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2020 was a year like no other, as the COVID-19 pandemic transformed how businesses interact with customers. However, it also changed the relationship between employers and their employees. Those who could work from home did, and companies scrambled to identify how best to interact with a mostly remote workforce.

Communication is critical to keeping remote workers engaged. “Businesses are trying to improve the employee experience and they have much to gain in doing so,” says Joe Shuster, AVP GTM Leader of Digital Experience North America for HCL. “There’s an opportunity for employers to improve the employee experience and drive engagement, which will lead to improved efficiency. But to do that, companies need data and connections between employees across the globe to drive better collaboration and insights.”

Gary Schoch, VP GTM Leader for Global CX, Digital Experience and Commerce Software for HCL, agrees. “Companies have failed to invest in digital — they don't serve their employees the way they serve their customers.”

As companies look ahead to a cautious reopening of their offices in the coming months, they’ll need to prioritize engagement alongside when to restock the communal fridge. Engagement and culture will only increase in importance as companies try to re-create their in-person company culture while staying attuned to the needs of their remote workers. “Your business should treat the employee experience as a design problem and solve for that,” says Schoch.

Engagement as an Instrument of Retention

Employee engagement has taken on different aspects during the pandemic. Companies are no longer just places to work. By adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, companies have become advisors around employee health and well-being. Demonstrating and communicating positive and proactive responses to the pandemic can boost engagement levels and aid in retaining employees, while inaction and sluggish communications will have the opposite effect. “How companies reacted to the pandemic shows commitment to their workforce,” says Schoch. “By showcasing that commitment on a portal or through internal communications, employers can use engagement as a retention tool.”

“Treat the employee experience as a design problem and solve for that.”
—Gary Schoch, HCL

Transferring knowledge is one of the most important aspects of developing employees and improving the employee experience. But with in-person events extremely curtailed, employees need fresh ways of absorbing that knowledge. If employees are lucky, their employers have replaced in person onboarding with digital dashboards or virtual meetings. If not, employees can’t fully access the knowledge they need to do their jobs.

To increase engagement, companies should strive to make institutional knowledge available to everyone. “Companies need to get institutional knowledge out of the brain and on to the portal,” says Schoch. “Otherwise you risk your employees leaving for greener pastures. Lack of proper tools and robust information all contribute to employees keeping one eye open for the next thing.”

Communication Fosters a Sense of Being and Belonging

With employees unable to interact face-to-face, digital communication emerged as a mission-critical tool. No longer could employees walk to the other side of the office if they needed a question answered. “A lot of people were uncomfortable with video meetings during the first few months of 2020, but they adapted,” says Shuster. “Work cultures pivoted as people became more comfortable working from home and managing their time differently. It will be up to leaders to ensure that comfort remains and employees continue to feel connected to their organization.”

Effective communication and knowledge sharing will be key ways companies keep employees engaged. By providing central repositories with career paths and intra-office job opportunities, employers can empower employees with the knowledge to make more informed choices about their careers. Making it explicit how their current job leads to the next one leads to employees being more willing to stay with the company long term. “Job hopping leads back to employees suffering from negative experiences and low engagement levels,” says Schoch.

Conclusion

The next six months will be almost as uncertain as the first six months of the pandemic, as companies decide how best to approach a return to the office. “There will be a desire to get people in the same room, but realistically things have changed,” says Shuster. “Companies need new strategies and tools to address these shifts.”

For many companies, the employee experience was a low-priority item with little to no ownership among senior leadership. While the pandemic forced many employers to act on increasing their digital capabilities, now is the time to revisit the employee experience and see how it can improve for the new normal.

Change will be necessary. “Improving the employee experience needs to be a program and an investment,” says Schoch. “You need to put thought, energy and effort behind driving this kind of change.”

Gary Schoch and Joe Shuster discuss the employee experience more in-depth in their webinar Making the Complex Possible. Watch it on-demand here.