You hear your name being called, but the voice is unfamiliar. Desperately, you scan the sea of strangers before you, twenty pairs of eyes staring you down. You cough out a panicked squeak, then sit in sinking silence, so quiet you can hear a pin drop.
Suddenly, a voice cuts through the still: “I think you’re on mute. Can you say that again?”
Welcome to the first day of a virtual onboarding.
I joined Mutant fresh out of university and smack in the middle of the pandemic. My colleagues were about three months into working from home – a situation suddenly thrust upon them by Singapore’s COVID-19 “circuit breaker” measures. Much has changed since then – cases are under control, places of business and recreation have opened up again, and many of us have settled into a comfortable work from home routine. Today, we continue to herald flexible work schemes, and for good reason. –
A recent survey commissioned by The Straits Times found that eight in 10 respondents in Singapore preferred working from home or having flexible work arrangements. In fact, over 85% of employers in Singapore have been offering these since 2019, even before the pandemic hit. But in 2020, even the naysayers had to bite their tongues when the global workforce was forced into the largest remote working experiment yet – and continued to thrive.
But even as companies reap the benefits of flexible work arrangements, it’s important to remember that the re-negotiation of norms and boundaries can result in employees building up stress and anxiety as they deal with the change. Be it for those who miss social interactions in the office or others who crave conducive work environments, companies must play an active role in transitioning their flexible workforce, especially if they want to maintain levels of engagement and productivity.
Coming onboard during the pandemic wasn’t the easiest experience. As someone who has spent their entire professional life around a bedroom table, here are four ways I think companies can really engage their people when they’re working flexibly:
Check in beyond tasks..
A little bit can go a long way when it comes to actively engaging your people. Stripped of opportunities for the casual coffee or water cooler talk, 40 hours a week can start to feel like not only an arduous, but isolating task. Fill the gap by finding and creating real opportunities to connect outside of task-centric conversations. Set up weekly or bi-weekly chats to check in on employees and ask how things are going. Genuine, authentic connections help people to open up and be honest about what they need to thrive. Putting this knowledge into practice will help employees feel heard, and can go a long way in creating a sustainable and supportive work environment.
..but look out for workloads
How much work is on someone’s plate? How have they been coping with the latest project? Do they need more support? You might have been able to deduce the answers in an office, but this becomes much harder when everyone is working remotely. When workload started ramping up, something as simple as having an openly accessible task tracker in place can help managers efficiently monitor everyone’s workload – and if they need support.. Putting in the extra effort to ensure you understand your team’s workloads can help them cooperate, coordinate, and function better as a cohesive unit.
Really mean it when you say “flexible”
Flexible work arrangements come in many shapes and forms, but for companies to really stand behind their claims of flexibility, they must showcase greater trust in employee accountability. To reap the benefits of true flexibility, keep the focus on outcomes instead of presence. This frees up time and space for employees to get work done in the ways that are most effective and productive for themselves. A recent report from Employment Hero revealed that 48% of Singapore respondents anticipate additional support from employers to sustain flexible working arrangements in 2021. Whether this means introducing a new culture, shifting expectations or tearing down structures, the onus is on employers to create work environments that strengthen and encourage employees as they work flexibly and remotely.
Remote doesn’t mean removed
Meeting every now and then for an in-person pow-wow or quick lunch are great ways to keep the team together and prevent feelings of isolation. When social gatherings of only groups of five were permitted, for example, Mutant implemented quarterly cross-team lunches to continue giving employees a chance to get to know each other better.I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about my colleagues’ K-pop biases, hamster-fostering habits, and binge-watching pastimes – and of course, the free lunch was a fun treat. If meeting in person isn’t possible, something as simple as organising online trivia nights or a virtual happy hour could work just as well. And for authentic connections through the week, here’s a pro-tip: Integrate Giphy with your office messenger for some animated, expressive fun. You’ll thank us later.
Want to chat to us about how to leverage flexibility for productivity and efficiency? Drop us a line at [email protected].