tiered regional system of restrictions and then back into another national lockdown. It’s been a long and arduous time for everyone since COVID-19 first reached our shores earlier this year, and even more so for the many hardworking business owners up and down the country trying to keep disconnected workforces operating smoothly.

While the on-going disruption can make even the hardiest of proprietors feel as though they are fighting a losing battle, with the right tools and strategy in place not only will they be able to cope better, but in many cases, they will be able to develop deeper bonds with their employees.

When combined, such benefits will help to make a business stronger when things finally return to some level of normality. Fundamental to all of this is keeping employee engagement levels high and having a robust feedback program in place to understand the lever and drivers to improve wellbeing, satisfaction and motivation. 

The value of employee engagement for both present and future success 

To explain why this is the case, you need to start by defining what employee engagement is, what an engaged employee looks like and the benefits that high levels of staff engagement offer for a company.  

For those unfamiliar with the term, employee engagement is all about the relationship between an employee and the business they work for and is primarily focused on the emotional commitment that an individual has to their company and its goals. The belief being, that the more engaged the employee, the more motivated and productive they will be in contributing to the overall success of that business. 

An engaged employee is someone who understands and believes in the direction in which that company is going. They appreciate how their role affects and contributes to the company’s purpose, mission and objectives, and they genuinely want that business to succeed. 

It's no surprise that employee engagement is considered to be incredibly valuable due to its ability to positively benefit so many areas of a business. While studies have demonstrated how high engagement levels in staff can generate 26% higher revenue per employee, it’s been equally proven to help generate greater efficiencies, reduce staff turnover and even benefit customer retention rates. 

Maintaining high levels of employee engagement is even more important at the present time given the extra strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on staff and employer relationships, with more employees than ever before working remotely, presenting a myriad of new HR challenges. 

During this period, particularly earlier in the year when the working arrangements of employees literally changed overnight, many staff were unsure about where to turn, unclear about what resources were available to them and many worried that they wouldn’t have jobs to go to when they woke up in the morning. 

In such circumstance's maintaining effective communication is crucial to reassuring staff and keeping your business moving forward. A voice of employee program plays a vital role in this communication strategy enabling business owners to distribute surveys to gather feedback from their employees in just a few clicks and quickly understand wants and needs and the areas where they need to make rapid change. 

How an Employee Engagement Strategy Can Help You to Effectively Manage a Remote Workforce

Feedback programs can cover a multitude of areas helping managing director’s to better understand employees’ satisfaction with their jobs, working conditions, management and your wider organisational issues such as alignment with values and vision. Having a robust feedback tool in place can also help to handle challenging situations such as having to manage an entirely remote workforce.  

When employees are widely dispersed, rather than working under one roof, it’s more difficult to see what’s going on with everyone at once. When you combine this with working during a pandemic, where rules can change frequently and you need to put new procedures in place at pace, it’s even more important to have your finger on the pulse about how your employees are feeling and coping.  

There are many areas you need to think about when you’re checking in with a remote workforce. From how they are adjusting to working from home, whether that’s due to issues such as isolation or trying to deal with family demands or other distractions, to more practical issues, such as whether they have the right equipment, workspace and other resources to work effectively. 

Then of course there’s the issue of addressing their concerns about returning to the office, once the government has deemed it is safe to do so and their employer has put the correct safety procedures in place.   

In this scenario surveys are a vital part of your employee engagement strategy enabling you to gather data at speed across the workforce to understand how your employees are coping and have everything they need to remain happy, engaged and productive.  

It’s essential to plan out how you will deploy your employee engagement strategy 

While all the points we’ve discussed can impact the level of success that you’re able to achieve with your employee engagement strategy, it’s just as important to have an effective plan in place about how you will deploy it. Not only will this ensure that you focus on what’s most important, it will also help you to achieve the best results and sustain your engagement strategy over the long term.  

