Survival & Thrival: Engaging Your Team from Afar

Kurt Wilkin

People fear the unknown. Your team fears the unknown. Your employees are dealing with stress at home, including their health and that of their family. They’re stressed about working from home and running their kids’ virtual school. We’re all adjusting to this new normal.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to engage your team, help them through this, motivate them to step up, and improve morale. This is a recurring theme we’ve heard during our weekly CEO Forums.

I would say that employee engagement is one of the biggest issues on CEOs’ minds and one of the top things with which they’re struggling. Forbes, and Inc., and HireBetter are just a few of the thought leaders writing on this topic. A fully engaged team with strong morale is key to your success. Especially in a virtual environment, it is vital that CEOs are not only understanding and empathetic, but also develop ways to maintain their culture and lead their teams.

Every week, I run four CEO Forums filled with business leaders from a variety of industries across the country. We’ve talked about leveraging PPP, getting ready to return to the office, and ways to play offense and turn this into an opportunity for growth. We have spent at least a portion of our time discussing employee engagement in every single one of our forums.

Many of our participants pride themselves on their company culture under normal conditions. But we’re in uncharted territory. It can be difficult to maintain the culture and cohesion we have fought so hard to establish. As we’ve discussed throughout this Survival and Thrival series, we don’t want to simply make it to the other side of this—we want to come out stronger! Keeping your employees engaged and working as a cohesive unit is key to making that happen.

‘From Professionalism to Personalism’
Last week, a forum participant made a point that really resonated with me: “We’re moving from professionalism to personalism.” We aren’t seeing the polished, suit-and-tie versions of our coworkers. We’re seeing them—and they’re seeing us—in their homes, in their pajamas, ungroomed. We’re seeing their kids and hearing their dogs bark. One CEO sees a team member’s wedding vows plastered on the wall over his bed every morning during their daily huddle!

I know we’ve all be doing Zoom calls and emailing more than we ever thought possible. But what can we do to truly engage our employees and support them while working from home? Last week we brought in two employment engagement gurus to lead a discussion about the best practices for employee engagement: Dustin Wells, Founder of Workify, and Rob Dwortz, Founder of Become Unmistakable. It was a fascinating discussion as they approached the issue from two very different, yet highly effective angles. Here are some key takeaways from that discussion:

One of the most critical steps to take in engaging with your employees under any circumstance is to understand how they’re doing. Ask them how they feel about your culture. Are there changes they would like to see? Measuring engagement is very important, especially in such a rapidly changing environment. Dustin’s team at Workify created a number of great tools to help gather, understand, and act on employee engagement data. The first step to becoming more “people-centric” is to start measuring your employees’ engagement.

Understand their why.
Truly engaging with your employees requires actually knowing them! Rob Dwortz is a self-professed “recovering banker and private equity guy” who founded Become Unmistakable because he felt like there was more to the success of a team than quantifying numbers. He and his team created uMap, a platform that connects personal and professional goals and helps CEOs better understand what drives their team members. During this time of chaos and uncertainty, it is vitally important to spend time getting to know your team. Understanding their “why” could make the difference.

In this era of Zoom calls, everyone needs to feel heard. Not every idea has to be implemented, but everyone wants to feel like a contributor to the team. If your team is telling you something, it means they care. When they stop telling you things, it may mean they’re apathetic and you have deeper issues. One concept we discussed in the sessions is to conduct a “stay” survey. This is a great twist on the well-known “exit survey.” Ask employees why they’re here and how long they see themselves as part of the organization. You may be surprised at what you learn from their answers.

Do something about it.
No one is expecting you to provide daily massage treatments, dog-grooming services, or to cover the tab at the nightly happy hour—but your team needs more from you. They want and even expect more communication. They want to be heard and valued and appreciated. Most importantly, they want to better understand what is expected of them, the state of the business, and what their role is in its success.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Yes, you should communicate more. We’re all doing more than ever to keep in touch with our teams now that in-person one-on-ones are out the window. Communicate early and often  in numerous formats. Look, we know that you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes that is the answer. But if you simply don’t say anything, they will make up their own answers. Your team is stressed right now, so it is important for you to be open and authentic, but strong and positive as well. Think of a duck on the pond—calm and cool above the water, but treading like crazy underneath!

Preparing for the future
One thought that sticks in my mind is how all of this is affecting your 2020 class of new hires. Under normal circumstances, new hires would be welcomed to the team and made to feel at home in their first few weeks and months in the office. What are you doing to ensure that your new employees feel like welcomed, engaged, and inspired members of the team? While working from home, what steps can you take to help new hires feel your culture or “know your why,” as my friend Rob would say?

Speaking of Rob, he’ll be joining me for the third edition of my LinkedIn Live Survival and Thrival Q&A this Wednesday, May 13 at 10:30 a.m. CT! We’ll talk all things employee engagement and answer any questions you have for us. Please join us and bring your questions, thoughts, and stories! If you missed the last two episodes, I’ve chatted with Tom West, CEO of AffiniPay and Craig Wiley, CEO of Transcend.

Our goal at HireBetter is to help you navigate the unknown and assist in any way we can, especially when it comes to questions about your team and the health of your business. We’re offering free sessions to help CEOs and Founders maximize their PPP forgiveness,  And we will continue to host CEO Forums and keep you updated.

As we attempt to return to “normal,” remember that your team has been there for you. Don’t forget about their hard work and dedication through the chaos! Continue to engage with them, communicate with them, and lead them. Even if you’re frantically paddling under the water.


Click here to sign up for Survive & Thrive Live Q&A Session #5 on LinkedIn!

Survive & Thrive Live Q&A Session Sign-Up

You Might Also Like
A note from the CEO on HireBetter's Acquisition of Diverse Recruiting Experts

Shaping the Future of Talent in the Workplace Together

HireBetter acquires Diverse Recruiting Experts to Drive Service Offering Expansion

HireBetter Acquires Diverse Recruiting Experts to Drive Service Offering Expansion

Diversity doesn't have a finish line - Let's Go! Ep. 19 Pt. II with Kurt Wilkin & JeVon McCormick

Diversity doesn’t have a finish line

How the “stay interview” can prevent employee turnover

Modern Leadership & Conscious Culture with JeVon McCormick

Abstract art depicting The Great Resignation of 2021 and 2022

Why “The Great Resignation” is a myth