Covid-19: Companies turn to experts for help with staff engagement

Remote working makes it tougher for employees to feel a sense of community

Employee engagement has been tested to the limit by the lockdown. The fighting spirit that characterised the early months of the pandemic has taken a battering and, with dark days and colder weather, it has become a slow plod towards the end of the year.

Recognising the dangers of losing the hearts and minds of employees working from home, companies have been turning to engagement experts for help. For the Cork-based company Workvivo, whose business is all about keeping employees singing happily from their hymn sheets, this has boosted revenues by 200 per cent in 2020 while the company's headcount has doubled to 40 people.

"Building employee engagement was difficult enough prior to the pandemic, but remote working has presented a real challenge in terms of keeping people connected to the business and to each other, especially in industries such as retail where employees were furloughed," says chief executive John Goulding.

“The biggest challenge at the moment is providing a real sense of community so people continue to feel part of ‘something bigger than myself’.


“Companies are starting to see that existing ways of communicating digitally, such as email, are not addressing the needs of employees who require a more social, cultural and emotional connection when working in a remote environment. The same goes for intranets, which are useful for disseminating company information, but were never built to engage employees around a community experience.”

Setting up

Workvivo was set up just over three years ago by Goulding and Joe Lennon to develop a communications platform that keeps employees informed, engaged, connected and aligned to the business values and goals of the organisations they work for. The company has offices here and in the United States and its Irish clients include Woodies and Irish Rail.

The company recently raised €15 million in Series A funding and one of its earliest investors was Zoom founder, Eric Yuan.

At the heart of the Workvivo platform is a centralised communications hub that works more like a social network than a stiff corporate communications channel.

Workvivo also takes a broadly-based approach to employee engagement, which Goulding says is somewhat different to other providers in the space that typically focus on one aspect such as recognition or rewards.

“Recognition is a simple but vital tool for engaging remote employees and reinforcing core values, but it’s just one component of our product,” Goulding says. “We’re more holistic in our take on employee engagement in terms of what influences and drives it – as backed up by research – and we’ve designed our product around these key pillars.

“The definition of employee engagement is the emotional connection between the employee, the organisation and what it’s trying to achieve,” he adds. “An employee will feel most engaged when they believe in what their organisation is trying to do.

“However, this very difficult to achieve in practice and that’s where we come in. We join the dots between the employee and the values and goals of the organisation they’re working for. We also provide the tools to measure engagement, because, if you’re serious about engagement, you have to be able to measure it.”

Managers struggle

Over the last eight months, managers have struggled to keep their teams focused and productive, and employees have struggled to stay interested and upbeat without the camaraderie of the workplace.

Early warning signs that employee engagement is flagging can include a lack of enthusiasm, work goals not being met and people not answering their phone or being reluctant to chat.

“Disengagement can just creep up on people, especially in a remote working environment, and when you’re not in the workplace you can’t see it,” Goulding says.

“What can help is giving everyone a clear structure to their days, weeks and months,” he adds. “The entire team needs to understand both their individual and their organisation’s objectives and the key milestones needed to achieve them. These can be micro or macro, business critical or personal.

“Visually representing these goals will help make them tangible to your team. This can be achieved through something as simple as a shared spreadsheet.”

Goulding lists public recognition, sharing of interesting content, pulse surveys, podcasting and live streaming as ways companies can keep their employees engaged while working from home.

“A number of our clients have been successfully using video updates to enable managers keep in touch,” he says. “They’ve used video to let people know what’s happening, where the business stands and how their contribution can make a difference. This both humanises the management and strengthens the employees’ connection to their organisation.”


Since the accelerated move to remote working began in March the focus for most organisations has been on solving the logistical issues of getting everyone set up to do their job. The big push was all about proving that work can get done remotely.

“Having more or less cracked this Goulding is predicting that the emphasis will shift within organisations in the new year.

“What we’re beginning to see is a recognition by leaders that they need to think fast about how to sustain their culture in the long term,” he says. “The goodwill that got us through initially is seriously waning and it’s going to be a huge challenge to keep people engaged when you don’t have the social capital of everyone in the office to build on.”