As the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bite, many businesses have decentralized their workforce. The work-from-home mantra has embedded itself firmly into our social fabric as a semi-permanent (if not permanent) fixture.
In the space of a year, companies have had to completely reorient their priorities and make sweeping changes to their operations. We are now living in a world where going digital has become a necessity to ensure business continuity.
However, as businesses fight to stay afloat during these unprecedented times, it is imperative to understand how to maximize the potential of an organization's building block—that is, its employees. The concept of employee empowerment plays a key role in this.
In management lingo, employee empowerment means giving employees a certain degree of autonomy and the tools they need to perform their day-to-day tasks and make independent decisions. Long gone is the era of command-and-follow; businesses are now ushering in direct employee action and accountability for greater productivity.
This idea of employee empowerment has existed and flourished since the pre-pandemic times. However, now that employees are scattered across the map, physical location and distance needs to be aligned with employee engagement and empowerment.
Why Does Employee Empowerment Matter?
The Work-from-Home(WFH) spike we are currently in has brought with it a new host of problems. The absence of a physical organizational structure could gradually erode the already tenuous work-life balance of employees.
Workers now have to deal with issues of a quiet workspace, home distractions, and absence of office technology and tools they are accustomed to when working from home.
The matter is compounded by the constant deluge of bad news on media platforms and news sources as it pertains to furloughs, layoffs, and general difficult economic times.
Job insecurity and the tremendous uncertainty that the future holds were and are the other points of contention that disempowers employees and hurt their performance.
Workers need to be empowered with information and the tools they need to tackle challenges brought by COVID on their own and the issues they struggle with as they try to manage work in a way never before done.
The virtual world is providing us with solutions to these problems. While we may have lost in-person connections, we found and embraced the ability to make them virtually.
Benefits of Employee Empowerment
The benefits of empowering your employees are many, especially in our digital world and our increasingly virtual workplaces.
When workers are empowered and can openly and constantly engage with their management, they feel valued and know their opinions matter. That breeds inter satisfaction, motivation, and self-drive.
Not only that, but there are other benefits of employee empowerment you gain, such as:
- More effective communication in the workplace
- Adherence to best practices
- Better collaboration and teamwork
- Positive embrace of changes, be it digitization or even an acquisition
- More innovation and performance
- Greater optimism and ‘can do’ attitude
- Effective customer service and support
- Increased company loyalty, making them your number one brand advocates
- Increased desire and confidence to go the extra mile to reach goals.
How Can Organizations Empower Employees?
According to a survey by McKinsey on 800 US employees, employee engagement, well-being, and effectiveness are driven by a set of employee experience factors. For example, working on their purpose and contribution to the organization improves employees' work effectiveness by 20.3%, engagement by 49.0% and personal well-being by 49.3%.
So, empowering employees entails giving them security, safety, and capacity to work on their purpose as well as to contribute meaningfully to the company. Only through this can workers feel their input is significant and businesses can sustain themselves; when the curtains come down, an organization is as good as its workers, and the workers are as good as the company they work for.
Employee empowerment can also be achieved by getting that channel of communication open between employees and management, including listening to understand and build trust and letting your employees know that you are there for them, not only through words but also through your actions—even during the pandemic.
Besides all that, there are other essentials that businesses and organizations can use to empower employees, fortify a foundation of trust, and reap the benefits of it all, including:
1. Using virtual tools
Before the pandemic hit, software tools like Google Meet, MS Teams, and Zoom were already prominent features in the digital video conferencing arena. Businesses took advantage of these tools as modes of enabling and maintaining social bonds, while work happened remotely. Businesses should still use virtual tool more so now to empower their employees.
Digital workspaces were also streamlined, and secure access was provided to employees. That should continue to happen. The pandemic has provided an opportunity and allowed for employees to use online tools and businesses to strengthen their IT infrastructure.
For example, provided software How-To guides and manuals on WFH to help employees ease into the tools and into functioning in virtual workspaces.
2. Provide greater transparency
The pandemic reminded everyone how much transparency mattered. Without transparency, there is mistrust and communication and processes are likely to be disjointed and break down.
Thus, informing employees about company goals and tasks they need to complete, explaining how they are contributing to the overall company performance, and emphasizing the need for transparent communication in a virtual work environment is incredibly important.
Organizations needed to make sure now, more than ever, that communication between the lower and upper echelons of companies is fluid, respective, and does not become stale or stall.
3. Allow for work flexibility
Employees can be empowered to create their own work structure and schedules. When workers control their workload and know what exactly what they're supposed to be doing, they tend to churn out better results when they can do it on their own schedule, and studies support that.
Reports following mandatory lockdowns during the pandemic show that many employees report being more productive working from home or teleworking and enjoying a better work-life balance. According to Flex+ Strategy Group's 2018 report, more than half (60%) of employees surveyed felt more productive when offered with a more flexible work schedule.
Tailor programs and policies to fit your employees’ needs and provide the necessary tools (virtual or otherwise) to empower them to do their job. For example, you can allow a special arrangement for time to go to the gym during lunch or take a training class with respect to their work schedule. It can have a tangible positive impact on both the employees and employers.
4. Involve employees in decision-making.
When employees are involved in decision-making processes, it builds trust. Workers feel more valued and important to the company.
These decisions can range from simple ones like what time they want a meeting at to begin to more significant ones like financial decisions.
Creating a two-way dialogue that opens room for discussion can only improve trust, efficiency and commitment to tasks, even in remote work settings.
5. Nurture a positive workplace culture
To build team spirit and ensure employees don't feel out-of-place with each other or with company goals and the work they're required to do, encourage quality employee engagement. Share and show company values with everyone, while providing a safe and enjoyable space to work.
Don’t always be stiff and discourage informal workplace communication among colleagues. In fact, encourage it to build a friendly and positive workplace culture. Informal speak, meetings and games can help boost morale and productivity. It’s a great way for de-stressing, which is important to avoid burnout and ensure a fun and fulfilling workplace atmosphere.
Investing in employee-to-employee relationships and building camaraderie is important for stoking creativity, oneness, and building a winning team spirit.
Employee empowerment and autonomy are crucial aspects of healthy employee-employer relationships. By implementing a solid strategy for employee empowerment and taking proactive steps to achieve it, you can drive much higher workforce productivity, engagement and business success.