Energy and Purpose

Kevin Green, former CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation on Keeping your team engaged

In the current Covid19 crisis it is likely many consultants will be working from home for a significant period of time. It is also likely many leaders will be leading a completely remote team for the first time. This new situation has been thrust on both parties with little time to think, talk or prepare for a new way of working.

This will call for recruitment leaders to operate differently.  Lots of engagement and communication in agencies is informal which is easy when people physically work together. It is also important to recognise great leaders understand their people and can pick up on changes in behaviour by observing the team. This is more challenging when people work from home. However, this is also a positive opportunity – 80% of people who work remotely say if it’s done well their engagement and morale improves and 62% say they felt more trusted*. So, if managed well, remote working might well help boost both productivity and performance.

Here are my top 5 tips for recruitment leaders to make the most of this situation:

Set clear expectations about this new way of working, including your expectations of people’s availability and accountability as well as how often team and one-to-one conversations will take place. My advice is to do the generic scene-setting with the whole team so they all hear it together at the same time. Make sure there is plenty of time for questions and ask for ideas. How do we make this work together? Then, have one-to-one conversations with each member of the team about their specific deliverables and what you expect of them and when. Clarity is important but also giving people the space and opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and explore the issues avoids misunderstanding and difficulty later. If you didn’t do this well at the beginning of the process, take the time to do it now and reset your expectations, it’s never too late to be clear.

Team communication is always an important part of a recruitment leader’s role – the only appreciating asset we have is the ingenuity and work ethic of our people. However, when your team are all working remotely communication becomes critical. Recognise you should spend more time talking, listening and engaging with your people. It’s important people feel connected. Firstly if possible use video rather than conference calls but even they are preferable to the dreaded email with all their potential for misunderstanding . The opportunity to use video is a god send in these circumstances and is so much easier today with the tools available such as Zoom, Skype and Google hangouts. Over 60% of communication is non-verbal so seeing people as they talk enables you to pick up on non-verbal signals. Keep the team meetings going and you should up the frequency but shorten their duration. I recommend 2/3 team meetings each week – this gets people comfortable and allows them to socialise as well as talk work. Allow time for small talk; people may be starting to feel isolated or even lonely after a few weeks with little human contact. A good way of doing this is to get everyone to check in (say how they feel at that moment) at the start of the call/meeting. It’s also a good idea to still do creative or brainstorming sessions with the team asking for ideas or solving problems together this enables the team to feel connected and that they are making a collective contribution.

One-to-ones must continue and as with team communication you may want to do them a little more regularly to start with. As a leader ask lots of questions to find out what’s going on for each individual. Set shared agendas in advance and make sure you know what you’re going to be covering. Preparation is more important for conversations over the phone or video as they tend to be shorter and more business focused. Actively listen to what’s being said and try to avoid assumptions and talking over people. Ask questions to clarify what’s meant so you’re not at crossed purposes. Don’t forget this is a health crisis so remember to be empathetic. It’s clear some people have more anxiety than others – don’t dismiss this, be sympathetic – they may have the kids at home or have older parents who are ill.

Foster friendships amongst the people that work for you. Apart from the formal calls and meetings encourage people to have informal calls so they stay connected. We know people feel more engaged and passionate about their work if they have confidants and supporters at work. This may atrophy if it’s not encouraged. People go to their work friends when they need help or want to celebrate or commiserate about things at work. In the absence of that support work can seem lonely and isolating. It lacks attachment. We may like what we do (the work) but we won’t be fully energised or motivated if we don’t have close and supportive relationships at work. A study by Harvard Business Review** showed that remote workers are much more likely than on site employees to worry that co-workers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to work projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them and don’t fight for their priorities. Be a leader who fosters a culture of open positive friendships amongst co-workers – this will avoid these concerns becoming a reality.

Be responsive and available. Set time aside in your diary so people know you are happy to catch up on anything. The thing that makes people feel distant is the communication time lag. If people have to wait hours for a response to an email asking a question about their work or an idea they have, a lengthy delay creates an impression that they are not important to their manager. Setting time aside when you’re available online or over the phone to provide feedback or insight instantly makes people feel recognised and listened too.

Many of these tips will feel unnatural to recruitment leaders but if you persist then there is no reason why your team shouldn’t be as productive, energised and successful as if they were all on site together. In fact, you may find that they perform better and deliver better results working this way.  It’s true that adversity is the mother of invention!


*MIT (edu) study “Modern workplace:- How MIT is expanding its flex guidelines”

**Performance & Culture Sept 2018  “Best practices for managing remote employees” by Tori Fica 


Kevin is Author of Competitive People Strategy: how to attract, develop and retain the staff you need for business success, published by Kogan Page, £29.99


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