AMS’s employee engagement efforts were featured in a July 24, 2020 article in CEO Update, “Groups find low- and no-cost ways to boost staff engagement.”
How do you keep everyone happy at work? It is a question asked constantly at any company. For many Association Management Companies (AMCs), finding an answer to this question is further complicated by the fact that employees spend 95% of their day on their client projects and can feel a sense of disconnect to their AMC and its mission. An AMC must constantly pivot, make small changes and listen to their employees.
Through exit interviews and employee satisfaction surveys, the leadership of Association Management Strategies, Inc. (AMS) knew that employees wanted to feel more engaged with AMS and initiated efforts to address this concern in early 2019. At the time AMS was also finalizing preparation for our AMCI certification and had begun to engage staff more strategically on AMS related activities. Our management team met to look at AMS’s future and began work on a new Five-Year Action Plan. Employee engagement and increased satisfaction emerged as one of the company’s main goals during this planning process.
Before beginning our more concerted efforts, AMS did all the basic things most companies do for employee engagement: held a monthly all-staff meeting, provided electronic updates on AMS and client activities, celebrated birthdays and major personal life events; had mid and end of the year celebrations, etc. But we needed to do more. Our action plan, which kicked in at the end of 2019, set out to take engagement activities to the next level by developing a mentorship program, enhancing onboarding, outlining the path for advancement and promotion, increasing employee recognition and making employees feel more included in AMS activities.
We began the work on all these activities, and we were making small strides. A year past from our initial action employee satisfaction surveys showed progress, but the staff still craved engagement. And then COVID happened.
Unlike some companies, AMS was very well positioned to transition quickly into a virtual office. In the year before the pandemic hit we had cycled out our last few desktop computers and replaced them with laptops, retired our file server and moved to cloud storage, replaced our premise-based phone system with a cloud-based VOIP system complete with audio/video conferencing, implemented e-fax, and moved all finance and HR tasks to cloud-based and paperless systems. We also had a fair number of employees who worked from home periodically. We were running virtual almost immediately.
The management team meet constantly to consider what work from home looked like for the next several days, weeks, months. We divvied up responsibilities and created working groups; those focused on client needs as well as employee needs. We knew we could do it IT and client wise, but how could we handle the other pieces and maintain employee engagement? We began by forming a Social Remote Task Force – a group of employees all focused on how we would keep each other engaged if we could not do so with a trip for coffee, popping by each other’s desk or at employee gatherings.
We increased use of a messaging program and we developed a chat channel for the office. At first the channel was scripted, with “AMS Questions of the Day” such as ‘What take out place do you miss most by the office’? But then it became a more organic channel where we shared work tricks, quarantine survival, photos, shout outs to colleagues, inside office jokes and resources for civic engagement.
We took funds we would normally use for office monthly birthday party and staff meeting and repurposed those into an AMS swag order. We created an AMS Pen Pals program where employees sent each other small, personal gifts funded by the company.
We formed a care giver support group where parents of all aged children could lament and support each other through the stresses of juggling work and home and a pandemic. We created weekly challenges and team challenges like making a COVID song playlist or showing us the quarantine treats that people were baking at home. We had happy hours where we learned new things from and about other colleagues and coffee hours where we played trivia and shared stories.
We used new technology to connect in new ways and created e-birthday and anniversary cards (and employees wrote meaningful messages instead of signing just their name).
In addition to planned fun, we made rapid changes to our telework norms. Video calls became essential for most meetings, yet there was no makeup, no jewelry, and you could see your colleague wearing their favorite baseball cap. Significant others popped in and waved hello and the family pet might even meow in the background. Management styles change too. More flexibility for going to the store in critical hours to get dire staples and arranging calls around child care issues. Employees held meetings while walking; together, yet thirty minutes away.
As our work norms changed management saw that it really did not matter where our employees worked as long as the work was getting done. And it was getting done.
We developed a return to office survey of the team to gauge how they were feeling. Everyone wanted to go back to normal, to see each other, but to do it the right way and we wanted the team’s buy in to what we were doing.
In March we had seen our employee satisfaction slowly increasing but by June our employee satisfaction had accelerated. Employees said they felt closer to their colleagues now and more a part of the AMS team.
For AMS a pandemic was not just giving employees time to flatten the curve and spend time with their families, but also to feel a greater sense of connection to the company. AMS is taking these engagement lessons and developing a continuity plan for what that looks like as we continue remote work and as we gradually return to the office. If there is anything that is a certainty, it is that AMS will continue cultivating the team and relationships long after these tumultuous times subside.