For Leadership, Workplace Re-Entry Planning Requires 'Careful Listening'
To keep employees engaged and productive in times of high stress and physically dispersed teams, many CEOs and managers have decided they need to “communicate, communicate, communicate.” But are they listening to what they are being told?
BDO USA Corporate Real Estate Advisory Services Managing Director Ross Forman's team has been dispensing guidance to clients on crisis management and business continuity planning through the pandemic. He said the strongest plans — whether on how to work away from the office or how they’ll gradually return to the office — are built on "careful listening."
“If companies are starting to think about bringing people back, plans have got to be built on employee empathy,” Forman said. “We’ve got to incorporate employees’ concerns. They've got to be addressed. We've got to be prepared to open back up in a manner that prioritizes them, because they are our greatest asset.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, he’s seeing companies use Voice of the Employee surveys — a strategic method for gathering targeted employee feedback — to measure employee engagement, consider staff input on what’s working and what’s not, identify concerns about returning to work and factor that input into their action plan.
Outside of a pandemic, companies might use VoEs to collect qualitative data about the company, the workplace or office policies. Once data is collected, it’s categorized and then processed into action points that can guide a company on improvements, growth and loyalty building.
“Will they go back wearing PPE? Will they go back to the office at all? I do not believe that these protocols should be that individual — just the head of HR, just the CFO. That would be a dramatic failure,” Forman said. Instead, he said protocols should be developed around workers. “What do [employees] need? That’s going to drive the longer-term planning around what the business continuity plan is going to look like.”
Forman said he isn’t suggesting employees will tell leaders how it’s going to work, but they do need to be given a voice. And this can be easier said than done.
As three CEOs wrote for Harvard Business Review, leadership may have a hard time finding good ways to ingest employee feedback. Opening up the floor to employee feedback might feel overwhelming and unstructured. Leadership might fear asking employees what they think in a time of crisis will give the impression of a lack of control or direction, or that employees will feel resentful if their ideas are not ultimately used.
On the contrary, they wrote: "By showing [employees], not just saying, that you care about what they think, you will have stronger buy-in for the initiatives you eventually prioritize."
Beyond the highly structured VoE, there are a number of ways that leadership can gather employee feedback. However companies choose to go about it, Forman said, these types of tools are even more critical as companies plan for how to look after their employees through the coronavirus.