In this episode of “Where We’re Heading: Business in the Age of Covid,” I spoke with Paul Robbins of Paul Robbins Associates about the importance for businesses and organizations to continue to get their messages out, and how they can modify their messages for the “new normal.” The interview is like a series of short white papers, as Paul gives us a few case studies on how to thrive in times of uncertainty.
Ep. 1: Engaging Employees Wherever They Are
Dave Sweeney 0:06
Hello and welcome to the first episode of where we’re heading business in the age of COVID. I’m excited to have as my first guest Janice Mazzallo. I first met Janice when she was the Chief Human Resources officer at PeoplesBank, a regional bank in western Massachusetts. She had a great career there. Many accomplishments, including PeoplesBank being named a top place to work by the Boston Globe for six years in a row. They were consistently ranked the top charitable contributor in the region and consistently had high employee engagement scores in their annual employee surveys. In addition to the work Janice has done in PeoplesBank, she has also spoken in conferences nationally on the topic of increasing and improving employee engagement in the workplace. And she has since gone on to launch her own consulting firm, Employee Engagement Plus, LLC, and is helping other businesses and organizations navigate these uncertain COVID times. So I was thinking who better to talk to about the challenges and obstacles to creating an engaged workforce than Janice? So, from managing a remote team to bringing employees back to the worksite, Janice has some practical advice on how to engage employees during these challenging times. Dave Sweeney 1:17
Janice, thanks for taking some time to talk to me today. It’s great to have you here.
Janice Mazzallo 1:21
Thank you, Dave. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Dave Sweeney 1:24
No problem. So this I was really looking forward to speaking to you about this topic. Because the way that we’re thinking about work and the way work has been structured, has really been shaken to its core with the COVID virus. All of a sudden, you have folks who have never worked from home having to work from home, you’ve had businesses have having to pivot very quickly to a new type of working style working environment, a lot of reliance on video conferencing. So I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about what you’re seeing Janice Mazzallo 2:00
And what that impact is having on employers in terms of being able to keep their employees engaged different types of skill sets managers might need. Let’s let’s talk a little bit about what the impacts been that you’ve experienced. It’s been no doubt a tremendous impact both on the employee side and on the employer side. I mean, you hear the term new normal, and it’s never been never been more true. Well, you know, a couple of things come to mind, you know, from an employer’s perspective, communication is at the forefront and never has that been more important, you know, just by virtue of the fact that you have people working from home, you know, when you can’t see individuals, there has to be a level of trust between the employer and the employee. And if that doesn’t exist, then you know, for starters, that’s going to be a problem. So, for one, the the level of trust has to exist between the employer and the employee and
Janice Mazzallo 3:00
There has to be, unlike when the person is in the office a degree of ability to allow some autonomy for that individual to just do the right thing in the moment because they’re not always going to have access to, you know, a supervisor, you know, as they would to be able to walk over to manager if they need them. So that’s one, you know, significant difference that I see that the individual doesn’t have that layer of management that they normally would in the office place.
Dave Sweeney 3:32
Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s one of the things that some of the conversations I’ve had is, you can do the zoom video conference, and you know, you’ll be able to see them which is helpful, but the days of just being able to swing by your managers office and just pop your head and if you got a question or just need to check in and vice versa. The manager being able to walk the floor, stop by checking on how their folks are doing, there really isn’t a way to replicate that technology wise as far as I can come here.
Janice Mazzallo 3:59
There really isn’t. And that’s one of the things that I’m hearing from employees that they really, you know, sort of a lack of a better word I think I hear people sort of grieving and missing a lot is that you know, as much as we all appreciate, zoom in the fact that we have that technology, some people just aren’t comfortable behind the camera. And they also miss the personal touch of being able to go into somebody’s office and just sit down and have a conversation, especially given what’s happening in the backdrop of our world. And to be able to just be able to share what’s happening in our work lives and to be able to talk about the difficulties of our day to day lives.
Dave Sweeney 4:43
So what are some options then? Is it from a, so let’s take it from the manager perspective, then if you’re aware of this gap, what are some possibilities that you may be able to pursue to help fill that gap?
Janice Mazzallo 4:56
Yeah, a couple of things that I’ve heard that have been super effective. I mean one certainly more frequent check ins with managers, whether it be one on one check ins, but also a lot of organizations are doing what they call pulse surveys, and are frequent surveys that can be done electronically, or they can even be done manually. Manual surveys where you’re just checking in with your organization. And you’re asking questions in general to get a temperature check on how your employees are feeling in general, about certain subjects. And it could be whether it’s related to how things are going in the organization or just in general with general state of affairs, but it gives you a good sense of how your employee population is feeling.
Janice Mazzallo 5:47
That’s one. Another is from an employee perspective. For the employee, also to be more proactive and to check in more frequently, but at the same time to be careful about that, and also to honor their sense of self and to be careful about how much time they’re spending in the office. You know, one of the things that we’re noticing, you know, with working at home, is that it’s very easy to not recognize the nine to five or the 830 to 430 and bleed into our personal time. So it’s really important from an employee’s perspective to that we have built in some sort of schedule, and that schedule include time to take breaks, whether it’s talking to our co workers or taught taking breaks to talk to our friends and family, just making sure that we have some time downtime for some self care as well.
