One of the hardest things to achieve is an engaged workforce — a collection of individuals who are fully committed to the organization and give their best effort at work. And during a crisis, it can be even harder to build engagement, as constant change and uncertainty can create distractions such as fear, anxiety, and insecurity among employees.

According to Gallup, the percentage of engaged employees in the U.S. has risen from a low of 26 percent in 2000 to its current level of 36 percent. The remaining employees are either not engaged, or worse, actively disengaged and spreading their unhappiness in the workplace. 

During the pandemic, you may have taken steps to build engagement similar to other employers: you prioritized mental health, offered employees resources for staying productive while working from home, and demonstrated empathy to employees hit hard by illness and loss. Now that the worst of the pandemic is (hopefully) behind us, what can you do to improve engagement and motivate employees to do their best work? You can build on the progress you may have already made by taking the following steps:

Be willing to redefine “normal”

Though some may be convinced that a return to the old way of working is the best way to bounce back from a crisis, most realize the definition of “normal” must change. This reality is most apparent when it comes to remote and hybrid working. According to a PWC survey, only one in five executives said they wanted to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. A majority of employees in the same survey said they expected to continue working remotely at least three days a week after the pandemic ends.

In addition to work location flexibility, there are other potential areas of change in the new “normal” workplace. For example, it may become more common to hire people remotely and never meet them in person. According to the Monster 2021 Future of Work Survey, nearly half of large companies (46 percent) said they were now more open to hiring remote workers.

Continue to focus on keeping employees connected

During the pandemic, Zoom calls remained the primary method of keeping people connected, and the need to build effective communication channels won’t change. You may no longer be in crisis mode and need daily stand-ups and check-ins, but you will still need to find creative ways to keep employees connected to each other and their work. Now, instead of hosting more virtual happy hours, you can keep employees engaged and connected through activities such as mentorship programs and rotational opportunities that build skills while helping employees get to know people on other teams.

Realign people with purpose

For many companies, 2020 was a year to maintain or even change business strategy while making several course corrections along the way. Team and individual job responsibilities changed, and many lost their jobs through layoffs and furloughs. Now, it’s critical to be sure existing employees understand the organization’s strategy and purpose, and their role in it.

Gallup research found that less than half of employees in any industry feel strongly connected to their company’s mission, but they may be more engaged when they feel more connected. You can boost communication efforts and enlist the support of key leaders to ensure employees understand the company mission and know their role in making it a reality.

Develop leaders who embrace conflict

A crisis like the pandemic showed how valuable it was for companies to have resilient leaders who could navigate the constant barrage of uncertainty and stress. Leaders who embrace conflict rather than run from it can not only guide employees through tough times, but they can also find creative solutions to new problems as they arise. By hiring and developing these kinds of leaders, you can be prepared for the next conflict and get much-needed support to keep your employees productive and engaged. 

Though engagement has been elusive for many organizations, there are ways to improve it after a crisis. As your organization emerges from the pandemic, now may be the perfect time to take a fresh look at new ways to build engagement in your workforce.