By Andrea Lebron - January 19, 2021
The ongoing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – and the growing realization they may last another year - is forcing companies to reconsider how they will maintain business continuity in the long term. One of the most significant considerations for many companies is how they can best utilize workplaces in the “new norm”.
Some companies – particularly tech companies – have invested a considerable amount of money in their real estate. In 2016 it was reported Uber is spending around $250 million acquiring and renovating office space; in 2018 BuildZoom calculated Microsoft had spent $169 million updating its Redmond headquarters; and, in 2019, Apple's new donut-shaped headquarters in Cupertino was valued at $4.17 billion – making it one of the most expensive workplaces in the world.
Unfortunately, for most of 2020, these buildings were virtually empty due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic - along with more than half of all workplaces according to the Brivo Commercial Reopening Index. Looking ahead to 2021, the likelihood is that workplaces will continue to remain half empty until such time as the population achieves herd immunity – creating long-term operational challenges for companies due to the continuation of social distancing requirements.
At the start of the pandemic, as stay-at-home orders were issued around the country, many office-based companies were able to maintain business continuity by equipping employees to work from home. As a short-term solution, remote working was successful. Remote working doesn´t appear to have negative consequences for productivity, and – according to Forbes – the vast majority of employees felt their employers “took appropriate measures to address the situation” at the time.
As time has gone on, the negative impacts of long-term remote working have become apparent. Companies have identified challenges with on-boarding, training, and security, while employees have reported physical and emotional burnout due to a work/life imbalance and a lack of personal interaction with work colleagues. Indeed, one survey reported 94% of remote workers were keen to return to the office, with almost half of them expressing a preference for returning full-time.
With such substantial investments in their real estate and faced with operational challenges for long term business continuity, companies want to utilize workplaces as much as possible. However, in most cases, it will not be possible to return every employee to the workplace full time; and more likely the new norm will include hybrid work schedules, split shifts, or keeping some employees at home full time while others return to the workplace full time.
Deciding who works where and when is a challenge. Some employees will work better in an environment where they can achieve a work/life balance and get the interaction they need. Others may need to work from home for personal reasons (i.e., to care for an elderly relative they are no longer willing to place in a care home) or may wish to continue working remotely due to return anxiety – a condition that affected 65% of respondents to a UK survey.
Tech companies are most often associated with innovation, but the way in which most are tackling the challenge of determining the new norm for workplaces dates back almost a century to the first employee attitude surveys. Historically, employee attitude/engagement/lifecycle surveys were completed once a year or whenever an employee left a company; but, in recent years, they have become more frequent “check-ins” on the pulse of employee sentiment.
Tech companies have adopted “pulse surveys” and taken them to a new level – using them as early warning systems for employee dissatisfaction, to measure the effectiveness of action plans, or – in the current environment - to understand how employees feel about returning to the workplace. Dell, Google, Slack, and Zoom are among many tech companies making decisions about long-term business continuity based on employee feedback.
Compared to employee attitude surveys which often have more than twenty statements to rate, pulse surveys most often consist of just four or five statements relevant to the moment in time. Because there are fewer statements, pulse surveys omit the “nice to know” statements (i.e., “I plan to continue my career with this company for at least two years”) and include only action-focused statements and measurement-focused statements - examples of which follow later.
Another difference to employee attitude/engagement/lifecycle surveys that rate statements from 0 to 10 - for example Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys – is that pulse surveys typically stick to the “Strongly Agree/Agree/Neutral/Disagree/Strongly Disagree” format. This gives tech companies a clearer picture of employee sentiment and actionable insights into how to best plan ahead in order to maintain long term business continuity.
Pulse surveys have quickly caught on among other companies; and while some non-tech companies may have actually adopted them first, the volume at which tech companies are using pulse surveys to determine the new norm for workplaces has certainly influenced the trend. However, software-based pulse surveys are not necessarily the best option for companies whose employees may not have 24/7 Internet connectivity – or indeed any Internet connectivity at all.
It is worth noting that only half of adults with incomes of $30,000 or less have home broadband; and that, although 95% of low income workers have a mobile device, only 71% of people in this income bracket own a smartphone. Therefore, a more effective way to conduct pulse surveys in these circumstances is to take advantage of Rave Alert's SMS geo-polling capabilities, as these will reach employees' cellphones regardless of whether they have a connection to the Internet or not.
While there are plenty of example pulse survey statements available on the Internet, it is important each company tailors its own statements to address long-term business continuity concerns relevant to its workforce, relevant to the industry the company operates in, and relevant to its location. For example, there is no point copying and pasting a pulse survey send to software engineers in California if your company manages properties in Massachusetts.
As mentioned above, the statements should be action-focused or measurement-focused and give employees the option to rate the statement Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. In the context of helping decide who works where and when – or, if a return to work is not yet possible, to help determine where remote working improvements could be made – versions of these statements should certainly be included in an initial pulse survey:
Q (Action Statement): I feel comfortable returning to the workplace and confident the company has appropriate safety measures in place.
Q (Measurement Statement): I feel highly connected to my team as we work remotely.
Based on the responses to these statements, companies can determine whether they are doing a good job in communicating the safety measures that have been implemented in the workplace, or if improvements need to be made in connecting team members working remotely. It is also possible to add “open-text” statements such as “What are your top two concerns you'd like us to consider to get through the COVID-19 situation?” but to start, it is always better to keep the format simple.
If your company is concerned about maintaining business continuity in the long term and how it can best utilize the workplace in the “new norm”, do not hesitate to get in touch and request a free demo of Rave Alert´s SMS geo-polling capabilities in action. Our team will be happy to demonstrate the ease with which you can set up SMS-based pulse surveys, monitor responses, and address any communication issues between teams working remotely or in the workplace.
Footnote: Tech companies are not only using pulse surveys to determine how best they can utilize workplace in the new norm. Dell also uses the technology to conduct customer sentiment surveys, while the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a regular small business pulse survey, and PwC invites business leaders to participate in CFO pulse surveys. Effectively, there are many different ways in which companies of all sizes can take advantage of Rave Alert´s geo-polling capabilities.
Andrea is Rave's Director of Digital Marketing, a master brainstormer and avid coffee drinker. Andrea joined Rave in August 2017, after 10 years of proposal and corporate marketing at an environmental engineering firm. You'll find her working with her amazing team in writing and producing blogs like this one, improving your journey to and through our website, and serving you up the best email content. When she's not in front of a keyboard, she's chasing after her three daughters or indulging in her husband's latest recipe. Andrea has a Bachelor's degree in Marketing/Management from Northeastern University and an MBA from Curry College.
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