When COVID-19 struck, it did more than simply send employees to work from home. Companies were hit fast and hard, with organizations like Airbnb, Uber, and Wells Fargo laying off or furloughing thousands of workers. The recent announcement by LinkedIn, one of Silicon Valley’s most forward-thinking tech companies, to lay off 960 employees hits too close to home. Businesses are suffering, and sacrifices are being made across the board.

This presents an interesting dilemma. For the past few decades, the employee experience has been heralded as a key differentiator for businesses, with the world’s most successful companies ranking highly on employee engagement and satisfaction. Studies even show that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform competitors by 147% in earnings per share. 

But what about now? With massive layoffs across the country and businesses struggling to stay afloat, should companies forgo their employee experience practices in favor of cost-cutting?

Don’t give up on employees

During turbulent times like this, it’s easy for companies to sacrifice the employee experience. After all, if the goal of employee retention is to attract talent, and millions are unemployed and hungry for opportunities, why bother?

For starters, employees are an organization’s greatest asset, and employee engagement is key to driving success. According to Gallup, business units who scored highly on employee engagement experience 21% greater profitability, 41% less absenteeism, and 59% less turnover.

If that’s not enough, then consider the actions many top companies have taken during COVID-19 in order to keep employees engaged. NVIDIA, for example, moved annual reviews and raises several months ahead of schedule to help its employees weather the sudden disruption to their lives. Google allowed employees to expense up to $1,000 in office furniture for their home setups.

Considering that retaining workers is key to business success, retention is even more important as we move forward. Cutting costs may save organizations money in the short term, but it also shows a lack of care for employees. If those employees leave for greener pastures, it could significantly stifle innovation and cost millions in hiring and training. Businesses in recovery mode don’t want this.

It’s time to rethink the employee experience and adapt it to the age of COVID-19. Here are five tips to get started:

1. Listen proactively

Since employees are on the front lines of the battlefield at an organization, leaders can gain insight into how employees perceive their own experiences by simply listening to what they have to say. Leaders should provide opportunities for employees to recommend how the organization can improve, whether this is an open-door policy or an anonymous platform.

According to a McKinsey study, having trusting relationships in the workplace improves employee engagement by an average of 50.9% and employee well-being by an average of 48.7%. Leaders can facilitate this by recognizing employees for their achievements.

2. Be more understanding

Leaders that are sensitive to work-life balance foster more understanding relationships with their employees, which can lead to greater productivity. The same McKinsey study of employee needs in the workplace ranks “balance of work and private life” as the third most important aspect of a job.

Leaders can encourage work-life balance by proactively engaging with employees about what’s going on outside of the office and setting clear boundaries to ensure employees don’t work their lives away. For example, many employees have had their normal lives upended by remote work, and although most have grown accustomed to their new lifestyles, many things are still unexpected. If an employee has personal roadblocks, leaders can accommodate with generous grace periods for projects.

3. Continue to support remote/flexible work

Organizations that have found success with remote work should consider exploring permanent options even after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. In the midst of COVID-19, safety has been widely considered the newest avenue of the employee experience—and workers are noticing how much their employers care about their safety. 

Perhaps the biggest initiative in employee safety is encouraging remote work. A survey by PwC found that 54% of CFOs are considering making remote work permanent for those that are eligible in an effort to prioritize safety. 

At the same time, remote workers are generally more satisfied with their jobs, and 94% of remote workers recommend that others should try it. Additionally, 50% of remote workers say they’ve remained engaged during COVID-19, while only 40% of their non-remote counterparts report the same. 

4. Provide purpose for navigating the pandemic

While executives have to make quick business decisions to navigate the pandemic, it’s important to keep employees informed as to how and why their work is helping the organization meet its goals. Aligning individual work with organizational purpose and values increases employee engagement and well-being by 49%.

Leaders can promote this purpose by embedding it into conversations with employees about how their tasks play a critical role in an organization’s larger strategy. For example, if a marketing director tells his copywriter to create a press release about the organization’s COVID-19 response, he should also include how the press release will help the organization overcome the crisis. 

5. Promote employee togetherness

In an office environment, conversations happen naturally and work events automatically involve everyone. In a remote environment, however, isolation is one of the biggest challenges. Employees can easily default to working solo, leaving collaboration on the table and teams completely siloed. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that remote employees can feel left out of an organization. Without the strong bonds that employees develop by casually chatting in the office, relationships never have a chance to develop. As a result, remote employees can suffer from loneliness and a lack of direction.

It’s up to organizations to boost employee morale virtually by using their communication tools for more than project-based talk. For example, leaders can consider hosting virtual get-togethers every Friday afternoon where employees can share their weekend plans or life updates. Also, leaders can encourage employees to participate in fun social groups in their team messaging app. Here at RingCentral, we have pages for pets, dinner recipes, and even vacation photos.

Investing in experience

Work might be changing, but the employee experience isn’t going anywhere. With remote work at the forefront, organizations must reevaluate how they can continue to provide a positive employee experience as we continue weathering the storm. Organizations that keep their employees happy and engaged will create meaningful impacts on recovery and set a course for the years ahead.

Central to remote employee engagement is communication and collaboration. The right tools allow employees and teams to not only seamlessly work together, but also develop those relationships that are critical to driving engagement.

A UCaaS solution like the RingCentral app combines team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, providing a hub for all communications needs. Employees can easily switch from messaging to a phone or video call, allowing them to collaborate productively wherever they are. Additionally, with all communications in one place, teams can provide updates, facilitate discussions, and socialize all without ever having to leave the app.

Learn more about how other companies are winning in employee engagement during COVID-19 in our post, “5 Examples of Excellent Company Culture During COVID-19”.