As companies “return to work” in the third and fourth quarters of 2021, they have an opportunity to reestablish new norms and expectations for their associates who have been diagnosed by experts as isolated and lonely coming off an imposed 18-month remote work routine.   

This is an opportunity to build your organization’s culture of engagement. This is a time to reconnect employees with meaning, purpose, and the excitement of the workplace. A time to remold an organizational culture to one where employees are intrinsically motivated to have the “right attitude” when solving a problem, use initiative, and make work fun. Building a culture is complex, but here are some ways to make rapid, short term gains:

First, leaders must reestablish what it means to connect to the customer. Each associate should understand how their purpose aligns with the service provided to the customer. This alignment of purpose is essential for all associates to drive the importance of high work ethic, individual contribution, and innovation at all levels. Leaders must communicate purpose connected to individual performance in town halls, skip-level meetings, and rebranded engagement materials.  

Next, leader to associate engagement is critical.  Leaders who set and communicate achievable goals aligned with the organization’s vision build individual empowerment. Engaged leaders who communicate encouragement for even the smallest victories begin to develop motivation and shared responsibility for goals to each individual. Leaders must plan to engage the “I just work here” population with attainable goals and transparent feedback to incentivize high performance.

To further build momentum, consider recognizing only those who have generated excellent ideas and high results versus everyone. The blanket “everyone has done great and deserves a trophy” statements come off as impersonable and generic, driving motivation down. Being intentional with reward builds employee commitment and participation…your employees want leaders who are interested and who notice outstanding performance.

Third, consider how and what you communicate as a leader. Leaders who respect and listen to employee concerns and suggestions will dramatically increase employee engagement. In turn, leaders who share the “state of the organization” and decisions being made will build empowered associates who share in the organization’s success. This “flattening” of communications will help employees better understand opportunities and threats facing the organization and create a more engaged and agile employee posture in the workforce.  

Leaders who focus on reconnecting employees to a renewed organizational purpose, achievable goals, and two-way communication in late 2021 will capitalize on additional opportunities as they outrace the competition and harness the power of an engaged workforce.