Keeping a global workforce engaged in times of crisis

It’s been a challenge for HR professionals everywhere to get employees on board with new ways of working, but how can you maintain engagement and momentum if that workforce is dispersed across the globe? Nicole Sahin offers some advice.

Employee engagement is challenging enough under normal circumstances when face-to-face contact is part of the familiar routine. But, introduce the complexities that result from employees across disparate locations – many of whom are currently working from home – and organisations everywhere must find new ways of nurturing the employer/employee relationship.

Despite the difficulties of maintaining or adapting employee engagement activities during the coronavirus pandemic, the fundamentals remain the same: good company culture with engaged employees leads to a happier workplace.

That’s because, deep down, most people have the same basic needs, and maintaining some key practices can overcome cultural, geographic or separation barriers to help keep employee experience moving in the right direction in these extremely difficult times:

Begin with effective onboarding

Hiring globally can be an intimidating prospect because of the difficulties associated with onboarding employees who are based in different geographic locations. This is such a huge barrier to some businesses that it can impede their growth, because international expansion must prove its worth quickly, and new hires must engage and deliver fast.

It’s important, therefore, to standardise onboarding processes to ensure everyone has the same strong start. But this must also be done with local practices in mind, because an onboarding practice that is helpful in one culture might be harmful in another. So, take the time to study local practices that will set employees up for success wherever they are.

Illustrate what ‘good’ looks like

For employees to effectively engage with company values and thrive in a global environment, the employer should always communicate what “good” looks like.

For example, how people treat each other with respect, dignity and kindness are fundamental values for many modern businesses.

It’s important to take every opportunity to show employees that these values matter and reward them for demonstrating them in their everyday work. So, make sure everyone understands those key cultural points – it will help them feel more involved, and as a result, more engaged.

Over-communicate

To make sure employee engagement has an impact on employees across an entire organisation, apply the ‘rule of seven’ to communication.

This is one of the oldest concepts in marketing, which argues that a prospect needs to see or hear a message at least seven times before they act and relies on the idea that communication is more effective when repeated.

For instance, by sharing and repeating company news internally via emails, all-hands meetings and via the company’s internal website, it’s possible to strike a good balance between the health and wellbeing information we all need to clear about at the moment, and the team-building messages that are such an important part of a healthy workplace culture.

Make a long-term commitment to video

Many people have experienced first-hand the recent increase in the use of video meeting services. Zoom, for example, has experienced a massive surge in demand as people try to maintain some level of face-to-face contact until they can return to the office.

This has always been important in general when talking with employees across different locations, but especially so when communicating with someone who doesn’t share the same first language.

Bridging these divides is so much easier when you can see the other person. But, one of the positive things to come out of this situation is that a lot of global organisations will be currently gaining much needed experience in using video communications technology.

Even when the current crisis subsides, video will continue to be prevalent in helping global teams to connect regularly and more effectively regardless of location.

Celebrate success

One of the ways in which international businesses of all sizes can build and maintain company culture is to celebrate each other – it’s a great way of helping people to feel more connected, listened to and engaged.

While video is a more personal way of breaking down barriers, using other tools such as Slack can help bring employees together and keep up team spirit, continue to build community and learn more about each other.

There are a lot of options, from different channels with interests such as cooking or discussions about pets, to pairing people with a new colleague every few weeks so the team can continue to connect, and even have a virtual coffee chat together.

It’s this kind of activity that can help foster a positive outlook, which is a particularly important balance to strike when people are coping with such worrying and unfamiliar circumstances.

Don’t forget that being global isn’t a barrier to employee engagement – the two can go hand-in-hand. With the right approach, a high-growth, highly profitable global team can have happy clients and highly engaged employees.

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Nicole Sahin

About Nicole Sahin

Nicole Sahin is CEO and founder of Globalization Partners
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