Thanks to the pandemic, we've now entered a new world of working virtually. Even when we get a vaccine, working virtually is likely here to stay. So what does that mean for business leaders' efforts to recruit and retain people going forward?
Any business leader who has experienced a period of ferocious turnover knows how expensive that can be, both emotionally and financially. Replacing employees is an expensive and exhausting endeavor. It also causes your organizational knowledge to leak out. But how do you create a sense of loyalty among your people if they're sitting at home instead of in an office? How do you make it harder for them to turn down the phone calls from recruiters offering them more money to jump ship without changing their commute or workplace?
The good news is that there are a few time-tested tips to help build loyalty among your team that work equally well in a virtual environment as a physical one.
1. Hire for Culture Fit.
A lot of people spend the bulk of their recruiting and interviewing efforts on nailing down the technical aspects of job candidates: Asking about things like degrees, budgets managed, number of direct reports, etc. What they miss, however, is finding out whether someone is truly a cultural fit for the organization. I've written before about how critical this is to retention and building loyalty among employees. If your culture is informal and joking, how will the person who shows up in a suit and tie fit it? By the same measure, if your culture is built on formality and detail, the new employee who shows up in shorts and sandals isn't likely to last, regardless of what school they went to. All will struggle in an environment that doesn't fit our natural style--even when you're working virtually. But if you can identify people who do fit your culture, their probability of sticking around goes up considerably.
2. Welcoming Them On Board.
Too many organizations overlook the importance of an employee's early days with the company. Studies have shown that people make the decision to stay long-term with an organization during their first 90 days. Neglecting to make someone feel special and like they belong can alienate them right away. A recent personal example involves my son, who landed an internship with a prestigious organization. On his first day, they handed him a dense rules and standards book and told him to start reading it, and that they'd follow up with him at the end of the week. What do you think the chances of him sticking around was? If you guessed zero, you are spot on. It's also worth asking if your company might be doing something like that to its new employees.
Even in a virtual environment, you can do things to make employees feel special right from the start--even something as simple as FedEx-ing them a company mug and t-shirt to make them feel a part of the organization. In the old days, it was best practice to walk someone around the halls and introduce them to people. That's harder now. But you can start a mentor or peer-to-peer program, where more senior employees or co-workers can teach new ones the ropes and introduce them to the people they need to know to get things done, like filling out expense reports or starting new projects.
3. Don't Neglect the Heart.
When it comes to retaining employees, many of us tend to focus more on the mind than on the heart. That means we focus on elements that allow employees to develop mastery of their work by giving them training, tools, and autonomy to do their best. This is all great stuff.
But what we overlook is the power that feeling appreciated and building friendships at work plays in retaining people. And providing these elements can be challenging in a virtual work environment.
When it comes to appreciation, for example, we need to find ways to celebrate the wins and when someone does a good job. That's the positive feedback loop we all need in order to feel like we're making a positive difference. I have met some leaders who don't feel appreciation is needed, that it provides a disincentive for people to work hard. I've found the opposite is true and, as the great Dale Carnegie taught us, people work even harder once they have a lofty reputation to live up to.
Having good friendships and relationships with coworkers is also a powerful element of building loyalty. Unlike older generations, younger workers are already accustomed to building virtual friendships. That's why it's time to embrace activities like virtual company happy hours, wine tastings, game nights, etc.--to give employees the chance to connect with each other.
The truth is that people are always thirsty for human contact, and work has always provided an element of that. But in a virtual world, we just need to be more innovative in how we find ways to engineer the conditions for those friendships and relationships to blossom into the future.
So if you're concerned with how to build loyalty among a virtual workforce, think about how you go about hiring, welcoming, and providing for the emotional needs of your employees. The better you can execute these elements, the better chances you have of building a loyal workforce over the long-term.