Many of us begin the new year with the best of intentions and a host of resolutions because we value the opportunity it presents to start anew. If you run a business, the new year is the perfect time to re-engage your workforce and improve your workplace.
To help you find compelling ways to reinvigorate your business, Business.com has compiled a list of strategies and best practices offered by a diverse group of entrepreneurs and business experts. These tips may be just what you need to tackle the roadblocks of the past and reimagine your business's future.
1. Regularly seek feedback.
Most business leaders talk about the value of getting to know what their employees really think. Very few actually make the effort to gather this insight. One of the best – and simplest – ways to do this is just to ask your team what they need from you.
"Good leaders want to know how they can serve their teams better. They don't guess or speculate," said Dr. Randy Ross, CEO of Remarkable and author of Relationomics: Business Powered by Relationships (Feb. 5, 2019).
A survey can also be used to gather employee feedback and learn what areas of the business need improvement as well as what works. Companies can use software products that send and manage surveys so they can collect instantaneous information about employee satisfaction, according to Nazim Ahmed, CEO and founder of WorkshopX.
"With real-time input, we can get to core problems and make sure issues don't get too big to fix," he said. "Having this type of connection to employees ... allows you to make sure you are nurturing a healthy work environment and, ultimately, getting the best out of your team."
Another way to connect with employees and solicit their feedback, especially in companies where work is becoming more fluid and employees may report to different managers throughout the year, is to set up mentoring relationships between top employees and senior executives, suggests Carlos Castelán, managing partner and founder of The Navio Group.
Employees strengthen their skills through regular meetings and one-on-one coaching, but they also have a direct link to company leaders with whom they can share ideas, worries and insight into company culture. "This helps keep employees engaged and allows executives to understand any concerns that may arise so they can be proactively addressed," said Castelán.
2. Be more flexible.
Make this the year you take a step back and give your employees a little more freedom, both in when they work and how they work.
More autonomy in the workplace can be a game-changer, according to Alex Strathdee, solutions consultant at Appian, co-author of Experience Over Degrees (2018) and co-host of the Practically Passionate podcast. "One of the most impactful traits of any company that is able to maintain a low turnover is the ability for workers to be in control of their own decisions."
Strathdee acknowledges that is not always easy to loosen the reigns, but it can be done with a little planning: "The path toward this will include taking a step back as an employer and asking, 'What tasks can I measure by the end result but leave the process for getting them done up to the employee?'"
In an increasingly connected world, a good portion of work can be done from any location, so it's possible to give employees some latitude in shaping their work schedules.
"While office face time is still critical, providing flexibility can be incredibly helpful and dramatically increase your employee happiness and productivity," said Shari Buck, co-founder and chief product officer of Doximity.
Instituting flexible work policies that allow for staggered start and end times, compressed workweeks, telecommuting, and a host of other arrangements show employees that you understand and appreciate their efforts to balance all aspects of their lives, according to Buck, whose own employees all work from home one day a week.
"A meeting-free day in your calendar is a great time to tackle long writing projects, crank through a backlog of emails or get to that dentist appointment you've been putting off," she said.
3. Invest in education.
Make it your business to know your employees' career goals and provide them with the education and training opportunities they need to reach them. Better-educated employees are more loyal, confident, engaged and empowered to work more independently. Therefore, explore the sort of professional development opportunities your business is equipped to provide. These range from online training, conferences, workshops, and employee lunch-and-learns to funding the completion of certification or degree programs at higher education institutions.
Investing in your employees is about much more than increasing their skill bases. It's also about demonstrating to them that you care about their growth as individuals. The hope is that your investment, in turn, will help reignite employees' commitment to your business and re-energize company culture.
"Ultimately, people are the greatest reflection of your brand," said Ross. "When organizations fail to invest heavily in their people, they run a substantial risk. Invest in your people so heavily that they become equipped to go anywhere and be successful. And love them so deeply that they would never want to leave. Then you will have a workforce that will strengthen your brand in the market and engender customer loyalty."
4. Get serious about gender equality.
A lot of companies think of themselves as inclusive workplaces but haven't really taken concrete steps to confront unconscious gender bias in their organizations. With only 25 percent of senior business roles being held by women worldwide, this is clearly still an issue in most companies. Now is the time for your business to work toward achieving gender parity by re-evaluating its policies, practices and institutional norms.
There are many small and large steps you can take to move your business in the right direction in this area, from making sure all your employees have the same access to opportunity, coaching, and mentors to auditing payroll to ensure all employees are being paid fairly and equitably for their work. Additionally, you can encourage gender-blind decision-making in your organization, assign men their fair share of office housework, and help relieve the unfair burden women feel outside of work by offering employer-sponsored child care, generous parental leave and flexible work schedules.
