By Ayme Zemke:
The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly changed how and where businesses operate, creating significant changes and disruption to business continuity, organizational culture and the employee experience. Maintaining a strong workplace culture and connections with employees despite these challenges is essential as organizations navigate through the pandemic and beyond.
Every person’s life, family, work and community is directly impacted by the pandemic. People are distracted, stressed and worried about how everyday life continues to change. This is especially true for employees. Asking employees for their input, listening to their feedback, and actively incorporating the data and insights into business continuity plans is a critical strategy during this uncertain time.
Listen and Respond to Employee Needs
Workplaces built on relationships, interaction and problem-solving help people thrive. Active listening is at the center of these workplaces – and it is more important than ever during times of change and disruption. Listening develops trust between leadership and employees. It provides crucial perspective and insights to guide what’s needed. Even if leaders are unable to act on all feedback, the simple gesture of asking for and acknowledging input is valuable.
Regularly checking in with employees through pulse surveys is an important way to monitor their engagement, identify gaps and keep connections and culture strong – especially when some or all employees are working remotely. Pulse surveys provide valuable insights about how employees are managing through waves of change and what is needed to support them. They can quickly indicate how employees are feeling, identify what’s working and what’s not, and uncover ideas to support the business and people. When used consistently — every two weeks is optimal — pulse surveys can help teams stay focused on delivering strategic priorities, despite working in ways that are new to many people.
Pulse surveys should be short and easy to complete. Present questions in a multiple-choice or scaled format with minimal open-ended questions. This makes data analysis fast and allows for trend monitoring. The faster leaders discover insights, the faster they can act. Be sure to connect employee input to actions whenever possible and regularly share key findings to show employees their input is heard and valued. This kind of transparency will encourage continued participation. The most effective pulse surveys cover five key areas: employee well-being, leadership, communication, resources and culture.
Use Insights to Strengthen Employee Connection
Insights learned from listening provide important guidance for how to support and strengthen the culture and identify which resources will best empower employees. Being physically distant can lead to feelings of isolation, and organizations that proactively create opportunities to stay connected and support collaboration are best able to maintain a positive culture. Encourage social connections within departments or teams. Create virtual morning coffee chats or weekly team huddles to talk without an agenda and to gauge emotion and stress levels. Use video chat as often as possible to connect face to face.
Clear, consistent communication is vital during this time. Use a multi-channel approach to engage employees in a variety of ways to provide information, share ideas and work together. Leaders who know what is on the hearts and minds of employees can use that information to provide support and inform communication. Modeling calm behavior and providing clarity to your organization about policies and expectations will also help ease concerns.
Studies show that only half of employees feel their organization considers their feedback when making business decisions and only a third of employers are actively analyzing the key drivers of engagement in their organization. Employers who understand the value of assessing the culture and proactively communicating its efforts and actions back to employees are the ones most likely to succeed long-term.
Prioritize Workplace Culture to Support Continuity
Research shows engaged employees are motivated and inspired to accomplish work at a higher quality, with better results. Organizations with healthy workplace cultures can attract and retain top talent, solidifying their competitive advantage for staying power long after the pandemic.
Culture requires continual attention – especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Evaluating and nurturing culture in a thoughtful, wholehearted and authentic way will provide the resilience needed for today and the foundation required to evolve and grow into the future. Workplace culture is not a one-time investment. Nor is the demand for a healthy workplace culture a passing trend. Employees expectations continue to rise. They want to work for organizations that align with their beliefs and prioritize well-being, flexibility, professional development, and diversity and inclusion. Making workplace culture a priority – both during and after challenging times – is good for business.
No one can predict the duration or severity of COVID-19 and the long-term impact it will have on organizations, the economy and communities. What leaders can control is how they communicate with and support employees, customers and stakeholders. Listening and providing clear, consistent information is essential to successfully manage through times of crisis, confusion and uncertainty.
Organizations today face increasingly complex challenges to business continuity. The economy is failing, employees are struggling to balance work and caregiving needs during the pandemic, and the need to retain top talent has never been more important. The rate of change is unlike anything the modern world has experienced. Regardless, employees remain the most crucial factor in an organization’s success or failure. Organizations must listen, learn and adapt — quickly.
About the Author: Ayme Zemke, SVP, leads Beehive Client Service and Crisis Communication. She has nearly twenty-four years of strategic communication experience at Twin Cities PR agencies and is a Certified Crisis Communications Leader. She has the unique gift of seeing and understanding people’s needs and making meaningful connections that build trust. Beehive Strategic Communication – a purpose-driven strategic communication firm specializes in crisis and issues management and other services.