Your credit union’s culture drives employee engagement and productivity. Yet the vast experiment of COVID-19 work has disrupted traditional approaches to engagement that relied on proximity and contact. Working off-site has become the new normal and it is expected to persist for some time. Gallup reported that the percentage of U.S. employees working from home more than doubled from mid-March (31%) to mid-May 2020 (65%), translating into over 100 million off-site workers. Indeed, many credit unions have successfully moved 90% of their staff to a work-from-home environment without reporting major efficiency losses. The experiment is opening the eyes of management to the effectiveness of off-site work. Moreover, employees appreciate the flexibility and balance that remote work can bring to one’s life.
Beyond managers and employees appreciating the benefits of off-site work, social distancing and health requirements will force organizations to decrease density and make other changes to the workplace that will make off-site work a necessity. Senior leaders are reimagining how their organizations, and even industries, will do business in tomorrow’s workplace. Smart leaders are especially focused on how to manage their credit union’s culture when large numbers of teams and staff are working remotely.
Leadership communication is even more critical now. Its quality and frequency have become exponentially more important. The tone for the culture is set at the top by leadership’s words and deeds. Attending to a culture with a large proportion of distanced staff means that leaders must address what it means to be a manager and an employee in a very different workplace. Communication must work to build trust and knit together the fabric of relationships among people who do not have proximity, and where proximity-dependent, trust-building tools are not available. This is a continuing test that leaders must get right.
Clarity, honesty, authenticity, and humanity must ring true in all communication. Every message must embody the values and purpose that reflects your credit union’s DNA. When senior leadership addresses large employee groups, using distributed media to reach off-site staff, whether it be through posted videos, town hall meetings, or email, they must communicate the reasoning, intentions, and expectations in a way that makes it easy for everyone to hear and understand their thinking. And, it’s important for leaders to encourage employees to express their thinking and ideas as well. The most effective leaders have dramatically increased the frequency of their communication. They have also increased team interactions in order to ensure team cohesion, which is essential.
The quality and rhythm of senior level communication flows throughout the management chain. Managers must interact with distanced staff more frequently, individualizing and customizing communication and work plans for each employee. This is vital as 70% of employee engagement is related to the person’s manager. Managers must increase their ability to listen effectively to learn how employees perform best within these challenging conditions and then provide guidance and coaching accordingly. Choosing the best medium for communication, such as phone calls or video-chats, can be significantly better than emails. These extraordinary circumstances are rapidly becoming the norm, and leadership needs to create a new work paradigm that will persist after the pandemic is resolved.