The coronavirus pandemic blindsided every organisation.
It not only disrupted business; it also exposed the vulnerabilities in employee experience (EX) and workforce strategy that executives thought they had plenty of time to address.
For example, when only 10 percent of a company’s workforce is working remotely and the rest are in an office, it’s easy to understand why ensuring that those 10 percent feel both included and enabled has always been less of a priority for leaders. But when 80 or 100 percent are working from home, it can no longer wait.
Astute leaders recognise that while the pandemic presents challenges, it also presents opportunities to make lasting improvements.
So while they’ve scrambled to get people up and running in home offices and offered understanding and latitude for employees who have unique circumstances like kids running around, or at-risk people sharing their space, they haven’t yet addressed the enablers that make remote working what it can be at its best – an engaging and rewarding experience, where deep work can get done.
Now is the time for leaders to develop their “listening” strategy and keep it going long after the pandemic is a memory. A listening strategy has 4 key components, at a minimum:
1. An ongoing employee survey program.
It should include both a comprehensive periodic survey (e.g. once or twice a year), and an ongoing pulse survey with no more than 3 questions taken from a rotating pool of questions, and offered up randomly to revolving groups of employees through various touchpoints, such as when they punch-in or sign in each day, visit the intranet, use a company mobile app, etc.
2. Exercises that reveal what surveys can’t.
Exercises can paint a rich picture of what employees’ daily experiences look and feel like for them, such as employee journey-mapping. With it, you can see things that surveys can’t reveal, such as how metrics impact their behaviour and decisions, where there are gaps in tools and processes that are hindering their effectiveness, or how well they understand how their work fits into the overall organisational goals.
3. Targeted, ongoing conversations to gain a deeper understanding.
These will reveal nuances of things identified by the surveys and exercises. The findings should be summarised for leaders to develop an action plan for addressing each area.
4. Action and follow-up, no exceptions.
Clients often express fears about survey fatigue whenever I suggest that they should either put one in place or expand it, and in my experience, the survey is not the source of their fatigue. Inaction and lack of follow-up are.
For every listening programme there has to be follow-up that shares both what the leaders of the organisation heard, but also what actions they are taking as a result. And this communication stream needs to continue until all actions are complete.
As our clients are moving through the complications of this pandemic on their workforces, I’m often asked what questions they should be asking their employees to keep their hands on the pulse of what matters most. Here are a few areas I’ve been recommending they consider asking questions about:
- Quality of their home working environment: Specifically whether it’s a good place for them to be productive or not, due to distractions like homeschooling kids, shared spaces with others, poor wi-fi, etc.
- If they’re a parent who is suddenly burdened with childcare and education demands, what might help them if the company could offer it. Examples: remote tutoring of kids, reducing work demands, etc.
- How well-connected they feel with their manager and colleagues
- Quality of the technology environment that the company provides: specifically how satisfied they are that they have easy access to the information they need to do their work, satisfied with their collaboration tools, and that the security controls in place aren’t hindering their ability to be productive, to name just 3.
- If they have any specific concerns such as feeling less relevant, less productive, or less effective, etc.
- What they will need to feel safe about returning to work, or if there is anything, such as an at-risk parent living with them, etc. that will make it more difficult for them to feel safe.
All of these areas will provide your leadership team with much greater insights that will allow the company to provide targeted support where and when it’s most needed.
Note that Forrester is also fielding a monthly survey now that we’re calling our PandemicEX survey that’s providing insights into how people’s thoughts about COVID-19 in the context of their working lives is changing and evolving.
For example, we’re finding that with each successive result set, people are feeling more and more ready to get back to working in their offices, as before, but that they’re also feeling afraid.
There are a couple of implications of this that I think are worth paying attention to: One of them is that probably 25 percent of the people who started working remotely for the first time during the pandemic will likely want to stay working that way as much as they can from now on.
The second is that you need to be thinking now about what employees will need to feel safe as they return, understanding that we’re going to be dealing with ongoing ebbs and flows of the virus spreading for at least the next year until a vaccine is widely available.
David K. Johnson is Principal Analyst at Forrester.
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