Employee engagement is essential for any business. 71% of managers believe employee engagement is key to a company’s success. However, employee engagement has suffered drastically this year due to the pandemic and the sudden shift to working remotely. 

The world of 9-5 is going away. Even before the pandemic, the number of people working remotely has grown by 44 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this shift. The massive and unprecedented change in work culture has brought forth many challenges, especially when it comes to employee engagement.

These challenges have also set forth a precedent for managing employees in these trying times. Let’s have a look at some of the top employee engagement trends for 2021.

Top Employee Engagement Trends for 2021

1. Flexible Work Environment

“Over 70% of people would prefer a more flexible work model, with one or two days per week at least at home. Pre-COVID, it was exactly the other way around. So that has changed dramatically.” – Dr. Michael Ilgner, Global Head of Human Resources at Deutsche Bank.

76% of employees consider flexible working hours as a priority incentive while choosing a company. Work-life balance is not a new concept by any means, but its importance is highlighted in 2021. However, employers across all industries have had to adapt to a remote model in 2020 due to COVID, and many have decided to stick to it for the foreseeable future. 

For instance, companies like Google have allowed employees to work from home till September 2021. It’s only fair that around 78% of managers think that flexible work schedules and telecommuting will be the most effective means of increasing employee retention in the coming years.

2. Strategic E-Meetings

According to a 2019 report, more than 19% of employees were actively disengaged. 

When is an employee disengaged anyway? Disengagement takes place when they are not taking an active interest in their job and are dissatisfied with it. 

For instance, some employees may be engaged with their job earlier, these unprecedented circumstances may have changed their opinion. While many love working remotely, when asked about their biggest struggle, 21% cited loneliness

The lack of interaction is one of the reasons, disorganized meeting schedules contribute to it as well. For instance, more than 70% of employees suffered from Zoom Anxiety in 2020.

There must be active communication between your remote team, you also need to have a strategic approach. Sit with your team to fix a schedule that works best for everyone and plan meetings accordingly.

While you’re at it, don’t forget about informal catch-ups and team-building activities. For instance, you can have a meeting with no agenda, where everyone comes together to chat, or you can host a virtual board-game night to make things more interesting.

3. Adapt to Changing Expectations

If you would have asked your employees about a perk that they’d like in 2020, they’d probably say access to gym memberships, team luncheons, team trips, and so on. But what do you do if you can’t access anything due to a pandemic? Now their expectations have changed drastically.

For instance, one of the main changes in 2020 was that employees demanded flexibility and consideration of their personal circumstances, and rightfully so. Employees had to work from home without any proper infrastructure in most cases. 

Whether it is an unexpected power outage or lack of private space while working, employees had to navigate this and expect flexibility from employers. Similarly, employers are replacing outside perks with virtual ones like an online membership to Kindle or access to music libraries for ad-free music at work. 

On the other hand, employers are also investing in providing ergonomic workspaces to make work-from-home more accessible and comfortable for employees, and Coursera to upskill virtually. As we step into 2021, employees expect that these expectations will continue to be met.

One such example is Udgama, a startup that focuses on learning culture and is working towards changing how things are done in the technology industry. Before the pandemic, they used to keep their employees engaged by holding weekly book discussions or would watch their favourite TED talk together. 

Instead of doing away with this activity, they continued to hold meetings where someone would narrate the summary of a book every week. The team at Udgama was also given a subscription to Audible and unlimited Kindle accounts to facilitate this further.

4. Increased Focus on Employee Efforts

58% of employees feel that receiving recognition for their efforts improves employee engagement.  Whether your company is working remotely or on-site, employees feel valued only when their work is recognized, and they are appreciated. 

However, it’s not practical to pat employees on the back for their efforts via a computer screen. Thankfully, cloud tools like Slack have made employee recognition easier. Companies like Buffer have recognised the importance of such tools and integrated them to improve employee engagement. 

For instance, Buffer uses HeyTaco! which is a Slackbot that gives you the ability to reward your employees in the form of ‘tacos,’ which can be redeemed later. Want to know more about this and how other companies have a great remote work culture? Click here!

5. Work for Wellness

If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it is the importance of health and wellness.

Employers should pay special attention to their employees’ health because 29% of employees feel their work lives negatively affect their physical health.

It’s impossible to replace the perk of an in-office fitness center, but as an employer, you can change your approach to suit your remote employees’ needs. For instance, you can give your employees a subscription for virtual workout or yoga sessions. 

Or you can do what Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) did and launch a Mental Health Ambassador Programme where people can reach out (even remotely) if they’re overwhelmed and need support. Similarly, startups are now focusing on providing comprehensive benefits like the ones we provide at Plum

These benefits include fitness memberships, OPD cover, and access to mental health professionals along with health insurance.

In The End

Many employees are coming out of a rough year, and 2021 may also come with a lot of uncertainty, whether for their work or health. At this time, it’s crucial they can rely on you, their employer, for the support that goes beyond work. 

These employee engagement trends point to the drastic shift due to COVID-19 and have shaped a new foundation that focuses on empathy and compassion-driven employee engagement policies. 

Whether it’s something as small as planning meetings better or something extensive as creating a wellness program, even the smallest changes can have a drastic impact on employee engagement in 2021.