The five areas you will need to look at include:  

  • Defining how you will communicate your strategy:  

Businesses often fail to adequately communicate their engagement strategy from the outset, which can limit what they are able to achieve. Subsequently, one of the most valuable pieces in your engagement strategy will be a robust plan of how your company will communicate it to employees, leadership and other stakeholders. Ideally this plan needs to include the following elements. 

       i     The importance of engagement to your organisation based on tangible outcomes such as turnover and profit, which is important to CFO’s and board members for financial sign off. Don’t forget to include why it's important for staff to participate and what initiatives their feedback will help to drive. 

       ii    Details of what will be measured - such as eNPS, absenteeism and productivity and other relevant organisational metrics and how it will be measured - such as through surveys and existing employer data. 

      iii    Detailed results of the employee engagement survey and timeframes 

      iv    Details concerning the specific actions that the organisation will take to address the results of the engagement survey, the intended goals of these actions and the parties involved 

      v    How well the company is progressing towards these goals and next steps 

  • Identify areas for action:  

Given that most businesses only have a finite number of resources available to them, trying to address every possible item identified by your employees as requiring action following an engagement survey is not possible. A better approach is to strategically determine where to focus your resources for maximum impact - essentially identifying the greatest drivers of your employee engagement, such as those aspects of the work environment that are most critical in determining employees’ level of engagement. However, whatever these drivers are you still need to ensure you have the available resources to effectively address them.  

It’s also worth noting that these drivers of engagement can change over time, as your company evolves. Drivers of engagement can also vary across groups of employees. You need to take this into account when analysing the results of different engagement surveys.  

  • Identify measurable outcomes: 

When your workforce is engaged, they produce tangible outcomes such as increased profitability and reduced staff turnover, which are the ultimate goals of an engagement strategy and common metrics against which success is evaluated. To identify the best and most relevant outcomes for your business, include input from senior leadership and other stakeholders, and then consider how these outcomes align with your organisational goals, mission, strategy and values. 

  • Devise an action plan: 

It’s also important to outline your company’s engagement related goals, which you can detail in an action plan. It’s essential to ensure that any goals you identify are SMART - meaning that they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, and that they are aligned with the strategic initiatives of your business and complement, inform and enhance your strategy.  

  • Sustain your engagement strategy 

Finally, any engagement strategy needs to specify how your engagement efforts will be sustained over time. Best practice tips to help create an environment that is conducive to this include:  

       i       Measuring consistently: measurement of engagement, its outcomes and progress towards goals needs to occur on a frequent and predictable basis. As part of your strategy, you could for example specify that engagement is measured biannually in March and September and tied to organisational outcomes such as the productivity figures from the first and third quarters of your financial year.  

       ii      Connecting engagement to your business results: communicating how engagement influences tangible business outcomes helps build and sustain a stronger business case for an engagement strategy. It can also help when employers communicate to their employees how their engagement efforts will improve the quality of the organisational environment. 

       iii     Seeking input from your staff: an engagement strategy is more likely to be sustained when employees are actively involved. For example, you could think about hosting a quarterly forum to provide staff with information about progress towards any engagement-related goals, while also giving them the option to provide feedback about these goals.  

       iv     Obtaining support from your leadership: to work effectively engagement efforts also need the support of your leaders, integrating engagement goals into organisational policies, and encouraging decisions with the ultimate goal of making employee engagement a core business value. 

Having the tools to work effectively now and cope with any future uncertainties

While potential game changing vaccines to COVID-19 are now starting to emerge, there are still several more stages we need to go through before we can be clear about a timeline for administering them. Until then we still need to abide by the social distancing rules and continue operating in an environment of ongoing uncertainty and fluctuating restrictions as we try to keep the virus in check.  

For business owners trying to keep their remote employees and company operating smoothly, a comprehensive employee engagement strategy is a great tool to support in navigating this continuing uncertainty, as it’s built on the foundation of consistent communication and giving a voice to your employees to drive change. And with modern engagement tools such as online surveys tools, that can be easily achieved whether your workforce is based on site or remote. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter where your employees are working, if you have an effective way of reaching out, communicating, identifying and addressing any issues that they may have. This is because you will have the agility and resilience to cope with changes in working patterns, whether that’s working from home, or a return to the office, when it deemed safe to do so, plus any further uncertainties that may come your way, helping to keep your employees productive and your business moving forward.