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Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of talent is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage.

Greg Harris, President, and CEO of Quantum Workplace

COVID-19 has made a long-lasting impact all over the world. While 2020 was all about making it through the pandemic and surviving, 2021 is about the way forward. 

Among many things, the pandemic has brought forth a permanent shift in how we approach company culture, specifically employee engagement. As the world inches closer to a post-pandemic era, it’s important to ask ourselves about the future of employee engagement after the pandemic. 

In the pre-COVID scenario, employee engagement was relatively straightforward. Under normal circumstances, tools like bonuses, healthcare, etc. were quite effective in increasing employee engagement and satisfaction. However, the pandemic has turned this around. 

The Impact of COVID-19 on Employee Experience 

Many companies across the globe had to layoff employees, scale down their operations and so much more. From shifting to a remote-work setting to being concerned about their health as well as their income source, even if their company was doing well, employees had to face many uncertainties during the pandemic.

New research from Ohio State University highlights how this not only has obvious implications for one's mental health and well-being but also one's engagement at work.

"A global pandemic can lead some people to think about their own mortality, which will understandably make them more stressed and less engaged at work," the researchers explain.

This resulted in the loss of employee morale and engagement. While companies usually relied on annual surveys and reports to judge employee engagement, these traditional methods were no longer enough. A Kentik survey of networking professionals worldwide found that 47% reported feeling “more productive” while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic times. 

However, 20% reported feeling “less productive.” 33% said they have had “no change in productivity.” And 51% expressed concern for their work-life balance. The post-pandemic world asks for a more holistic approach to measure and increase employee engagement. Let’s have a look at what this means for your organization.

1. Building a Culture of Trust 

Due to lockdowns all over the world, the majority of the workforce had to work from home. Unsurprisingly, there were many who found the new situation comfortable and many that didn’t. Even with all the challenges, 77 percent of the workforce wants to continue working from home, at least once a week even after the pandemic is over.

Without someone physically present to monitor their work, it was up to the employees to meet their deadlines with limited external motivation. This developed a culture of trust among employees and the managers. 

Now that restrictions have eased up and many companies have resumed their on-site operations, the increased trust will play a huge role in employee engagement after the pandemic. 

Studies have shown that nearly three-quarters of employees believe being empowered is important to their engagement with their job. It’s crucial to stop yourself from going back to pre-COVID workplace regulations and policies. While it’s important to have some control over their output, it’s also crucial that employees retain the feeling of ownership towards their work. 

2. Increase in Recognition

Every generation responds differently to different situations. As more and more Gen-Y and Gen-Z enter the workplace, it’s only natural that their expectations from their employers are different. Recent research by ManpowerGroup suggests they will make up approximately 24 percent of the global workforce.

85% of millennials said they’d prefer to telecommute 100% of the time. 50% said they would be okay with telecommuting some of the time. Similarly, the approach to workplace benefits and rewards has also changed. While traditional benefits like increased pay and healthcare are still valued, employees expect a more holistic approach to rewards and recognition.

 When there are countless factors like lack of work-life balance due to remote work, uncertainty about health, and anxiety, personalized recognition will go a long way.  Employee motivation plays a huge role in employee engagement. It’s crucial to keep your employees motivated with the right rewards and recognition program at your organization.

3. Integration of Technology

If you think about employee interaction before COVID-19, the solution was as simple as a water-cooler or a common space to interact. However, such solutions were no longer viable in a remote setting. In turn, technology came to the rescue. From video calling apps like Zoom to communication platforms like Slack, technology transformed how employees interact with each other during the pandemic. 

Did these apps exist before the pandemic? Yes. Were these being used before? Yes. However, their importance has been amplified due to the pandemic. Integration of technology for employee engagement went from being optional to a necessity. You only need to look to companies like Gitlab and Buffer to learn how to get your remote work culture right.

Key Takeaway 

The tying elements of these points are the increased need for human interaction and empathy. The past year brought forth personal and professional challenges for many and the coming year provides an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow. 

For this reason, employee experience is now more important than ever. Employee engagement after a pandemic will focus on connecting with the employees.  It will also provide an opportunity for employers to invest in a holistic approach to improve employee engagement and satisfaction in the long run.