Dave Sweeney 6:50
That’s good. And I think, particularly the part about the self care kind of helps with this. This next thing I wanted to talk about, which are, you know, you’ve got folks working from home. But a large percentage who hadn’t done it before, at the same time, because they’re in this COVID-19 situation, many of them are have kids at home because the schools are closing and they were in the in the spring right now or in summertime, which kind of, you know, that was going to happen regardless. But then there’s some places and possibility that kid may not go back to school full time in September. What are your thoughts or advice just in terms of dealing with the mental health aspect of folks who are trying to work from home, adapt to a new way of being while also simultaneously dealing with all the other things that kind of go along with this that affect their their lives as well?
Janice Mazzallo 7:42
Yeah, it’s a really good point, Dave. Well, first thought that I have is first create a space for talking about what’s going on at home. You know, let’s recognize that that’s a reality and that’s not going to change, you know, work at school schedules are going to conflict. You know, we don’t know what’s going to happen with many of the school schedules. And employers have to realize that they are going to need to be flexible to as much a degree as possible. If they want to retain their high performers. That is just a reality. So I think, open a dialogue with your employee, and that will go a long way in alleviating some of the stress that that employees feeling about what’s going to happen. Come September. So that would be one of the first things I would say is just create a space to have that discussion around. How can we work something out? You know, that’s conducive to both the employee and the employer and the business that is in hand?
Dave Sweeney 8:43
Right. And then as far as I know, you do a lot of work with employee engagement. What are some, I don’t know, either some obstacles that needed to be addressed or some simple things that could really move the needle a little bit when it comes to having more engaged employees working in this virtual environment.
Janice Mazzallo 9:00
Yeah, you know, I’ve heard some really creative things that are that are being done. There are all kinds of, you know, contests that are that are being done. There’s some walking challenges that I’ve heard, you know, certainly given that we’re all home and we’re all sitting more, we’re sitting in front of our computers. A lot of organizations are doing fitness challenges and competing with each other and trying to have some fun doing that. I just read an article the other day, because so many families have children at home and often are getting interrupted with children. One company decided to have a zoom session with just the kids as an opportunity for the children to get to meet each other and have a little session with them. I thought that was kind of a fun idea. But you know, again, a way to just a different way to engage other people.
Janice Mazzallo 9:55
Another fun idea I heard, but not so much fun, but just the q different way of changing the culture was one company adopted what they call the camera on culture, because there are so many people that when they have a zoom meeting are hesitant to put their camera on. And you dealing with that is that, you know, in general, one can understand that, you know, some people don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, but the flip side of that is that so much gets lost in communication and verbal, excuse me in, in physical communication in social cue, right. And so one company in particular has a creator on camera in the with the sentiment that that really creates a more engaging culture.
Janice Mazzallo 10:51
Okay. The other thing I would add that is of critical importance is as we think about the new hire process, you know, onboarding is particularly important. Think about when you’re bringing on a new hire. The just the sheer process of a new hire coming on board is nerve racking under normal circumstances. So now imagine you are a new hire starting under the COVID-19 circumstances and now you’ve got to work at home. You don’t have the luxury of meeting your co workers face to face. You don’t have the luxury of being in an office environment again, where you can just pop into somebody’s office and ask a question. So, you know, with onboarding in particular, it’s really important that you amp up the techniques that you use to help somebody integrate into your culture that much quicker and help them feel a part of your organization and feel welcome to your organization because then it’s going to help retain them and hopefully make them feel a productive part of your organization that much quicker.
Dave Sweeney 12:07
Well, that’s a good point, then the challenge of that, how do you do the best you can with the face to face you might not be able to meet the team in person.
Janice Mazzallo 12:14
There’s a lot of different ways you can do it. You know, again, some creative ideas, one of the things that you can do is before they even walk in the door, you can have somebody assigned to them appear, reach out to them before they even begin, and just make a phone call to them and just welcome them say, hey, Dave, you know, I know you’re starting next week. I’m Janice, I just wanted to welcome you to the company. We’re really excited to have you come, I know you know, you’re going to be working at home, but how about we set up a virtual coffee hour and we’ll meet at 10 o’clock via zoom and have grab a cup of coffee and get to know each other? You know, I mean, it’s again, getting creative with different ways that you can get to know people in the absence of being able to do that face to face.
Dave Sweeney 13:05
Well, that’s great. I’m gonna shift now. Because I know while there are a lot of people working for all over there also a lot of folks going back to the workplace and different roles in different industries. And they’re encountering a new environment as well, as well as probably concerned and stress going back into work being around other people, the virus is still out there. What are your thoughts in terms of like helping people prepare to go back into the office and be around others and the ones that are doing it now that the changes are going to have to deal with how do you help keep those folks positive and engaged in the workplace?
