Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom are just a few of the platforms that have become essential to keep the workforce connected and business moving.

During the peak of lockdown when the majority of businesses were operating from home, it seemed that many were pleasantly surprised with the almost seamless transition to the new method of working. However, as we begin to see the easing of restrictions and more employees heading back to the office, businesses may be forced to adopt a ‘hybrid’ approach to working.

Employee engagement

This comes with its own challenges. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the problem of connectivity. With some employees preferring to work in the office with regular ‘face-to-face’ interaction, this might lead to a feeling of isolation amongst those who continue to work from home. Problems could involve insufficient communication, confusion, and, in some cases, under-performance. Bridging this gap to prevent creating the feeling of ‘two classes’ will thus likely involve creating a set of policies that all employees must follow to ensure a high level of engagement.

For example, monthly 121’s may become insufficient and be replaced with more frequent individual catchups with employees, which may even become daily. Not only is it the responsibility of the employer to ensure employees working from home are included, informed, and aware of what is expected from them – but it’ll become increasingly more necessary to check up on employee’s health and general wellbeing. Maintaining employee engagement – perhaps through multimedia company-wide updates – may also be necessary.  

Annual General Meetings

But what about engagement with external stakeholders? Annual General Meetings (AGM) provide one of the few opportunities shareholders have to question the board, engage with management, and hear the views of other stakeholders. Particularly for larger companies, discussions with the communities in which they have a direct impact can take place.

So, how can this be navigated? Firstly, it is important to take into consideration the digital literacy of your shareholders. A remote AGM may not be suitable for less ‘tech-savvy’ groups or individuals with limited access to technology. In addition, it is no secret that large virtual meetings are a lot harder to co-ordinate; it lessens the ability of stakeholders to question the board and hold them accountable for decisions – particularly if questions have to be submitted prior to the meeting and the opportunity to challenge individuals is minimised.

Could a Hybrid AGM be the answer? It is certainly less alienating and provides stakeholders with an element of flexibility. It removes the common barriers to entry, such as transportation and availability, whilst tackling new ones such as social distancing. But it will likely come with challenges of its own. For example, businesses might be hesitant to commit to technology because of the risk of failure due to technology issues, or even associated costs. Having a number of stakeholders physically there and a number at home may also cause communication difficulties. 

If Annual General Meetings are to become the primary method of engagement, increasing the frequency to more than once a year may be essential. During a time of constant change, there will need to be more opportunities to address concerns. It will also become vital to regularly update the company website to keep stakeholders informed during a time of limited face-to-face interaction.

It is clear that in order to overcome the current and future challenges that this year has presented, companies will be forced to pivot and adapt their working practices. Effective communication and transparency between employees and stakeholders are imperative, and the barriers must be addressed. It is hard to predict how long-standing these changes will be, but it is likely that some businesses will permanently adopt a ‘hybrid’ approach to working. Technology will likely evolve many of the challenges, which will require an increase in digital education for all.

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