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How To Enable And Engage A Remote Workforce

September 2020
Daniel Casteel
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Driving intentional employee performance in a new business environment

Every organization universally seeks to create a workplace that inspires its employees to generate results and growth. With the abrupt changes brought on by this global pandemic, employees were, in many instances, pushed to a remote workforce overnight. As productivity and results continued to improve, it became apparent to many that working from home may soon become the rule instead of the exception. And so, in this remote workforce, organizational leaders may find themselves wondering how they can enable employees to perform at optimum levels while keeping them engaged in the organization’s values, mission, and culture.

In recent interviews with Robin Everhart (SVP, CHRO & Transformation Officer at Louisiana-Pacific Corporation), Jennell Evans (Mindset Coach, Trainer, Speaker, and Co-founder of Strategic Interactions, Inc.), and Stevens J. Sainte-Rose (Chief Human Resources Officer at Parallel and Founder of Chase the Experiences, Executive Coaching and Diversity), I gleaned their insights into how their organizations are promoting engagement and enablement in a distributed workforce model.

Enabling Success From Afar

While there are certainly some challenges, there is an abundance of positives in a remote-working model. Working from home offers an employee more flexibility and a working environment uniquely tailored to an individual’s needs. A recent study found that remote workers are more productive, working an average of three weeks more per year. Employees who work remotely don’t have to contend with the hustle of getting ready and budgeting time for a commute to and from work. Without the time constraints of being in an office from 9 to 5, they can instead create a better work-life balance and work more efficiently. An employee in a comforting, familiar environment generates a healthier, more satisfied contributor, which is statistically proven to drive productivity.

With this in mind, there are certainly some challenges that have to be addressed. With all this productivity and without the limitations of being in the office for a defined time period, employees are working from sunup to sundown.

“The reality is that remote employees are facing burnout,” says Sainte-Rose. “They are lacking the physical and mental break of leaving the office and commuting home, and therefore lacking an opportunity to take a physical and mental break at the end of every day. We are seeing anxiety and mental stress in a different way than we have before. We’ve put a lot of focus on enhancing our EAP programs, so they have access to more mental and emotional support systems.”

This is perhaps the most critical piece of employee enablement in this new work environment. Many people are facing an unprecedented mental load, and this lends itself to poor mental health functions and anxiety. Anxious, overwrought minds cannot function at full capability, and employers must be mindful of this and amass organizational resources to help combat this. The innovation of apps is also helpful in this space; there is a plethora of talk-therapy platforms as well as guided meditations that can be particularly beneficial for employees facing a heavy mental load.

“The key is facing this with mindfulness,” Evans says. “Mindfulness helps develop mental immunity. It’s about being self-aware and separating ourselves from our negative thoughts and feelings. Self-awareness is the way to access your own ability to observe your thoughts and feelings without giving them power over your wellbeing”.

Capturing a culture that prioritizes this mindfulness and this meditative mental health focus takes a concerted effort, but the benefits can revolutionize and reinvigorate the staff. In this vein, it is important for organizations to find and implement tools that can help them assess their employee’s mental wellbeing. Even something as simple as a net promoter score run at the end of the day can be tallied in a meaningful way that can give leaders invaluable insight into how employee satisfaction and enablement can be improved.

Engagement 

Enabling employees to succeed in this remote environment isn’t enough. Employers have to be conscious of how they can promote inclusivity and generate an organizational culture when the staff cannot come together to do so organically. The critical piece here is promoting engagement. Keeping employees engaged in the mission and values of an organization can be challenging when they are siloed due to working remotely.

“We have a strong culture at LP, and we value it,” Everhart says. “It has always been based on that in-person interaction and collaboration. Through this crisis, we have implemented virtual townhall meetings and are routinely engaging in larger Zoom meetings with our employees. So while initially there was some concern, we’ve been able to become more inclusive in solidifying our culture through these meetings. Employees are actually getting more from us now than they had prior.”

The idea of a Zoom meeting is probably unanimously familiar, and it has contributed to both productivity and culture. However, there has been another benefit: authenticity.

As Everhart points out, “This informality has certainly created better connectivity because it creates a level of authenticity, and that has resonated significantly throughout our organization. We are now doing these meetings from the comfort of our homes, and we are dressed more casually and are less focused on cultivating a facade. It’s created an amazing human dynamic. While still being very professional, there is a new level of openness that generates a higher level of trust.”

That trust is invaluable and statistically significant when measuring employee engagement. Trust lays the groundwork for an organization’s integrity. It can be difficult to build this type of trust and deep relationship virtually, and this authenticity goes a long way in overcoming this.

That said, the majority of employees still long for some level of in-person interaction. Managers are now faced with an extremely challenging and everchanging landscape in which they must balance the safety and wellbeing of the entire team with the individual team members’ needs for belonging and inclusion. In this new reality, innovation and versatility in leadership will separate those managers who excel from those who are entrapped in the command and control practices of the past. Managers who are fully present for their employees, staying acutely attuned to their individual needs, enabling them for success through engagement and reinforcement of the organizational mission, vision, and values will be the champions of success in the future.

The Future Of The Office

Without a doubt, executive leadership around the world has realized that remote working will be more prevalent in the future. The obvious benefits of lowering overhead costs with corresponding productivity are at the forefront in the boardroom. However, perhaps the biggest benefit of moving to a distributed workforce is that hiring managers can prioritize talent rather than location.

“Our philosophy is for many of our strategic and functional roles ‘talent supersedes location’,” says Sainte-Rose. “To be able to get the best talent in those types of roles, we need to be flexible in terms of where they’re based. That continues to be our philosophy. At the same time, we realize that we have production, manufacturing, and retail facilities that require employees to be in locations every day.” Moving remotely opens the door to ensure the organization has the best talent possible without the necessity to relocate.

But still the question remains: What is the future of the office? Many organizations find themselves contemplating a hybrid office model, with two to three days spent in office coupled with the ability to work remotely the rest of the time. While the right model for every enterprise will be highly dependent on their unique circumstance, a renewed focus on creating an employee experience that enables employees to thrive given their specific situation will be a recipe for success going forward. Authentic leaders who engage with their employees, communicate organizational expectations, promote the organization’s cultural values, and emphasize the wellbeing of employees will be critical to future success.

There have been and will continue to be many shifts throughout these unprecedented times. What we do know is that the leadership paradigms of the past, as well as the employee value proposition, must be reexamined and in many cases realigned to achieve sustainable long-term success in new business realities. Authentic and innovative leadership is in greater demand now than ever before.

About the Author:

Daniel Casteel is a customer-focused, execution-driven trusted adviser to boards and senior management who is focused on the Industrial and Consumer Products and Services Practices within the firm. Daniel understands today’s requirement that leaders be innovative, adaptive, and agile, while maintaining the highest integrity and ethics. In this regard, he is passionate about executive assessment and selection, succession planning, and organizational design optimization and the crucial role these programs play in enabling attainment of his clients’ strategic business plans.

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