Diversity Insight: Improving Employee Culture With a Dispersed Workforce

employee in purple shirt with hybrid worker name badge
By Teshia Davis

5 minutes

An inclusive work environment is a byproduct of creative, thoughtful, genuine engagement initiatives built on the needs of employees.

The case for hybrid work is well-made, and both employees and organizations continue to define what that looks like with a shared focus on employee well-being and company success. With an overwhelming majority, 90% of employees report being as productive—or more productive—when working remotely, according to Owl Labs. But with a hybrid, dispersed workforce comes the challenge of maintaining employee culture.

With almost half of our workforce in a remote, virtual environment for the first time, we view these challenges as opportunities and choose to address them head-on at SECU Maryland. In the process, we continue to uncover more opportunities than obstacles, emerging with a tighter, more supportive employee culture.

Here's what we learned: An inclusive work environment is a byproduct of creative, thoughtful, genuine engagement initiatives built on the needs of employees.

Challenges Faced by Human Resources With a Dispersed Workforce

With physical distance comes a natural sense of separation—even isolation. And there’s no getting around the understandable, and healthy, urge to connect with others. Naturally, many employees still value face-to-face interactions, so our goal is to keep our fingers on the pulse of how these employees are feeling, ensuring we do what we can to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Also, like many organizations now, we have to face the challenge of potential employee burnout. While workers balance flexibility with limited face-to-face engagement, many overcompensate to ensure their performance is top-notch.

To encourage a healthy equilibrium, we encourage employees to log off on time and utilize vacation time. We also support mental health breaks, so everyone gets a chance to come up for air, equalize and rejuvenate from time to time.

How to Keep Employees Engaged in a Hybrid Work Environment

Keeping employees engaged in a hybrid work environment involves meeting them where they are and prioritizing their needs, which then become prerequisites—and the foundation of an overall wellness strategy. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be purposeful in connecting with colleagues.
  2. Offer grace in acknowledging that we all work differently, especially when doing so remotely.
  3. Always offer flexibility to your teams, particularly because everyone’s personal and professional lives are now intertwined.
  4. Support and promote mind, body and financial wellness with your employees.

Building a Stronger Employee Culture With a Dispersed Workforce

To foster a robust, supportive employee culture at SECU MD, we had to put the above steps to work—and get a little creative, too. As SECU shifted to a hybrid work model, we moved swiftly to adapt how we communicated and engaged our employees. Because so many employees work in a remote, virtual environment, we knew it would be critical to focus on creating a sense of belonging and ensure our culture remained strong whether our team was working from home, in a branch, or in the office.

To support these efforts, we:

  • Created weekly company-wide emails to offer business and pandemic updates, encourage transparency, and ensure company-wide alignment.
  • Launched BeWell, a multifaceted initiative that provides a variety of resources, programs, and tools that support the holistic well-being of our employees.
  • Kickstarted monthly company-wide strategic briefing sessions with our leadership team. These enabled us to provide insight on business priorities and changes in strategy. They also empowered us to launch new initiatives and celebrate successes.
  • Surprised all employees with a series of monthly brand box mailings, ranging in value from $150 to $200. They were carefully curated and included items based on the season, well-being, and an element of doing good or giving back to the communities we serve.
  • Held town hall sessions and award and talent shows.
  • Launched wellness challenges.
  • Hosted diversity, equity and inclusion speaker sessions.
  • Arranged for community engagement and giving initiatives.

The Impact of Employee Engagement Initiatives

Frequent, deliberate and focused communications on what’s most relevant, important and timely for our employees does more than keep them engaged. It also provides a level of transparency, which is increasingly important in a time of so much uncertainty. It’s an essential step for all credit unions.

We utilize various means of tracking and measurement to determine success rates and have found an increase in overall employee satisfaction, as well as a deeper connection with SECU Maryland. Additionally, over time, this has led to an even stronger two-way dialogue with our employees, as various communications topics now arise from employee forums, affinity groups and individuals. Not only has this benefited SECU MD, it can provide a cultural boost for other credit unions and financial institutions.

Engagement Opportunities in 2022

As we move together through 2022, I believe our initiatives will not only continue but also become more creative and unique. Some raised concerns about the potential fallout of the “Great Resignation.” However, the “Great Resignation” will give way to the “Great Onboarding.” All the efforts we have in place supported an increase in retention and imbued our brand with a more inclusive culture. This will help ensure a supportive culture for all new employees. A culture that makes employees feel valued will be critical as we, and other credit unions, move into the future.

In all organizations, not just financial institutions, workplace culture is like a marriage. Most want to find a compatible employer—an organization they align with and can trust—one that has their best interests at heart. An increase in meaningful, open communications and engagement initiatives is an incredibly powerful tool to help an organization play its part in the relationship.

Teshia Davis, VP/people at SECU, Maryland's largest credit union, was recognized as an honoree in the “Trailblazer” and “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader” categories of Ragan’s 2021 Top Women in Wellness and HR Awards.

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