Janice Mazzallo 13:40
Yeah. I think it’s really important just to meet people where they are and understand that everyone is going to be in a different place. You’re going to have some people who are very eager to go back to work, and then you’re going to have some people who are very hesitant and still very frightened to go back to work because they’re afraid of getting sick. And I think, again, you have to make space for everyone and honor that. I think training on safety is of critical importance. So if you haven’t already done that, very important, there’s some wonderful resources out there. I mean, certainly the CDC is a great resource, but there are so many playbooks, so to speak out there of other organizations who have done it and done it well. Certainly training helps people feel a little more safe and secure. supplying proper personal protection equipment is also very important to make sure that that’s available so that people feel safe in the workplace. But I think just mostly meeting people where they are and allowing them a voice and letting them know that they have someone who to go to if they have any concerns.
Janice Mazzallo 14:57
Also, I always like to give a shout out to our employee assistance programs. I think often the employee assistance program is a highly underutilized program, both from the perspective of employers using it to offer group sessions, often an employee assistance program will come in and offer different programs to employees via they can do it via zoom. They can offer program say on change or on making transitions during COVID. Or they can also offer one on one sessions individually to employees who are maybe struggling and having concerns whether it be personally or with family members. It can be around their own emotional concerns or even financial concerns. So employees systems can be a wonderful resource as well for employees as they’re thinking about returning to work and if they’re having concerns about that.
Dave Sweeney 15:59
Wow. It’s just so multifaceted. I mean, there’s the aspect of being able to do your job. But like you said, all the other aspects of life that go into it, you know, even going into work, what does it mean? Goodness, if I go or get exposed to the virus, one of my co workers does, and I go home, and I’ve got my family and perhaps my significant other is also working that I put that person at risk. I mean, there’s just a lot, which is very real.
Janice Mazzallo 16:25
It’s very real. And I have been in a situation in working, where we’ve had employees say, you know, I am not comfortable coming in and you know, and have requested leave because of that. And so, another thing is, you need to be very familiar with your leave policies, how they work, who’s eligible, make sure the head of your HR department is very familiar, not just with family medical leave, but there is a new extended family medical leave that’s specific for the use of COVID-19
Dave Sweeney 17:02
Wow, great. Well, I mean, thank you. I there’s some great practical advice in there, Janice. I mean, it doesn’t seem like this is going to be, I guess you’re right. It’s a new normal home. See, there’s going to be aspects of this, even when we get beyond this, and there’s a vaccine, certain things that we won’t be going back to, because now we’ve there’s been a transition to a lot of this remote work. And do you see that kind of sticking around, I guess, even after things are back to quote unquote, normal?
Janice Mazzallo 17:29
Yeah, I don’t see. You know, I don’t see anything going back. As you know, I think everything will be so different as we move forward. And you know, but I think there’ll be a lot of opportunity as we move forward to make some, you know, some positive change as well. I mean, I’m always an optimist to begin with, but I do think one of the positives that I see coming out of this is that for so many organizations, remote work was something that they always looked at as something that couldn’t be done in their organization. And now, I think they’re saying that with a little bit of ingenuity, it can be done. And not only that, it can be done productively, and it can be done with a cost savings as well. So now, I think you have organizations that are looking at their structure, they’re looking at their business model, and really rethinking how do they want to do business moving forward, and it could potentially really change the way they do business and potentially be a cost savings for them in the long run.
Dave Sweeney 18:39
Continuing that thought, though, as someone who perhaps never managed remote employees before now, all of a sudden their teams are no longer coming in the office. Are there different skill sets, different managerial management approaches that you’re going to need to adopt now to survive in this environment? Are there is that what you said?
Janice Mazzallo 18:58
Yeah, yeah, I think there are most definitely and again, going back to my original comment, I think the number one is, is having that trust, you know, a manager has got to have a certain level of trust in their employee. If you’re going to micromanage someone at home, I don’t think you’re going to have a very effective relationship with that individual. So the first thing that comes to mind is you’ve got to have clear goals and objectives. As a manager, you’ve got to establish the clear goals and objectives and then hold that person accountable to meet the goals and objectives. And then if they’re not, then you can address those. But don’t micromanage them, allow them to carry out their tasks, and come to you if they need the support. But, you know, again, working remotely, we don’t have that luxury of being with each other eight hours a day. So there has to be some element of it.
Janice Mazzallo 20:00
Allowing that person to work autonomously and doing the right thing in the moment when they’re faced with having to make a decision independently.
Dave Sweeney 20:08
Great. Thank you so much for your time Janice and your insight and wisdom on how we can manage this new normal going forwardin the age of COVID-19.
Janice Mazzallo 20:19
You’re very welcome. It’s been my pleasure.
Dave Sweeney 20:22
I hope you enjoyed this episode, where we’re heading business in the edge of COVID. Next time, we’ll be spending time in the world of marketing and advertising with Paul Robbins with Paul Robbins Associates. How is COVID affecting how businesses engage their audience, communicate and advertise our products and services? Find out next time and to make sure you don’t miss it. Subscribe to this podcast wherever you’re listening to.
Dave Sweeney 20:45
This podcast is produced by biz bang productions. If you have a need or interest in video production or a podcast or other communications Please visit my website at viz-bang.com. That’s v as in Victor i z hyphen means that dash bang dot com. Be well, everybody.