More companies are shifting to hybrid working, but how can they tell if it’s an improvement? We need more data, said attendees at a virtual roundtable.
People analytics teams really came into their own during the pandemic, said Nick Gordon of Actual Experience, while opening a recent virtual roundtable event. He told an audience of senior HR professionals that as millions of people shifted to working from home, companies needed a way to monitor inclusion, wellbeing and productivity.
Hybrid working helped inclusion in some ways by making it easier for those who struggle with daily office work, with people who find it difficult to travel or have caring responsibilities able to work more conveniently from home. It will be important to create a level playing field between those who continue to work from home and those who return to the office. Many homeworkers worry that they will fall behind their office-based colleagues when it comes to career advancement or face time with managers.
However, home-working was a struggle for other individuals, including those with restricted living space or those who thrive in an environment with lots of people. With many companies planning to maintain some form of hybrid working, how can we analyse employee experience to have a better understanding of how people are feeling and how they are performing?
Drawing on the data
Attendees agreed that meetings must be kept in check. Early in the pandemic, some firms tried to have more meetings, thinking this would replicate the face-to-face contact of office work. However, virtual meetings proved a poor substitute and made many employees feel drained and overwhelmed. One attendee said her firm had begun monitoring the number of meetings – not to encourage more of them but to ensure they are kept to a minimum.
Another delegate argued that many of the data points her firm was examining were the same as before. How often is a person checking in and having conversations? How productive are they? On a broader level, companies can look at sales reports, staff turnover and other indicators of engagement and productivity.
However, this raises an important question about existing metrics and whether they are sufficient. We question whether an employee can be productive at home, for example, but are we sure we know how to mention their productivity in the office? This is an opportunity to rethink metrics.
The importance of face time
Leadership is crucial, attendees argued. Managers need to have regular conversations with their employees to monitor workloads, career satisfaction and general happiness. One attendee said her organisation had introduced ‘manager-once-removed’ conversations, where workers talk to a senior member of staff who is not their direct manager.
Other organisations had been forming focus groups to generate ideas on how best to handle the switch to hybrid working. Suggestions from these groups are then worked into the overall strategy and sentiment analysis is carried out on the sessions themselves to try to gain more information about how staff are feeling.
This requires greater soft skills, particularly empathy. Some attendees mentioned that empathy was not something they had previously prioritised in recruiting, nor is it something performance reviews generally consider. That will have to change, with managers receiving empathy training and being incentivised to show more soft skills.
There is still a need for data to back this up. Many of the indicators we have now are lagging indicators, said Nick Gordon. By the time we know how people feel, it may be too late to do anything about it. The ultimate lagging indicator, for example, is people leaving. It’s too late to fix a problem that first arises in an exit interview. We need more leading indicators that allow a proactive response.
For example, all attendees agreed that more empathy is necessary – but how can empathy be measured? There are other types of missing data, too. One attendee said she would like more insight into how the workspace should be managed as people return to the office, such as whether they need fewer desks and more breakout areas.
This may require employee experience professionals to partner with technologists to determine what is possible. What can be monitored and how? And what conclusions can be drawn from the resulting data? HR has been digitising, but there is more to be done. The pace of digitisation may need to increase significantly to meet the hybrid working environment.