There is much buzz around what will happen post-covid in relation to ‘The Great Office Debate’, with employers in one survey citing remote working as the most significant change they foresaw in the post-pandemic recovery phase. Many refer to this as the ‘Future of Work’, but the debate about whether employees really need to be in the office every day, and whether they might be able to work more flexibly, has been kicking around long before Covid.
Many organizations had begun considering more remote working and flexibility options, but stopped short of implementation before Covid forced the issue. The question now facing many is; post-covid, is it better to go back to how it was before or should we move to more remote and flexible working? How do we determine what “better” means for our people and organization? Now everyone in the organization has had a taste of doing things differently, can we go back even if we want to? And, if we cannot or don’t want to, what does this look like for us more permanently?
There is no ‘right’ answer which applies to all organizations. Like all surveys, we recommend only surveying on topics you have the potential act on so have clarity on the degree of freedom and options you’ll be considering prior to surveying. In this article, we’ll cover:
- Question set use cases
- The outcome index
- Self-report demographics to include
- Question themes
- How to use the question set
Question set use cases
There are usually two scenarios where businesses may want to survey in this space:
- You already have a strategy in place for what you plan to do as a business and want to make sure it aligns with your employee preferences.
- You do not yet have a strategy and want to be open to hearing your employee preferences to help in decision-making
We have decided that there are too many unique aspects about this topic for each organization for us to have a template which can be used in its entirety, instead we have created a question set. With this in mind, we outline a sample approach below and some sample sections and questions you may want to draw upon for inspiration. You can run this as a standalone survey or cherry pick items to include in a wider engagement survey
The overall question companies are asking their employees when considering the ongoing evolution of work is can they be enabled and empowered to do their jobs effectively and remain at the organization given a variety of work locations.
The following outcome index focuses on our Enablement factor and incorporates employee feelings of competence, productivity and resourcing. These items were chosen as they are valuable for all organizations across multiple workstyles, and because changes in workstyle are known to disrupt employee feelings of competence; of knowing how to do their jobs and getting access to needed resources in order to get things done.
- Overall, I am feeling productive
- Working at [Company] enables me to do my best work
- The information I need to do my job effectively is readily available
- I have access to the things I need to do my job well
NOTE: The outcome index is most useful for companies that are already living in the new normal. If you instead are surveying to understand employees’ likely future sentiments, the outcome index will not be as relevant.
Return on Investment
Being flexible with workstyles is intended to help the business attract and retain employees and improve efficiency in work process and costs. To do so, you could import performance ratings, revenue data or other information into the platform to see its relationship to key questions related to the work changes you are making. If you don’t have access to that data or need to make the business case more explicit, you can add our two recommended Commitment items.
Many companies want to answer the research question “How many employees are working remotely now and what work location and pattern would each person prefer?” With things in flux, even current state is not always tracked centrally. If that’s the case for you, you can use the following self-report demographics to analyze responses to the other questions. While if you already have the data for current state you can pull that in as a demographic in the Culture Amp platform.
Current: Which of the following categories best describes your current work location?
Preferred Future: Which of the following categories best describes your preferred work location?
For many organizations, the changes to working patterns and hours resulting from furlough schemes and/or reduced working time implemented during covid, means that working patterns are also something they wish to examine for now/the future also.
Current: Which of the following categories best describes your current working pattern?
Future Working Pattern: Which of the following categories best describes your preferred working pattern?
We have provided standardized response options in the platform, but review and adapt the labelling of options to best fit the workstyles which fit your employee population, and /or what you may be willing to consider in future.
So now we come onto the nitty gritty and important stuff, the research question for this part of your survey being ‘How are people with various work locations/patterns experiencing work processes and company culture?’.
Many companies want to measure the impact of introducing new workstyles to their workforce. The following items are meant to be used by any company to evaluate the effectiveness of their processes and culture regardless of workstyle. The results may then be viewed in the heatmap by the workstyle demographic items above to determine whether there are differences in experience by current or preferred workstyles. This can be especially helpful, since we often see an essentialization of the different workstyles; ‘people who work remotely won’t be able to learn’, or ‘remote meetings aren’t effective’ for example, when actually people complain about these things regardless of workstyle (particularly when it comes to ineffective meetings!).
We suggest some key focus areas that tend to be important in this space: transfer of expectations, norms and values, learning & development and meeting effectiveness as well as an important aspect on employees perceptions of management support for increased flexible working.
NOTE: The following questions are in present tense assuming your strategy is already in place, if it’s still being worked on, you can instead change them to future tense to gauge fears and concerns.
Transfer of Expectations & Values
One of the chief challenges of remote/flexible workforces is transferring non-material culture (values, behavioral norms, unique language and tools that define how an organization operates) to those that do not work in the office full-time. There is often concern that these things get ‘lost in translation’ across different workstyles. However, when the methods of cultural transfer are adapted (usually by being more deliberate and explicit in stating cultural norms), employees quickly learn to prioritize the same things and perform their roles in similar and/or complementary ways.
Additionally, in this context of potentially greater remote and flexible working, it will be interesting to identify whether different styles of working are a good fit for perpetuating these values and ensuring successful transfer of the culture, particularly as it pertains to collaboration and team working.
Manager and team support for remote/flexible working practices
There needs to be support from both the team and an individual's manager for different workstyles to be effective. The items in the Manager Perspective section are intended to only be answered by managers. If you already have manager status as a demographic in your employee data file, you can set up a demographic branching rule. If you do not, you can set up answer-based branching using the question “Are you a people manager?”
One of the chief challenges of remote workforces is effective collaboration and meetings, which you can assess along several key dimensions. Add in the objectives that you would like your meetings to achieve.
Learning & Development
Remote and flexible work is often cited as creating difficulty with learning and access to developmental opportunities. Many of these questions are from our Engagement template and have the benefit of being externally benchmarkable, and may already feature in your past surveys for historical comparison.
Artifacts and terms
This section may be useful for your survey if you are keen to understand whether your people are fluent in some of the ways your organization gets things done. While more operational and granular than other sections, it may be fundamental to your people fitting in and progressing their work effectively in a more remote setting.
Remember with all these items you will want to cut the data by current and preferred workstyle, and if things change for a trial or more sustained period, in the form of a post-hoc analysis to see how those with different workstyles or preferences respond.
Free text questions
You can prompt your respondents to give more ideas and thoughts about a change to working styles in the longer term through free-text questions. For example, “How else could [Company] make your future work experience more enjoyable?” We would recommend using 2 free text questions maximum.
How to use the question set
The question set is accessible from the template library. As with all surveys, we suggest you think carefully about what the organization is prepared to consider before you survey and use this to shape the information you seek from your employees.
- Start by considering whether you are more inclined to write your questions in future or past tense, this will also help you decide whether to use the outcome index or not (if future tense, perhaps not).
- Determine if your organization is interested in work location and/or flexibility and tailor the demographic items to your organization.
- Look through the suggested question types and sections to include items you can review through the lens of current work style and future preferences. Keep in mind that you may wish to use similar questions post-implementation to analyze which approaches are providing the most value.
- Finally customize the questions based on your use case (for example swapping out "remotely" for "flexibly").
Once you have surveyed, it’s important to analyze and take action quickly; what we are seeing in the data from Covid surveys is that many employees are very anxious to hear about what the ‘new normal’ will look like for them and their organization, and providing clarity on this front will help you to move forward with that change, whatever it looks like for your organization. By surveying and being iterative in the changes you make, this will help you to embed lasting transformation which works for your people.