The following op-ed was featured on Employee Benefit News on March 15, 2021
In navigating these uncertain times with your workforce, using data to inform long-term solutions and incorporating your company’s core values into your hybrid remote work policy can help align your organization and keep your employees engaged.
In this uncertain working environment, companies are juggling the daunting transition to a hybrid remote workforce with maintaining employee engagement. The first few months of the pandemic brought temporary employee excitement: reduced commutes, more family time, and for many, greater productivity. However, research from Bain Consulting suggests these perks may not be enough to keep employees happy and productive.
Many employees have found that their energy levels and time spent working on high-priority tasks have declined; on average, the number of meetings has increased by 12.9% during the pandemic, resulting in increased fatigue and less time for deep, focused, meaningful work. Yet, employees still want to work remotely for much of their workweek following the pandemic; a recent study by Terminal found that only 20% of engineers want to go back to the office full-time. This has presented a quandary for many organizations: how can we offer flexible work practices to employees without compromising on productivity and engagement?
What is engagement anyway? People platform Culture Amp defines employee engagement as “the levels of enthusiasm and connection employees have with their organization…measuring how motivated people are to put in extra effort for their organization, and a sign of how committed they are to staying there.” High levels of employee engagement are correlated with increased work productivity, higher customer satisfaction, reduced attrition, and ultimately, developments in company sales and profit.
To this end, many employers run weekly or monthly pulses to monitor their employees’ happiness and well-being. Questions like “I am able to effectively switch off from work to make time for rest” and “I can accomplish all I need to during my normal working hours” shine a light on work-life balance. These insights also highlight to employees that their well-being and engagement are important to the company.
However, periodic well-being pulses or engagement surveys are merely point-in-time checks; employees’ days, personal lives, and current workloads influence how they respond. Moreover, these surveys only give companies the ability to react once there is already a problem. Employees may complain of missing free meals and access to the work gym, leading some employers to send snack boxes or cash to be applied towards workout classes. Though these solutions may improve sentiment on work perks, they are merely temporary fixes that will likely wear off as the weeks roll by.
So what could companies be doing to be less reactive, and more proactive? Here are two things you can do today before your office opens:
Gain insight into the future of work at your company: Surveys are still helpful to collect data and gain insight into “hot spots.” However, these data should also be used to generate long-term solutions. For example, many companies survey to assess how comfortable employees are with re-entering the workspace, which gives a future outlook to the potential composition of their in-office versus remote workforces over the long term. Survey tools like Glint, Culture Amp, and Qualtrics provide ready-to-use templates and industry-wide benchmarks (see below); for smaller or more resource-constrained teams, a simple Google form can often do the trick.
Companies like Twitter, Okta, Github, and others use survey data to clarify and define their long-term hybrid remote work policies. Some also use these survey data to gauge burn-out, loneliness, and levels of “Zoom fatigue.” Given employees’ increase in work hours over the past 12 months, you may want to brainstorm ways to reduce these symptoms before they turn into larger issues; for example, designate one day a week as “no meeting day,” or send your employees a small gift to help them reduce stress. Get creative! Another thermos might clutter cabinet space, but a DoorDash gift card, a nanny’s services for two days, or an annual subscription to Headspace can buy some much-needed well-being for any employee on the verge of burnout.
Bring your company’s core values INTO your hybrid remote office strategy: Even more importantly, tie these values to your return-to-office or hybrid remote company policy. By “using your organization’s identity to help guide your decisions, including how you handle your workforce,” you’ll be able to better communicate the decisions you’ve made, the reasoning behind them, and reinforce the company’s dedication to its values. Consistent reminders about your organization’s goals, mission, and values will also increase employees’ sense of direction during difficult and uncertain times.
Two companies upholding their core values in their work policies are Coinbase and Dropbox. In his blog post written in summer 2020, CEO Brian Armstrong reiterated that“part of the vision for Coinbase is to create a world with more economic freedom, and not being tied to one location is a key part of this.” This vision shaped their “remote-first” working policy, in which employees determine when they work in the office vs. remotely. In a similar vein, Dropbox created its “virtual first” policy based on several goals, the primary being “Support the company mission.” “Virtual first” will make remote work the default experience for all employees.
Unfortunately, things aren’t back to “normal” yet; questions like “At what point should we roll employees back into the office?” or “What happens if our county or state imposes sudden new restrictions?” will still be top of mind in the near future. But hybrid working models will be the “new normal”, so employers need to be thoughtful about what the long-term solutions will be for their workforces. By weaving employee survey results and your company’s values into your long-term work policy, you’ll be more likely to make optimal decisions for your employees and the entire organization. If you’d like additional insight or resourcing, check out OfficeTogether to help you realize your future hybrid remote policy.