Thought Leadership

New Research Indicates a Positive Impact on Employee Engagement and Collaboration During COVID-19 Crisis

By Steve Cody, Peppercomm, and Tina McCorkindale, Institute for Public Relations

The COVID-19 pandemic has had positive outcomes on employee engagement and collaboration, but mixed results on productivity, according to a new study focused on internal communication by the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm.

The survey of 403 communication leaders found that nearly two-thirds of respondents said employee engagement at their company had increased while 58 percent reported that employee collaboration had also improved. Overall productivity was mixed; 25 percent saw an increase, while 40 percent said productivity had decreased.

On average, communication executives said 13 percent of their company’s employees worked from home (WFH) before COVID-19, compared to 77 percent during COVID-19, and an estimated 23 percent following COVID-19.

This makes engagement, collaboration and productivity in this environment even more significant. It’s important to acknowledge that 23 percent said their teams are still working outside their homes.

In times of crisis, it’s natural for employees to seek out connections with colleagues and managers, especially with most of the workforce telecommuting. For some, this is a major adjustment, particularly extroverts and those who work closely in tight-knit teams.

Companies are investing in collaboration tools and activities, such as virtual happy hours, wellness programs and even digital hubs with interest/support groups. For others, working remotely is their everyday routine.

Bill Hughes, chief communications officer at Pitney Bowes, indicated that those who work remotely on a regular basis seem to have a strategy to make sure that they are productive.

“I certainly appreciate those that work from home more because I think they’re actually more disciplined,” he said.

The importance of engaging employees

As the pandemic continues to keep many employees at home, it’s absolutely critical to provide tools and forums for employees to engage and collaborate. Over time, we will likely see productivity increase as employees become more accustomed to this new normal and as they acclimate to working from home while balancing their personal lives.

However, working during a global crisis is challenging, and leaders are more aware of how this pandemic can affect the well-being of their employees. Nearly two-thirds of the leaders said their communication function was sending physical and mental health information and resources to their employees.

Stacey Jones, head of corporate communications at Accenture, said her company has been helping people around the world maintain ties to each other and clients.

“Equipping our people with the tools to feel connected, no matter where they are, includes providing collaborative technology, like Microsoft Teams, so they can communicate by voice, video and instant message,” Jones said. “We understand that operating efficiently in a physically distant, socially connected workplace is not only possible, it’s also imperative. Now is the time to stay close and maintain contact with colleagues, even when we are far away.”

The research findings are the second in a series of three COVID-19 communicating during the crisis surveys fielded by IPR and Peppercomm. Other topics addressed in the study include employee satisfaction and trust in the organization; the most trusted go-to sources for information, education, topical trends and channels; how diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have been adversely impacted; and how companies are preparing for employees’ return to work.

You can read the full report here, and the Institute of Public Relations is hosting a free webinar on April 22 at noon ET to further discuss the survey results.

The Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm will collaborate on a third report in mid-May that will ask communications leaders to explore the future.

Photo credit: fizkes

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