As COVID-19 forced millions of workers to make the transition to full-time remote work, many company leaders worried that productivity would take a hit—that the comfort of working from home would lull staff into a laissez-faire attitude. But, it turns out the opposite has happened: worker productivity is up substantially, and as a result, many companies plan to double their remote workforce in the coming year.
But, while we’ve been getting more done, innovation has slowed, with most companies citing the feeling of disconnect and challenges in remote collaboration as key incumbrances. In the coming year, companies will need to double-down on their communication efforts to keep employees engaged and moving the company forward, not just toiling over busywork.
Goal alignment plays a key role in driving innovation and motivating your team to continue to push the envelope. Of course, remote work arrangements make accountability a bit more challenging, but there are several strategies you can implement to emphasize accountability and achievement in 2021.
- Map individual goals to company goals. One of the biggest challenges that stymies forward progress is that employees often don’t have a clear understanding of how their day-to-day tasks fit into the overall picture. This lack of understanding makes it hard to stay engaged and motivated, especially when that pile of laundry or Netflix is just steps away.
Clarifying communications about how the company’s goals trickle down to the individual level—and how individual efforts aggregate up to achieve those larger goals—helps employees to feel a greater sense of purpose in their work and deeper connection to their team and the organization as a whole.
- Gather employee input. Goal setting should be a collaborative process with leaders and team members working together to formulate a plan. When employees don’t feel connected to the process or feel like their goals are handed down to them without their involvement, it negatively impacts engagement and motivation. Employees just don’t feel invested.
Instead, use a survey to solicit employees’ input on the goal setting and accountability process. Ask questions like: Are there things they’d like to see done differently? What challenges are they facing? Do they feel integral to the process? Understanding how your employees feel about the process itself can help you make adjustments to improve engagement.
- Communicate the change. This seems obvious, but far too often companies survey employees and that’s the last they ever hear of it. This lack of follow-thru and updates breeds discontent and disengagement. Employees think, “Why should I even bother sharing my opinion if they’re never going to do anything about it.”
If you conduct a survey, you must have a plan to implement changes (whenever possible), or at least address any concerns raised with staff. In our organization, we make it a priority to conduct surveys every quarter and communicate updates about how we’ll address issues and opportunities we uncover during every quarterly staff meeting.
- Weave goals into day-to-day activities. How many times have you sat in a meeting and thought, “What is the purpose of this? I could be getting actual work done.” Employees need to know that everything they’re asked to do has a purpose that matters, that it somehow contributes to the larger company-wide effort.
Start by laying out your goals for every meeting on the agenda and create a system for tracking progress toward any action items. Make sure managers and department heads keep these goals front and center and hold regular check-ins with their team members to make sure progress doesn’t stall.
- Be realistic and sensitive. One of the reasons productivity has remained high or higher than usual over the last nine months is because employees have been putting in more hours, creating significant work/life balance issues and contributing to major burnout. Of course, many companies have recognized that working from home during a pandemic comes with a unique set of challenges, like dealing with remote schooling, childcare, pets and remote-working roommates or partners all at the same time, and have cut employees some much-needed slack.
Those concessions will need to continue into 2021 as things may not look all that much different. But the new working realities don’t fundamentally change the company’s or the employee’s individual goals—it just changes how we allow for that work to get done. So, while companies need to be considerate, regular communication is key to maintain accountability. Conducting frequent check-ins with employees where team leaders discuss not only progress toward goals but also any work/life challenges can help keep you aware of any issues and make adjustments as needed before a problem snowballs out of control.
One thing’s for sure: we’re all doing our best to adapt to the new reality. That’s something we can all take comfort in—from the CEO all the way down the org chart, adjusting to this new way of working is a universal condition. In many ways, that makes it much easier to not only be empathetic but also creative in how we work together to achieve our goals in the coming year.
The year 2021, let's approach with a clear ongoing communication strategy, reasonable goals that map from company-wide to the individual level and a collaborative process can help keep your company moving forward and your employees engaged.