Another key component of creating a more equitable workplace is to address sexual harassment immediately and provide resources to your staff so if they witness inappropriate behavior they have the tools needed to respond to the situation appropriately.
"Train your employees in bystander intervention so they feel empowered to step in when they recognize a potentially harmful situation," said Lauren Slemenda, lead consultant with Outside the Circle Consulting.
5. Create a pleasing office environment.
No matter what line of work you are in, it's easier to be your best in an environment that is comfortable, functional and aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, take the time in the new year to find ways to improve your office space and help employees feel better about a place many of them may consider a second home.
"With increased urbanization, interconnection and technological stimulation, it has never been more important to prioritize the personal well-being (both physical and mental) of your employees," said Jessie Moore of Uncommon. "Given that we spend the majority of our waking hours at work, it would be irresponsible to neglect this aspect of working life."
Moore recommends creating quiet, meditative spaces within the larger office away from noise and screens, using plants to improve air quality and bring in the outdoors, and opening the office up to natural light. "Even introduce some soothing scents such as jasmine or cinnamon that … improve memory retention and concentration," she added.
Additional upgrades include decluttering the office, painting it a soothing color, improving the lighting, adding a snack cabinet or espresso machine, or letting employees personalize their workspaces. Regardless of the changes, including employees' input in the process is key.
"When it comes to making changes in the workplace, my main priority is to protect employee productivity and strengthen team morale," said Lauren Izaks, COO and executive vice president of All Points Public Relations, whose own office recently underwent a renovation. Izaks recommends including employees in the renovation discussions to ensure that changes to the space reflect their needs.
"For me, it's about listening to my employees' concerns ... and genuinely caring about their happiness," she said. "Plus, as most leaders know, it's important to facilitate any officewide change with a sense of transparency."
6. Say goodbye to negativity.
Every business owner or manager has had to deal with a Negative Nellie or two in the workplace. You know who these people are from a mile away, and so do your other employees. Employees with a poisonous attitude suck the air out of a room, destroy morale among your other workers, and negatively impact your vendor and customer relationships. To save your sanity – and your workplace – you need to know when to terminate negative employees.
"Just one toxic person can really wreak havoc on the other people working around them," said Danielle Kunkle, co-owner of Boomer Benefits. "Don't be afraid to let that person go and find a team member with a positive attitude who works well with others."
At times, you may be apprehensive about confronting difficult employees, but avoidance only lets the problem fester. It's time to sever your ties with the employee if you've provided the training and guidance needed to correct the behavior, documented any infractions, and clearly outlined the consequences they would face for failing to make appropriate changes.
Once it's all said and done, you'll be glad to have cleared out the toxicity from your workplace.
"It may cost you some time in training, but you'll never regret the difference in the atmosphere that single change can make inside your office," said Kunkle.
7. Give back.
Corporate philanthropy is good for business, but it's also good for the soul, so make an effort to feed your employees' spirits in the new year by creating opportunities for them to engage in meaningful charitable work.
"Use the success of your business to bring good into the world and your team will benefit too," said Buck.
"Providing service opportunities or tailoring operations around an important cause is an incentive for all to work hard and be happy while doing so," added Katherine Daniel, director of people operations for N2 Publishing.
If this is already part of your company culture, you may want to consider strengthening your efforts or finding innovative new ways to draw in your employees and serve the communities you've decided to support. But if your organization is new to civic engagement, know there are tons of ways to integrate it into the fabric of your workplace.
Companies looking to do good can donate to charitable efforts, organize companywide volunteer days, offer paid time off for service work, match employee donations to charity, and encourage employees to serve on boards of nonprofits or contribute their professional skills in other ways to organizations they value.
Providing employees with pathways to service not only does a lot of good for the community, but it improves morale, boosts company pride, provides leadership opportunities for your team members and creates goodwill toward your organization.
8. Bring on the fun.
You want people to look forward to coming to work and enjoy spending their day with each other, because when people are happy, they tend to do a better job. One way to accomplish this is by making employees' work lives a little more fun and a little less stressful.
"In this way, camaraderie and teamwork get boosted," said Cedrick Capati, online PR specialist with Spiralytics.
What constitutes fun will look different from one workplace to the next. Take the time to get to know your employees and get a sense of what they actually appreciate and enjoy. Some of the more typical options are allowing employees to bring their dogs to work (at least occasionally), using gaming to help everyone unwind, celebrating birthdays and other milestones, enjoying an adult beverage or two on a Friday afternoon, or blasting everyone's favorite music on any given day for a quick singalong.
Another way to encourage creativity and motivate employees is to create friendly office competitions.
"Competition is a great motivator as well as a team-building opportunity," said Matt Edstrom, CMO of GoodLife Home Loans. "Incentivize employees for these competitions by having prizes that your employees will genuinely want to work for."