March 4, 2021 – Keeping Staff Engaged & Collaborating

Resources from the Virtual Coffee:

  • Video recording of Q&A with Audrey Cruz – LINK
  • TED Podcast: How to be a Better Human (Episode 2/8 – “How to thrive in remote work”) – LINK
  • No cost Technical Assistance – LINK (email

Notes from Q&A with Audrey Cruz:

Best Practices in Employee Engagement 

  1. Clarity of purpose: It’s critical that folks are connected to a purpose bigger than themselves and this goes for employees and volunteers too
  2. Being Flexible: allow people to work autonomously whenever it works for them
  3. Check In: Intentionally, but casually check in with employees/volunteers on a regular basis. Every 1 week for employees, and every 2-3 weeks for volunteers…with a focus on how to support them. Example Questions:
    1. How are you feeling? (Fears/hopes/concerns/experiences)
    1. What have you worked on towards your goal since we last met?
    1. What are you working on this week towards your goals?
    1. What obstacles or barriers are you dealing with in relation to your goal/tasks? 

Notice What’s going on with you Team?                               

  • If you provide people opportunities to connect and deal with their challenges, questions and concerns – they will often take advantage of it
  • Communicating Courageously
    • In a time of uncertainty, it’s important to share with them in an authentic way. It does require leaders to be vulnerable, to share what’s so and what’s not…when we’ll learn more. 

Psychological Safety in the workplace

Amy Edmondson, Harvard University (Harvard Business School)

“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Qualities of Psychological Safety in a work atmosphere?

  • Everyone’s voice matters!
  • Free of concern
  • Free of retribution
  • Open Communication
  • Engaged and interested listening from leaders

How to set up Psych Safety?

  • Remove hierarchy – remove titles at the door – yields collective creativity, problem solving (better than individuals on their own)
  • Challenge the Status-quo
  • Collaborative Problem Solving

How does Prioritization Play a Role in Engagement?

Over-prioritization is a critical issue (especially in the social sector) – Leads to overwhelm among staff – and second guessing. This often leads to staff who are over-working and trading off their well-being to take on all of these priorities at once. This is in part why the pandemic has led to a great deal of folks saying that they can’t shut off from work and are working way more than pre-pandemic.

Leaders must help employees sort through the 3 most important priorities right now. 

If you’re an employee, urge your boss(es) to force-rank the priorities. (perhaps do this once a quarter). 

Three Things Employers MUST NOT DO:

  1. Don’t Micromanage! – micromanagement is tempting as it is a natural response to fear and uncertainty. It yields animosity between staff and managers and decreased 
  2. Don’t Multitask – Especially when meeting with your employees. Chronic multitasking can reduce your IQ by 12 points! When we multitask it says to the team that they aren’t as important as whatever it is going on over there? Instead…focus on: I hear you, I see you, you matter.
  3. Don’t Give Empty Promises – Be honest. Do what you say you’re going to do. Be clear about what is possible. And support employees in being honest 

How do we help staff adjust to the new normal?

Was there really a work slide during COVID? Research demonstrates that people want to work and contribute to something larger than themselves. We can relinquish control and let people do their work. The reason for disruptions in productivity is the larger change of life that is associated with COVID, and change requires energy. Employees simply have less energy for their job. 

Help employees create habits and ritualized work. (use anchor activities that employees can count on)

This helps employees conserve the energy so that they get more work done.

Breakout Room Notes:

What has worked well for you and/or your organization:

  • Important to have a psychological safe space where employees can talk freely with supervisors.
  • Emotional Fatigue:
  • Important to be aware about our own needs
  • Schedule in calendar time to separate physically by removing oneself from meetings and walk around
  • Visual of a storm at work – reminder to step away from the storm. 
  • Avoid scheduling meetings back to back and separate them throughout the day; block an hour and have a meeting for 45 minutes so you have a 15-min. Buffer
  • Hosting a biweekly virtual coffee with staff to engage them in casual (non-work conversation)
  • We hosted a fun staff Happy Hour with intentional fun non-work content and small breakout rooms designed to connect staff who don’t normally interact too often.
  • Agency leadership hosts regular open office hours where staff can bring up anything that they’d like. Anything goes. There have been mixed results – as it’s hard for staff to bring up real questions about job security, layoffs, raises, etc.
  • Creating additional training opportunities to mentors – and trying to get them to focus on little wins.
  • Be super focused during our meetings together to honor peoples’ time. Offering informal connection time outside of meeting hours to team members if they had differing views than the rest of the group or when they were feeling disconnected.
  • Weekly check-in – 
  • Informal time built in
  • Virtual Tea for mentors – talk about things that have nothing to do with mentoring
  • Have a “controversial topic of the day” not related to work to encourage informal conversation
  • Sent team Uber Eats – order lunch in and have it together online; fun way to cover lunch and provide unstructured time
  • Every morning send an email – here is my schedule (kids are home); sets limits of when to contact them
  • Staff getting together without ED
  • Team and individual check-ins; utilize calendars to show when people aren’t available; block out time
  • Denver delivery for local companies to provide boxes for happy hour or meetings – LINK
  • Set routines: walks to start and end day = “daily commute”
  • 30-minute “fika” every other week for staff to optionally join as a time to hang out and not talk about work
  • Having a folder in your inbox (or a list or something) to keep track of “small wins”. Since we don’t get to naturally share those as much. And if you’re having a bad day, you can go see all of the amazing things you’ve done.

Questions/Resources Still Needed:

  • What do you do when managing employees and everyone is feeling overwhelmed?
  • How do we support people coming back to the office? How can leadership help frame and support the new normal back in-person and manage what has worked for the last year vs. what’s expected from leadership of employees? How do we support staff during the energy shift of moving back to in-person?
  • How can we embrace the anniversary of COVID as a way of showcasing shared adversity?
  • How can we stay energized in the midst of what seems like constant change (maybe making a list of all the things that haven’t changed…and making a timeline of the big changes that the organizations has weathered that’s kept us all together.

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