Post-covid employee engagement
Fiona Passantino, Late April, 2022
A Case Study
April 2022. As case numbers dwindle down and mask mandates are removed, distance orders relaxed and days in quarantine no longer a “thing”, it was time to start trickling back in to the office.
Leadership, by and large, wanted seats filled, parking spaces occupied and a happy buzz rising around the café and canteen. Employees largely preferred choice, settling on a 2-day peak rhythm that amounted to the “Camel Model” of office occupancy: high volumes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, practically empty on Fridays.
Tough on the Facilities guys who had to plan lunches and services for wildly varied numbers. Who was going to eat all those leftover sandwiches on a quiet Friday?
But there was also an element of culture and connection. What does it mean, after all, to be part of a working community, a Tribe, if there was no physical place to assemble, no one to fill meeting rooms and cockpits, enjoy the colors, the spaces and signage, and be reminded of who they all were, as a collective? A culture can only exist as a pure mental state for a limited time, as it is largely kept alive by community interactions.
Somewhere around March-April, Post-Covid, exhaustion and overwork were taking a toll on the population. Occupancy and engagement were low, and surveys returned the common subtext: “Where had all the fun gone?”
It was time to delight, to surprise, to intrigue and to get ridiculous, think way outside the box. It was time to do something a little nuts.
On the Thursday before Easter – a date with the highest natural volume of workers which also coincided neatly with the monthly drinks – a secret Action was blocked in the calendar. Planning was highly confidential, no one could speak about it, and it was given a code name: “Project B”.
It was a bold plan: mobilize a small group of young, dedicated and discrete White-Collar Ninjas, swear them to secrecy, ask them to gather in the lobby at 8:00 to sweep through the building, armed with bags of brightly colored foil-wrapped chocolate easter eggs and take the building floor by floor, hiding the chocolate eggs in interesting places – around Coffee Corners, hot desks, meeting rooms, on stair rails and planters and whiteboard holders – and say nothing, disappear into the crowd, and let the day unfold.
The briefing first showed a list of requirements – you would have to be physicaly present on a certain date at 8:00 in the morning and be physically able to carry out certain tasks and be counted on for discretion. If anyone was unavailable, unwilling, or uninterested, leave the meeting now (don’t worry, no one’s mad!). A few logged off, and we continued with the remaining operatives.
The briefing was clear: no one said anything, asked any questions or so much as blinked. Or strangely, even smiled. Was this idea so bananas that the fuses had blown? Had our workplaces become so devoid of fun that there was no longer mental space for the silly?
The big day came at last. Sure enough, the White-Collar Ninjas were there on time and set about on their secret mission. The building was large, the eggs too few, so we had to be particularly creative.
Finally, when all were hidden, we placed a large sign explaining the action. A big arrow pointed to a box of plastic bags so unwitting participants could collect their eggs in something. And then a post on social media to reinforce.
The day unfolded; traffic was high, and for the most part, people were pleasantly surprised. By noon none of the eggs remained in the building and a few comments in the feed were positive.
There is only one way to rebuild a hybrid culture in the post-Covid context and a balanced interchange of in-office buzz: the office has to rise to match the value of the home environment by maximizing its strengths: to offer something the home space cannot. The home office is a haven, a quiet place of focus and solace. Convenient and soothing. The office has the buzz, the fun, the activities, the people, the surprises.
If the message is clear, that the office is our playground which can be shaped according to our needs and desires, made fun, social, so that we want to be together and not miss out on what crazy thing might happen next, and if this is reinforced both in actions and in words, we are well on our way to building a truly valuable post-Covid workplace that pulls instead of pushes and delights rather than demands.
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What does it mean to be “engaged” in today’s workplace? How do we inspire, inform and connect a working community, build a culture of irreplaceability, trust and listening to keep people onboard and rowing together?
Engagement is about bringing our best selves to the office, being heard, supported, feeing irreplaceable and free. This bright, funny comic book is a road map for leaders at any level, at any organization, telling the story of Covid, offering a clear, research-driven roadmap towards our future of work.