The government guidance around in-office vs remote working is seemingly a constantly moving target. Many organisations who were encouraging employees to come in part-time have shut down offices once again, and the majority of the workforce whose jobs only require a computer and an internet connection are back working in their bedrooms and kitchens.
However, by now organisations are feeling slightly more comfortable with, and prepared for, remote working. In fact, the Welsh government has said that once coronavirus restrictions have eased, they still expect to see a third of people working from home. It certainly seems that at least a proportion of the workforce and their employers are anticipating some permanent flexibility in terms of remote working and perhaps a creation of a hybrid workforce.
Building employee engagement from a distance
As businesses have shown understanding in allowing employees to adapt to working remotely, and to some extent manage their own time, it has gone a long way to building trust and engagement. This has been vital whilst a physical distance exists between staff and their employers. Engagement surveys have also proved a useful tool in this instance, for gauging employee sentiment during periods of uncertainty.
The rich insights that can be gained from surveying employees have been, and still are, extremely important in informing business decisions. However, due to the tumultuous nature of recent months, the pervasive feeling amongst organisational leaders is that they have exhausted the traditional engagement survey. Concerned about survey fatigue, HR leaders are reluctant to ask employees any more questions. But is that the right approach?
The myth of survey fatigue
In the context of a reversion to remote working, it’s important to keep evaluating employee sentiment on a consistent basis. Still left to manage their work hours around domestic responsibilities such as childcare, employee burnout remains a legitimate concern, as people risk being ‘on’ at all hours of the day while managing their households. Add in virtual meeting fatigue and lack of in-person contact with colleagues and the result is frustration and dismay.
Fortunately, if we take a closer look at the processes around gauging and improving employee engagement, they show us a different story to survey fatigue. Instead, it seems that employees are open to answering questions and on a regular basis, and what they are actually tired of is providing feedback and then seeing no concrete action taken as a result.
Often, business decisions are made based on employee feedback, but this isn’t communicated clearly back to the employees, which leaves them feeling forgotten or ignored. Employees need to be shown that action is being taken as a direct result of their comments, to ensure they feel heard and that what they have to say is of value. This will encourage an open and – significantly – a continuous conversation between management and employees, which in turn generates a steady stream of employee engagement.
Continuous listening to continuous feedback
Instead of regular and repeated surveys, companies should look at using a survey as a starting point, and then using micropulses (a few questions to check in on a particular topic) and key touch points to check in with how employees are feeling from there. In this way, companies can maximise insights whilst simultaneously minimising the use of employee time.
It’s important to note that continuous feedback means continuous listening and should translate to continuous action. The most effective way to increase employee engagement levels is through constantly listening to employees’ signals, using the subsequent insights to take action, and then communicating back to employees that action has been taken.
Using AI to predict the best moments to engage
It’s become clear that it’s the open-ended questions rather than the five-point scale ratings that provide the richest insight into how to promote and optimise employee engagement. Using AI as part of this process allows HR leaders to focus on understanding which moments, comments and emotions are indicative of which type of employee behaviour.
It also allows them to choose the optimal moments to connect, engage, or intervene with employees. Not only does this increase engagement and prevent turnover, but it counteracts any chance of survey fatigue by only reaching out at the right moment for the employee.
The upshot is, if organisations want to keep the lines of communication with employees open, they must move beyond the traditional employee engagement survey, dig deep and communicate back that their opinions and feelings are important through driving actionable change.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t just about being prepared for a further, temporary period of managing a physically disjointed workforce. It is about future-proofing these methods of maintaining employee engagement as the flexible or remote workforce becomes the new normal.