HR For A New World Order

Companies that adapt will thrive. Those who just try to go back to “how it was” are likely to struggle

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The world is changing rapidly, as is the office, and the relationship we all have with the companies we work for. Companies that adapt will thrive. Those who just try to go back to “how it was” are likely to struggle, but at least one truth has endured through the pandemic: people are any company’s most valuable asset. It’s as critical now as it ever was to get meaningful feedback from your employees, really listen and understand them and what they need to continue enabling your company to thrive.

As the world around us and what’s required of you changes rapidly, ensure the feedback you’re getting is current.

Previously mundane activities like walking into a store, shaking hands at the beginning of a meeting (or having an in-person meeting!), hugging a friend, and going to the office have changed entirely over the past three months. Many of us haven’t stepped foot in our office since March, and many of us (who have the option) are not planning to anytime soon. Remote work is the norm and we all are wishing we had bought stock in Zoom six months ago.

These are challenging times for companies across the globe, but these rapid changes provide a rare opportunity to re-evaluate our trajectories and the way we run a business (“SOPs” or “standard operating procedures” for those who love the jargon). The protocols of office check-ins, semi-annual or annual reviews, and once-in-a-blue-moon employee satisfaction surveys are dinosaurs of a previous regime and expose companies and executives to their biggest threat: time.

What most workers are looking for these days is flexibility and the ability to have a life outside of the office. This starts with moving past the idea of being behind a desk from 9 to 5 (ok let’s be honest 9 to 6 or 7). In a recent study Trendency conducted, we found that 9 in 10 employees want the flexibility to work remotely at least one day in five, and 7 in 10 want to work mostly remotely (more than half their time). Individual company’s mileage and capacity to accommodate these preferences will vary, so it’s important to do the research and get feedback from your employees and engage them on how to best move forward. That said, companies that don’t proceed with an eye toward employees’ newfound love of flexibility will likely have a hard time retaining talent, while those who listen and adjust will have no problem attracting people to their organization.

Even as company executives are investing heavily in remote work technology like Zoom (really should have bought that stock), Microsoft Teams, G-Suite Hangouts, laptops, cameras, and better lighting for those ever-present video conference calls, they also need to invest in mechanisms to ensure they’re getting reliable and timely feedback from their employees on how things are going, are they happy with their work? Are there morale problems that are harder to pick up? Are the remote work investments you are making the right ones?

Like the move to remote work, the move away from the tedious annual survey had been happening before 2020 has been dramatically accelerated. The old-school approach to employee feedback was a survey once a year to “check-in.” But we all know these surveys were too often designed to give a few C-Suite managers some data to put in a presentation while they tried not to pull a muscle patting themselves on the back.

Even when the annual surveys were a genuine attempt to hear from employees, the idea that one point in time during the year can accurately reflect how an employee feels is laughable. This is true not only because of the pace of change (if your annual survey was in January 2020, you are unlikely to have very much usable information at this point,) but because your employees are probably … human. We haven’t done specific research on this so I can’t say for sure if I’m an outlier, but I tend to feel kind of upbeat after bonuses are announced (or pretty down if there isn’t one coming). Ask me how I am doing right before the big annual conference that everyone is putting 18 hour days on and I might ask you how many four-letter words am I allowed to use in any one answer?

Humans have ups, and we have downs. If we are feeling better about our jobs on more days than the negative, we are overall feeling pretty good about our job. In the traditional office setting, it was theoretically easier to pick up the more positive and negative moods around a building. Clearly a walk around an office is not a perfect barometer but it might help with directional clues. So now what happens when there is no office, or if employees are only going to be together in person sporadically?

For example: Our clients understand this challenge and that is why they have used Trendency tools to gather and analyze timely and actionable feedback from their most valuable assets: their employees.

Trendency provides a continuous stream of data, engaging employees over the course of the year through a short set of questions answered about once every week or two. Questions on company culture, the direction of the company, communication from management, new policies around remote work, etc. help our clients better understand the mood of their employees and most importantly give them a better understanding of where problems are likely to arise. Shifts in attitude or changes in intensity provide critical insights into a company’s culture and ultimately critical information on problems before they become a disruption.

These disruptions are not just based on the current pandemic. In the last two years alone there have been massive shifts in attitudes and opinions through movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. These changes are not just happening on the weekend, but in the office, and now in the hybrid of office and remote work that is likely to be the new norm. How employees felt three months ago is quickly irrelevant and companies that have the ability to get feedback from their employees within hours are going to be the companies that can adjust accordingly and position themselves better for the future.

What feels like decades ago, in 2018, as concerns reached a tipping point on the treatment of women at Nike, the company’s female employees took matters into their own hands. While we do not know for certain what Nike’s approach was for gaining feedback from their employees, whatever the method (whether an annual survey or suggestion-box), their failure to recognize meaningful feedback caused significant and avoidable upheaval. Better listening could have helped solve these issues if the company were willing to act on the feedback.

Contrast that debacle with the successes among our clients earlier this year. As millions of employees were forced to work from home to slow the spread of COVID-19, our clients were able to understand their employees’ concerns, before and during the weeks and months of office closures. Trendency clients were able to show greater responsiveness to their teams’ specific concerns and communicate to their team members measures they were putting in place to keep everyone safe. As concerns shifted towards economic and job security over time, our partners were able to stay ahead of the curve and provide reassurance where they could, and timely and relevant information where they could not. They could have the important conversations “in the family” rather than addressing them for the first time on Twitter.

As the Black Lives Matters movement reaches a new tipping point, Trendency clients are once again able to understand and address their teams’ concerns and needs, and meaningfully engage employees in external and internal responses. Whether it is an external force or internal disruption, we provide our partners with the data they need so they aren’t flying blind and can stay ahead of the curve.

As is the case with so many things these days, these challenges and changes are not new, but everything is being accelerated and amplified. Companies that adapt will be built for the long term, companies that do not … well, we all know what will happen to them.

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