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How To Retain Employees During COVID-19

Robert Moutal
Robert Moutal

Many employees find it difficult to cope with the challenges presented by working from home. Here are some tips to retain employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

As a co-founder of an online company, I recognize the severity of the present situation and the struggles many businesses are facing. Brick-and-mortar companies are forced to operate remotely, and many employees are unable to cope with the challenges presented by working from home. 

Right now we are living in a time of uncertainty, speculation and economic recession. Naturally, this puts a significant strain on businesses and employees alike. Perhaps most interesting in this recession has been the rise of telecommuting and remote work. While they offer a level of independence and flexibility not found in traditional jobs, they also come with some unexpected problems.

The risk of losing top talent

Turnover is a costly issue in the best of times. In times of crisis, losing your best employees will cost you more than money. The best employees lift others up and guide them, helping your entire organization achieve more than it otherwise could. Losing such valuable players leaves your organization vulnerable to any external threats – including the current pandemic.

In this shifting climate, it's critically important for companies to keep track of how their staff is feeling, what they need and how they think the current situation should be handled.

We all know how hard it is to communicate these things in the best of times. With so many people working remotely, and with the inability to even look people in the eye when talking to them, meaningful communication has become as important as it is difficult.

Nevertheless, those companies that find a way to overcome these challenges will weather the storm better than those that don't!

A tale of telecommuting

Working remotely is not a new concept. It's long been promoted by startups and Silicon Valley giants alike. It's seen as the green alternative to commuting and as a means of revolutionizing the way companies work by giving their employees more freedom.

For some businesses, adopting remote work will come naturally. Their staff will find it easy to work at their own pace with little supervision, and their productivity and job satisfaction will increase. In these cases, remote work will be right for the business and its employees.

Even companies that struggle to adopt remote-work practices, however, should consider finding a way to make it happen; a study from OwlLabs found that some employees like the benefits of remote work so much that they're willing to accept less money to work from home. According to the study, 34% of workers were willing to take a 5% cut, 24% agreed on 10%, and 20% went for a cut bigger than 10%.

Especially in times of recession, working through the kinks of remote work can be the difference between weathering a storm and coming out ahead. Finding ways to meet head-on the challenges that employees find with remote work – the increased distractions and the loss of social engagement, for two examples – can lead to not only higher morale but also to increased revenue.

The benefits of engaged employees

As calls for social distancing increased during the height of the recent crisis, remote work was seen as a linchpin in keeping the economy from stalling. However, too little attention was paid to the challenges employees faced while working from home. Sometimes, these difficulties were out of the company's control – you can't help it if your employees feel stuck in a small apartment in a big city!

Sometimes, however, the dissatisfaction your employees have felt with remote work is in your control. One of the best things you can do to increase satisfaction in a team that works remotely is to work to keep them engaged not only with their assigned tasks but also emotionally with your company.

Adopting a remote team policy that focuses on engagement will help decrease the frustration, stress and dissatisfaction many employees feel.

Work to establish or reinforce an emotional bond with your staff. Employees who feel they are in a safe place and can offer ideas and insights will be better able to adapt to their changing circumstances, and are more likely to remain with a company through quarantines, lockdowns and other challenges.

At the same time, happy employees are more productive, loyal and bigger brand advocates. Happiness in the workplace not only increases productivity but also keeps your best employees more engaged

How to keep employees engaged

There are several keys to keeping employees engaged.

Assess engagement

Continuously collecting feedback (using a suggestion box, one-on-one meetings, or employee engagement tools) can help a company assess and improve employee engagement, and discover problems that might be hard to measure and diagnose. If a situation arises, your employees might suggest a solution or at least pinpoint where the problem lies.

Communicate thoroughly

Communication is paramount in times of crisis. To retain employees, you should be honest about what your company is doing during the hard times, and how that will affect your staff and their work. Keeping secrets is the easiest way to destroy any credibility and trust you worked years to build. That's why regular team meetings in Zoom or Meets are a must. Right now it's easy to imagine the worst, and if you're not upfront telling your employees what is happening and how your company plans to deal with it, you risk losing them. 

Have a flexible remote policy

Your employees are not robots, and their work is not without its limitations. Based on the feedback they give you in the team meetings, try to understand where they struggle and offer a constructive solution like setting small goals instead of larger objectives. Listening to what your employees are saying will not only help you get them to worry less but will also position your company as a responsible and trustworthy employer.

Recognize talent 

That you can't personally be with your employees doesn't mean you can’t recognize the great work they're doing every single day. Now more than ever, this is of utmost importance in order to retain those who chose to stay behind and help your company get through the crisis. This is important when the staff is coping with the challenge of being unable to physically interact with each other or management. 

Provide for professional growth

In some ways, the current situation is fortunate, as it may present a very good opportunity for employees to upgrade their skills. Employers should recognize that and offer possibilities for online certifications and skill development. Your top talent would not be where it is if they hadn't worked to improve constantly. This is why it's very important for them to know that such options exist and how they can take advantage of them.

Tips for remote employee retention

Stress and fear during the pandemic are at an all-time high, and employers should work to minimize both by directly engaging with their employees at all levels. There are certain steps each organization could take to ensure that turnover rates stay down.

Get the right people

If you’re in a situation where your team isn’t already settled, then be sure to select the right people. Make sure your selection process includes reviewing the prospective team member's skill set and motivation against the company's culture and values. Ask new hires to be open about their expectations. You should demonstrate the same honesty when hiring them and take them through each level of your organization to describe what the job would be. 

Next, train your new hires not just to do their work well, but help them get emotionally invested in the company culture. Show the options available to them for professional growth, and be there for them when they need guidance or want your feedback.

Lead them through the process

For new and seasoned employees, it's important to know where they stand within the company and how they can achieve more in their careers. Explain to them clearly what their options are for career advancement – especially the requirements and remuneration. Walk them through each step of the career ladder within your organization if necessary to help them get there.

In times of recession, be honest about any sacrifices the company has had to make regarding promotions and expansions and when things are expected to turn around.

Adjust company culture

Despite your best efforts, employees might not always be happy with the work conditions or the company culture. During times of crisis, office perks and promises of team building matter little when your whole team is scattered and working remotely. Acknowledge that by offering to ease the work process by any means necessary. Free tools, paid subscriptions, flexible working hours and adjustment in KPIs should be in order. Managing your workers' expectations should be a priority over your quarterly revenue projections.

Why invest in your employees?

As the world is going through an economic crisis, many organizations have found they need to change in order to accommodate the growing need for workplace flexibility. In this worrisome time, companies should work to motivate and retain their employees and to ensure their own survival and recovery.

Image Credit: CagdasAygum / Getty Images
Robert Moutal
Robert Moutal Member
Robert Moutal is the Co-Founder and Director of Sales at Clarity Wave, an employee engagement and workplace climate software system. Prior to co-founding his company, Robert worked at a Spanish-language TV and Radio company with over 1,200 employees. He started as Production Manager, then as General Manager, VP of Community Affairs, VP of Creative Marketing Solutions and Salesforce Administrator. Along the way he won 16 Emmy Awards for his work, both behind and in front of the cameras. As General Manager he managed around 100 people both in San Diego and Tijuana.