For organizations around the world, the past several months have brought a wave of unknowns. How do we set up our workforce to be successful in a fully remote setting? How do we make sure they’re safe, supported, and informed as things rapidly change? When will we return to the office and what will the impact be on our employees? 

The ambiguity is compounded by COVID-19’s novelty — no real playbook exists to help organizations respond and recover from a modern pandemic. CEOs and HR leaders have looked to health and safety officials, peers, and industry experts to help guide their plans.

A growing number of organizations have also decided to look internally for answers, doubling and tripling down on their efforts to gather employee feedback and using the employee voice as the roadmap to respond, recover, and reimagine their workplaces for the “new normal.” 

MetLife, the historic financial services company, was one of the first to fast-track its employee survey efforts to understand how employees were feeling. When its global workforce was displaced to their home offices, seemingly overnight, leadership swiftly rolled out a COVID-specific survey to all employees. The responses from employees have helped the organization focus on making swift tweaks to programs and policies and gut check the effectiveness of its communications around COVID. 

At Glint, which is a part of LinkedIn, we’ve seen hundreds of organizations lean into the employee voice, shifting survey focus areas based on the challenge at hand. The insights collected across millions of dispersed employees have revealed a multitude of perceptions on how to make remote work meaningful, how to potentially return to the office (or not), and the new requirements that will help us reimagine the future of work, overall. 

Here’s what these organizations are learning, and how their people are guiding them to build the new world of work:

Gather Feedback and Insights

Just as employees are unique, so are their motivations. To get to the core of their motivators, it’s important to use feedback systems that provide a holistic view of the employee experience. A regular stream of feedback can help organizations identify the factors with the most impact on employee engagement across the organization, as well as those unique to specific groups and teams.    

This step should be curated based on the stage that your company is in or is approaching. For remote work, it’s important to understand if employees are receiving the appropriate support, have the infrastructure needed to conduct their work appropriately and that they have a clear set of priorities to carry them through. 

Upon creating a global remote workforce seemingly overnight, MetLife was able to swiftly roll out a support program for managers to tap into the expertise of groups like employee relations, wellness, learning and development, and IT. 

For returning to work, understanding well-being is crucial. How are your employees feeling? Do they feel informed and supported from the company during this transition? Upon its headquarters’ reopening, footwear retailer Crocs used an employee survey to assess its communications and ensure employees felt free to choose to come back to the office or not. 

Lastly, when thinking of reimagining the workforce in general, it’s important to understand if employees are excited for the company’s future and if they feel supported to navigate new changes.  

Have Conversations 

Regular check-ins—with all employees and one-on-one—are the best way to facilitate action on the feedback collected. One-on-one meetings are particularly important during uncertainty to ensure individual needs are being addressed, especially when new business strategies impact a person’s job. Managers should be prepared to explain why changes are needed, address fears about loss of a job or livelihood, and give direction on how to prioritize and execute work.

When conducting these one-on-one discussions, it’s important to come prepared with the appropriate template. 

  1. Listen more, speak less – create space for employees to share their experience. 
  2. Show empathy and relate to them with personalized challenges and solutions. Don’t forget it’s okay to say, “I don’t know – I’ll get back to you.” 
  3. If solutions are out of your realm, connect with HR or other employee resources. 
  4. Virtual meetings should take place on camera as often as possible with little to no distractions.
  5. Understand and share the latest from leadership to stay aligned with messaging and share relevant resources.

Set Effective Goals 

With an understanding of employee sentiment paired with ongoing conversations, it’s time to take action. Setting effective goals will help your organization benchmark success during your transition process – whether that’s continuing to work remotely, moving back into the office, or rethinking your workforce in general. 

To do this successfully, consider what employees need during times of change: clarity, connection, a feeling of control. What was once a critical goal three months ago may now be completely irrelevant today. Determine where you need to adjust assignments or redefine roles and responsibilities to support new ways of working. 

Organizations that have adopted agile habits related to goal setting and conversations are realizing the benefits today. Frequent touch points between managers and employees ensure people understand and embrace priorities that reflect the changing nature of business. It’s time to offload or drop work that adds limited value within the context of a new strategy.

Encourage Learning and Growth 

The current work landscape has brought a drastic shift that has impacted every facet of work and life combined. It’s presented a unique opportunity to expand our knowledge and skillset as the future of the workforce remains unclear. 

Depending on where your organization stands in its journey, there are many ways to demonstrate growth from a leadership perspective and across the employee landscape. 

  • Remote Work More EffectivelyWith new demands, a new working environment, and new goals come new ways to learn. A regular conversation habit gives people a chance to discuss learning opportunities relative to business priorities on an ongoing basis. Dispersed teams, shifting business priorities, and managing stress are all a part of the changing world of work and offer us the opportunity to rethink relevant skills and reflect on what meaningful work looks like. 
  • Return to the Workplace in a Smart Fashion – Organizations that rely exclusively on employee engagement surveys may miss some big-picture patterns and trends. The most effective organizations use pulse data alongside attrition, performance, and customer data to paint a complete picture of the organization.  
  • Reimagine the Workforce RealisticallyNew strategies bring opportunities for individual learning and reinvention. Encouraging curiosity, an openness to new experiences, and a risk-tolerant mindset will help learning, and can also accelerate the change and adoption of new approaches. Start by establishing learning as a priority and share resources to help employees navigate change, learn about new business processes, and create space for innovation. 

The road ahead still remains unknown. No one organization, state, or country is on the same path. Whether it’s remaining at home, re-entering the workforce or beginning to think of your work environment in an entirely new way, it’s crucial to remain tapped into employee feedback to guide you on this uncharted journey.