In the midst of a global pandemic, where entire nations are working towards keeping their populations safe, businesses have been forced into unknown territory. Plans had to be revisited, forecasts reevaluated, and employees ushered into a remote working environment.
Aside from the challenge of using the appropriate technology, policies and logistics to facilitate the move, millions of employees all around the world have found themselves struggling to adapt to working from home.
A pre-Covid19 Gallup report1 showed the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their time working from home, which would suggest that productivity can potentially increase with remote working. In this case, however, employees have the added stress of collapsing industries and the uncertainty on the nature of the threat and its timeline.
A later study conducted by Qualtrics2 in the US, in March 2020, showed that 52% of newly remote workers feel more anxious working from home, 44.4% of those who are now working from home say their mental health has declined, and 65.9% of people report higher levels of stress since the outbreak.
Many HR leaders responded to the pandemic by scrambling to embrace digital technologies and ramping up their digital capabilities. This added a further layer of stress and burnouts as employees struggled to understand the new systems and maintain positive relationships with their coworkers.
Our experience in working with a wide range of companies across various industries has shown that the most successful companies have focused on Employee Experience programs and adopted these key strategies:
Redesign the end-to-end Employee Experience
Well-designed experiences help reduce anxiety and eliminate touchpoints that can unnecessarily consume mental energy. The employee journey must be redesigned to reduce friction, accelerate omnichannel transformation across the physical and digital journeys, and provide appropriate safety requirements to protect employees.
Most companies have different owners for their physical and digital channels, often resulting in conflicting objectives and strategies. This makes the transition between the two spaces cumbersome, requiring a lot of time and effort. The role of HR Leaders is to develop collaboration across these silos and build capabilities in design thinking, user experience, artificial intelligence and machine learning to make digital channels more intuitive and intelligent.
Enhance and personalize internal communication and incentives
Today’s employees expect personalized communications that are tailored to their individual preferences and delivered seamlessly across the right channel and at the right time.
Internet of Things (IoT) and digital data-gathering and monitoring tools such as web scrapers, social-media listening and sentiment analysis, text, voice and video analytics have been successfully used by leading CX companies to understand their clients. These tools can also be used to understand employee behavior and their psychological drivers.
When data generated by these tools is structured and correlated to actual operational and financial data, then validated with transactional surveys, it will deliver insights that can refine the employee value proposition and employee engagement initiatives.
Deep integration between social media listening tools, smart wearable devices, Employee Data Platforms, and operational data, which is made much more feasible with General Integration Platforms (GAP) and then visualized in real-time using business intelligence and analytics platforms could give organizations a good understanding of their employees’ sentiment, moments that matter, things they like, best time to run meetings or give employees free time or counselling.
IoT data can also be used to correlate room temperature, proximity from other colleagues, physical activity, and sleep quality with time spent interacting with certain apps or colleagues.
The use cases are unlimited, but that requires HR to start building business and data analytics skills and seamless collaboration between HR, IT, Finance, Admin and other departments.
Build trust and transparency
Most organizations that we have worked with want to know what employees want and what drives their satisfaction or engagement. These organizations often run annual or biannual surveys- which are mostly obsolete and inaccurate. We have run hundreds of focus groups after such surveys and the feedback has always been negative. The surveys were perceived as a “waste of time” and usually result in an increased mistrust towards management for not acting on employee feedback.
Acting on the information, is even more important than the exercise of getting the feedback. If multiple employees are raising the same concerns, it’s important to assure them that they are being heard. Shifting to transactional surveys, accompanying that with an employee experience governance, and co-creating with the employees’ initiatives to tackle their concerns will increase trust and engagement.
When the NBA restarted their season in July 30, it offered players an Oura ring that is designed to monitor sleep, pulse, movement, heart activity and temperature. The NBA wanted to monitor their plays for symptoms of coronavirus infection. Some players, agents, and privacy advocates expressed concerns about privacy and personal data. Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma tweeted, “Looks like a tracking device.”
While it’s highly beneficial to use available data to gain efficiencies and enhance the relationship with employees, it’s important to note that they are wary about sharing this information. Most employees are used to employers collecting data to monitor employee compliance with policies and regulations, creating negative connotations for any personal data collected. For example, employers monitor the time their employees arrive at work to penalize those who arrive late, and online activity is monitored to ensure that employees are not spending excessive time on social media during working hours.
A loss of trust will damage or end long-term relationships with employees very quickly. To avoid that, employees must have the right to know what data is collected, the right to withdraw their consent from certain data collections, and the right to access, validate, and correct data related to them.
A mutually beneficial data policy must be created to govern the collection, usage and roles of the employee and employer with regards to employee personal data. The policy must outline exactly what is being collected and how it’s being collected, as well as the purpose for collecting it and who has access to the information. This needs to be an ongoing process where the employee is an engaged and informed party. The employee must be notified and his consent must be gained again should there be any changes to the policy, so that the process is always consensual.
The data must always remain private and treated as sensitive information. The company is responsible for protecting it from unauthorized access, and to immediately notify employees if there has been a breach. The company must also be accountable for non-compliance and any employee who leaves the company must have the right to have their data erased.
Adopt the agile principles
The more layers you have in an organization the more difficult it will be to work in an integrated manner and achieve optimal data flow. Lean and agile teams are cross-functional, more informed, more involved and empowered. While big decisions are saved for senior leaders, team members are able to make day-to-day decisions and quickly respond to challenges and opportunities. Decentralization ensures that jobs are done quicker and there is less unnecessary reliance on superiors to complete tasks.
By now, we know that the return to “normal” will not happen in one day but will have to be gradual. Companies that are expecting to return to former working habits must be sensitive to the changing dialogues surrounding work from home and proceed with caution.
In July, Qualitrics surveyed people from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia on how they felt about working from home and three out of five people said they prefer working at home to working at the office3.
As people begin to adapt to this new way of life, companies need to reinvent the way that they connect with their employees to ease the understandable anxiety that comes with uncertain times and ensure productivity despite the challenges.
To succeed, companies need to be agile and adaptive in understanding the new business landscape, as well as their employee needs and expectations. Traditional working models need to be replaced with rapid, focused, and engaging digital initiatives that are more conducive to an exceptional employee experience.
The key to connecting with employees is having an integrated and comprehensive employee experience strategy and cross-disciplinary collaboration, shifting from the episodic employee relationship to a deeper and much more meaningful relationship.