Is Your Voice of Employee Program Fit for the Remote Workforce?
Many companies implemented voice of employee (VoE) initiatives in recent years aimed at improving the employee experience. But that was before the pandemic, when most employees were working on site. With the rise of the remote workplace, is it time to craft a VoE program with the needs of remote workers in mind?
VoE programs are used to enhance and improve the employee experience through all of the touch points in the employee's organizational journey. The idea is that giving employees a voice in the business and showing that their opinions are valued will give leaders actionable insights to make meaningful change.
The stress created by the pandemic has made the need for them greater. Employees are worried about their health and that of families and friends. They're worried about jobs and kids' schooling. They are coping with social isolation and grief from the loss of loved ones. Throw in a year of political and social unrest and you end up with an employee base that is emotionally and physically struggling.
There has never been a better time for businesses to listen to what employees are saying through a VoE initiative, said Brad Killinger, CEO of Sapience Analytics, a people analytics solution provider.
“We’ve seen employees having to shift as co-workers have been furloughed or let go due to reductions in force, and work volume has increased," he said. "The employee journey has been completely disrupted.”
Employee Emotional Health Is Vital
The emotional health of employees is something that companies must take into consideration throughout the employee journey, and should play a role in a VoE initiative. Even before the pandemic, isolation and loneliness were problems for remote workers. A Gallup report from November 2019 indicated that nearly a quarter of remote employees feel a sense of isolation and loneliness.
On-site employees are able to more easily communicate with co-workers, managers and leadership. Leaders are able to give suggestions, listen to feedback and pick up on body language that is often subtle. Remote workers rarely have that opportunity so new methodologies of open, transparent communication are vital.
When feedback is requested from remote employees, some of the questions asked need to be directed at ascertaining the emotional and mental health of employees. "Given the additional stresses that employees are facing given shelter-in-place orders, keeping a pulse on employees’ mental wellness is critical," Killinger said. Keep questions open-ended so employee response is not simply “yes” or “no.” Ask what can be done to improve mental well being.
Additionally, training on emotional intelligence is something every employee should participate in as part of the onboarding process. For remote workers, it can enable them to maintain a positive emotional state under duress. Training for leaders and managers can give them the ability to more effectively manage themselves, be more self-aware, develop empathy, and cultivate and maintain healthy relationships with employees. It also enhances leaders’ ability to actively listen to what employees are telling them.
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Prepare for the Remote and Hybrid Environment
Things should begin to return to a somewhat normal way of life after widespread vaccinations. That doesn’t mean remote working will go away. In fact, a Gallup survey from March 2020 indicated that 74% of CFOs plan to move more on-site employees to remote workspaces permanently once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, said 25% to 30% of the workforce will work from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. "Work at home will save US employers over $30 billion a day in what would have otherwise been lost productivity during office closures due to COVID-19," she said.
According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 report, remote workers are happiest when they work remotely more than 76% of the time with the remainder of the time spent working on site. This hybrid home and on-site workforce is likely to be a big part of the workforce going forward.
As more companies move to a hybrid workforce, managers should ask employees how comfortable they are returning to the workplace. Their feedback can be used to determine how many days they can expect workers to be on site and how many remote. It will also help to give companies a feel for the level of comfort and safety employees have about returning to the office.
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Incentivize and Promote Feedback Opportunities
Often it's a challenge to get honest feedback from employees. Many worry about retribution from managers and leaders who may not see their feedback as positive.
Employees need to feel they can safely provide feedback and often only feel comfortable providing it anonymously or through a trusted intermediary. An open-door policy can help, however, with a remote workforce. Leaders need to actively promote an open and transparent communication policy and encourage employees to directly communicate with them for it to be effective.
There are many ways to obtain feedback from remote employees including online surveys, weekly calls, one-on-one chats and reward incentives. For example, the employee with the best suggestions could receive a $50 Doordash or UberEats coupon. This type of feedback system provides employees an incentive to submit valuable feedback and gives the company actionable insights to work with.
Another feedback method is pulse management. Stephen Light, co-owner and chief marketing officer at Nolah Mattress, said that pulse management involves gathering feedback from employees through pulse surveys that are conducted at least once a month.
“Then, management should study the current situation and how far they are from reaching their VoE goals,” he said. “The next step is to make changes to workplace dynamics and set-up to cater to employee demands. The cycle continues next month to polish the company's VoE program.”
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Actions Speak Louder Than Words
While it’s important to actively listen to the voices of employees, it’s even more vital to take action on what was heard. Obtaining feedback from employees but not taking action based on that feedback is worse than not asking for the feedback to begin with. It facilitates a lack of trust, respect, engagement, performance and a loss of personal job satisfaction. Participating in an open-ended dialogue with employees and then making changes based on their insights shows employees that they are important and that the company cares about them, said Light.
“Employees love employers that value their comfort, happiness and career development," he said. "When a company proactively shows that it is continually revamping itself to address employee concerns, employees would feel valued and appreciated."
For remote employees, taking action based on feedback shows their voice is being heard, they are still a vital part of the business, and that the company cares about them both as a group and individually. Gaining loyalty and trust through a VoE initiative can be challenging otherwise.
“Companies are not solving productivity and organization issues with pulse management, but they are gaining loyal employees that have developed more trust and faith in them,” said Light.
Employees have shown they are able to work remotely and still remain productive and engaged, even with the challenges COVID-19 crisis brought with it. But to make the most of this positive momentum, companies need to adjust their VoE initiatives to the unique challenges of the remote workplace, actively listening to employee feedback, obtaining actionable insights and taking action based on them.