If we've learned anything about the world of work over the past two years, it's that engagement means more than just liking your job. Ultimately, it's the emotional commitment a person feels to their work, colleagues, and employer. We've seen this amplified and exposed more than ever under the pressure of a global pandemic.

The drivers of engagement have remained remarkably steady over the years. They're determined by the degree to which a person's work fills them with a sense of purpose, progress, and belonging. Yet almost every other condition of the modern workforce has changed. 

Today, the ways that employers can positively influence employee engagement are entirely different than they were even two years ago. 

Organic engagement is passé 

Research shows that positive interactions are one of the most influential factors in helping employees feel a sense of belonging at work. In pre-pandemic days, proximity made organic interactions easier. Think about how natural it was to ask about someone's weekend, talk about a shared interest, or give a compliment in passing. 

Today, being separated physically doesn't mean that has to disappear. It just means we have to be more intentional about making those interactions happen. The key is creating opportunities for employees to interact in a positive way that scales virtually. This is easier said than done. Sometimes, creating opportunities for engagement that are inclusive, decentralized, and feel organic can seem at odds with one another in a virtual setting. 

So how can employers provide the tools employees need to feel engaged? It comes down to two things: recognition and feedback.

Effective recognition is essential

When recognition is done well, it gives employees a sense of purpose and shows them that their work is impactful. When it's tied to the objectives and core values of the company, it's even better. At Bonusly, we see these results daily. Our peer-to-peer recognition platform enables teammates to share visible recognition tied to our company values, which are connected to a monetary reward. Encouraging this recognition among employees contributes to a sense of belonging by fostering positive interactions that are harder to come by in our current digital landscape.

For a recognition system to be effective, it has to be timely, frequent, specific, and aligned with core values and objectives. It should also be inclusive to all employees, meaning that remote employees have just as much of an opportunity to receive it as those that are hybrid or on-site full time.

Engaging feedback

When it comes to feedback, it must be regular, relevant, and given at an appropriate time. Positive feedback doesn't always have to be given publicly, but some amount of visibility is good. In fact, research shows that when employees see other people getting recognized, it affects their engagement as well. 

On the other hand, constructive feedback should always be addressed one-on-one, in as high-fidelity a setting as is possible. In-person is ideal, but video conferencing is more often the realistic option these days. It should also come from a place of caring deeply about a person's success and humbly sharing your perspective. Ultimately, if you're not sharing this feedback because you think it might help the person make improvements, you shouldn't be sharing it at all. 

The bottom line? Show you care

There's no denying that keeping engagement high in our current environment is challenging. And the answer isn't as easy as getting everyone back to the office as soon as possible. It's not where we are that affects engagement, but what we do. 

I predict that, eventually, we'll all embrace hybrid and remote work while recognizing that some amount of in-person face time is valuable. Until then, all we can do as employers is take the time to show employees that we care about them. 

All managers and leaders should find ways to show their employees that their lives, concerns, challenges, and what they bring to the company are important. When we were all in the same office, we got some of that easily. Now, it's just something for which we have to work harder.