3 Ways to Keep Morale High in the Era of Hybrid Work

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Many businesses across the US had planned to reopen their offices this summer — but the surging Delta variant has forced many employers to postpone. Now, we’re seeing a wave of adjustments as business leaders create new plans to move forward with remote and hybrid work.

Some businesses, like Google, are planning to cut compensation for individuals who plan to work remotely permanently. Goldman Sachs has notified all bank workers and clients that they must be vaccinated to enter the premises. Other corporations, like Amazon, are even pushing office reopenings back to at least 2022.

It’s a time of unavoidable tumult, as employers must respond to rapidly changing conditions on the ground. But companies don’t have to sacrifice productivity and employee engagement as they navigate the chaos. Here are three ways leaders can boost employee morale even at a time like this:

1. Build Trust With Open Communication

When change is implemented from the top down, with little or no staff consultation, it can be painful for employees. Frequent, honest communication builds trust, and employees who trust their managers to operate in their best interest tend to experience less stress during times of change and uncertainty.

Building trust isn’t easy in any environment, but it’s particularly challenging in organizations where work is performed 100 percent remotely. Ideally, top management should deliver critical messages directly to all employees and invite questions from anyone in the organization, regardless of seniority or tenure. Even sharing that there is no new information can alleviate stress among employees. When employees see that they will receive information as it becomes available, they won’t fret that management makes decisions in the background.

Management should also demonstrate a capacity to adjust plans when new evidence and input arise. Employees appreciate it when leaders can admit that previously communicated plans no longer work in the current environment.

2. Prioritize Employee Well-Being

Another significant factor to consider is employee mental health, especially with regard to feelings of isolation and the rising risk of burnout.

According to MindEdge’s State of Remote Work 2021 report, fears of missing out on camaraderie with colleagues are among the top concerns of workers adapting to hybrid work models. Additionally, the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of Americans have had feelings of depression since the onset of the pandemic, and 18 percent feel anxious, nervous, or on edge 5-7 days of the week.

But the news isn’t all bad: MindEdge’s 2021 report found that 24 percent of respondents feel working remotely has positively affected their emotional and mental health, compared to only 12 percent who said the same in last year’s report. These data points show that employees are starting to embrace the remote work lifestyle and that it can be beneficial to their well-being.

A few ways to prioritize employee mental health during this time include:

  • Make sure managers have frequent check-ins with reports — more often than you would in an in-person setting
  • Reinforce the importance of taking time off for both physical and mental health
  • Consider implementing a no-email policy during select hours so that employees don’t feel they need to be on standby 24/7

3. Don’t Confuse Risk With Reward

Only 24 percent of workers surveyed for MindEdge’s 2021 report said they want to be in the office five days a week — which means mandating a full return to the office may not be the best move for employee engagement and company productivity.

On the other hand, it’s important not to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when evaluating employee performance and determining raises and promotions in a hybrid environment. One-third of respondents to MindEdge’s 2021 survey said they believe in-person workers will do better in terms of raises and promotions than those who choose to work remotely. More telling is the fact that 39 percent of managers expect remote employees to come up short as well.

One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to avoid factoring employees’ locations into their compensation rates, unlike Google’s new policies. Some companies are paying employees the same rates regardless of where they’re located, which will likely give them an edge in the talent market.

Further, remote work can be a chance to shift the focus away from mere hours worked and toward project completion and deliverable turnover. Data shows that employees can be equally if not more productive at home, so why stifle that?

Pandemic or not, one truth that remains is that managers’ decisions have the most impact on employee satisfaction. It’s imperative for company leaders to be nimble and compassionate in times of uncertainty if they wish to retain and motivate the best talent.

Sandy Slager is president of Skye Learning and COO of MindEdge Learning.

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By Sandy Slager