TFI Talent Talks Interview Series: Part 2
The term employee engagement is used to describe employees’ commitment and connection to their work and the organization. High levels of employee engagement result in increased employee satisfaction, productivity and retention, which in turn drive an increase in overall business performance.
Before COVID-19 and the mass movement to working remotely, many employee engagement strategies and programs relied on “high-touch” and face to face interactions and activities to build and sustain commitment and connection. How can we re-imagine employee engagement to provide that much-needed connection in a virtual world?
Today we're speaking with Manjit Tamber, Associate Vice President at TD Securities. Manjit leads a business design and integration team and is also providing interim support to a marketing, events and communication team. She will share her experience implementing employee engagement strategies that work.
Julie Bryski, (Senior Director, Talent Initiatives, TFI): Welcome Manjit. To get us started, please tell us why you feel employee engagement is so critical, especially at this time.
Manjit Tamber: The pandemic was completely unexpected and a critical situation that we are dealing with across the globe. It is important to understand what your employees are going through, not just from a business perspective, but also from a human perspective, as we deal with this unprecedented period of time.
It is critical to ensure that people are feeling connected and understood, and that leaders have an appreciation for what employees are experiencing. In a time like this, I believe that employees look to their day-to-day leaders for guidance, direction and even comfort in some situations.
Julie Bryski: We do think about employee engagement as a “high-touch” activity – best or traditionally accomplished face to face. How have you shifted your strategy and tactics to be effective in a virtual world? What are some of the creative solutions that you have implemented?
Manjit Tamber: I agree, employee engagement is easier when done face to face and through high-touch activities. I like to be able to stop by people’s desks for a quick hello and have informal coffees. In shifting to a virtual world one of the biggest things that has enabled me to change my approach is the access to technology. We have utilized tools like Webex, with video capabilities, and MS Teams, which has a mobile version that can be downloaded to your phone, and allow you to stay connected, even if you've stepped away for a moment. In the office we would roll our chair over to our team members to ask for their input or advice. The individual chat and group chat functions in MS Teams allow you to do this virtually by setting up a topic thread. Team members can respond to and share their input at their convenience. Some of our employees are working off hours, and so these tools make it easier to stay connected.
The nice thing about the chat functions is that you retain a record of the conversations, which you can reference later. This can help to connect the dots, or fill in forgotten information. We don’t have the benefit of face to face conversations and rolling our chair back, but we have gained the advantage of this on-going record of the discussion.
These are the formal tools that I've leveraged to keep my team connected day to day. In addition, I’ve leveraged some “social sessions” and encouraged team members to join a variety of groups (and I have joined some myself). As examples, we launched a fitness challenge, virtual drinks, and a book club.
Others have created a podcast-style open call that employees can join. The topics are a mix between work-related and more personal, fun discussions. The call is open to a broader audience and there is no need to identify yourself and be visible – you can just listen in. The call gives employees the opportunity to pick up on some information that they wouldn't have known otherwise, while also having some fun.
It also provides an informal way for people to connect across various teams, and for my team to connect with our internal clients. It helps to build the engagement that we might have built over coffee or going for lunch.
It's necessary to find ways to connect with people and engage employees, remotely. Using the various technologies that we have access to today enables these creative solutions.
"Operating through the pandemic has also resulted in an increase in employee empowerment. We have empowered employees to make decisions, take things to the next level, and get creative in their approach."
Operating through the pandemic has also resulted in an increase in employee empowerment. We have empowered employees to make decisions, take things to the next level, and get creative in their approach.
This takes practice, some individuals have shared that taking the lead was challenging in the beginning. They were nervous about being empowered to make some decisions themselves, without the benefit of dropping by my desk to talk it through first. But in the end, they reported a more elevated and engaged experience because of that increased accountability and level of trust.
Employee empowerment has also helped us to access new ideas. When you make people accountable and empower them to make some decisions, they are also forced to think outside of the box. We’ve tapped into a pipeline of talent that surfaced amidst times where we needed fast action from various levels of employees.
The combination of increased accountability, empowerment and productivity has helped to drive employee engagement.
Julie Bryski: What has worked well? Where are you still looking to improve?
Manjit Tamber: For some employees, and I admit that I am one, there is a learning curve in terms of using some of these technologies. While many of the tools have worked very well, we could improve some of the initial training on the tools. There can be opportunities to have experts across the organization come in and do a walk-through and offer more advanced training to ensure we are using the tools in the most effective way.
I would also like to improve on tailoring some of our engagement approaches to specific individuals and circumstances. As an example, scheduling the next team meeting as a video call resonates with some team members and provides an opportunity to increase employee engagement. However, it doesn't work for the person who has young kids in the background and no one else available to help. It puts them in an uncomfortable situation trying to manage visual distractions. You are trying to encourage engagement, but you actually have the opposite effect.
Julie Bryski: What are some critical success factors that others should consider when implementing their own employee engagement strategies?
Manjit Tamber: The one critical success factor I feel is empathy. More than ever, when we are connecting with people, we are not able to see them face to face. You have to pick up on voice tone cues or awkward pauses. For leaders it is important to really understand, as much as you possibly can, what others are going through. In terms of engagement, that's where we're going to get our success. It’s not just that employees are working from home. Employees are trying to manage their entire lives within four walls. Some are managing kids, or pets, or other obligations. Some employees are on their own completely and we are all practicing social distancing.
We have to consciously make an effort to appreciate that. To ensure the best possible levels of employee engagement, we need to be very cognizant of the different situations that people are experiencing. That means that leaders are increasingly taking on a facilitator role, to understand employees’ unique situations and to do what they can to support their engagement with work, within each individual personal context.
Julie Bryski: While the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed or changed many work activities, it has forced us all to pivot and be creative in the ways we work together. Some of these innovations may endure after we return to our physical workplaces. Are there program elements or new ways of thinking about employee engagement that you will keep or continue when physical workplaces open up again?
Manjit Tamber: This is a great question. There has been recognition that a lot of bureaucracy has been cut down, because we are entirely in pandemic mode. COVID-19 has forced a shift in thinking towards “We’ve just got to move”.
To that end, we have been successful in stripping away a lot of unnecessary formalities and moving things forward, and there is acknowledgement that maybe this is the better way to work.
I believe that we will carry this mindset forward as we go back into more normalcy.
I also think this shift will have a positive impact on our ongoing employee engagement efforts. For example, simpler processes will enable employee empowerment and help employees to navigate internally and to execute their decisions. And, less bureaucracy can help fuel creativity and innovative problem-solving, which can also lead to stronger engagement as employees experience more satisfaction in their day-to-day work.
Julie Bryski: Thank you, Manjit, for sharing your experience with TFI readers. Do you have any closing remarks that you would like to share?
|"...this experience is teaching us that there is a different way to work. We have the ability to step out of the previous confines of what we thought needed to happen to get our jobs done."|
Manjit Tamber: I believe that this experience is teaching us that there is a different way to work. We have the ability to step out of the previous confines of what we thought needed to happen to get our jobs done. Before the pandemic, I would have never thought that front office traders could work from home – they need multiple screens and access to a Bloomberg terminal. Impossible! But it’s absolutely happening, our technology teams have worked wonders.
We have to embrace that this is a paradigm shift. There are many tools that we can leverage to support employee engagement and combining these with changes in our patterns and behaviours will really drive employee engagement to the next level.
About Manjit Tamber, Associate Vice President at TD Securities
Manjit is currently the AVP, Business Design & Integration (BD&I). In this role, she facilitates cross-functional discussions to inform strategy and align interests of business, technology and infrastructure stakeholders across the Project Portfolio. The BD&I team provides a holistic end-to-end discipline to strategy development and program/project planning, within the context of the changing business and regulatory landscape.