Listen and Learn: Data-Driven Approaches for Your Hybrid Work Model
For many organizations, hybrid work is here to stay — especially as employee experience becomes increasingly critical to attract and retain talent. As circumstances evolve, HR leaders are considering how this model can be a win-win for employees and the business.
But how can they measure what’s working? And where does employee feedback factor into the process?
Senior Engagement Strategist Jenna Filipkowski, PhD, shared practical tips and best practices for a data-driven hybrid work strategy. Read her insights below.
What’s Your Organization’s Listening Strategy?
Filipkowski has worked as an I/O psychologist and people experience researcher, designing hundreds of surveys throughout her career. It’s safe to say she’s learned a thing or two about effective listening.
“A lot of organizations now are talking about listening strategies,” she said, defining the term as “an organization’s approach for sensing and responding to their people’s feedback, opinions, and needs.”
As workplaces continue transitioning to new ways of working, it’s especially critical to seek and act on employee feedback. Constant data collection can help you understand what’s happening and the employee sentiment around it.
A defining factor of an effective listening strategy? “The connection of looking at workforce metrics or operational data alongside how your employees are feeling,” Filipkowski said.
For example, you might capture data on activities like the number of meetings taking place and how often people work on weekends. Then, you could ask additional questions to uncover how those activities influence people’s feelings about their roles.
“You’re able to paint a better picture of what’s happening in your workforce because you’re able to capture how people feel along with what they’re doing,” Philipkowski elaborated.
A range of activities — many of which you may already do — fall under the listening strategy umbrella:
- Census surveys
- Pulse surveys
- Lifecycle surveys
- External/customer survey
- Training evaluations
- Interviews and focus groups
- Workforce metrics (HRIS)
- Performance management ratings
- 1:1 manager conversations
- Always-on digital suggestion box
Looking at the list above, it’s easy to pinpoint effective listening tactics. But, as Filipkowski pointed out, it isn’t always sustainable to rely on these time-intensive methods when you need to get feedback across the workforce.
Enter the employee survey.
The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Approach Employee Surveys
In essence, employee surveys are “listening at scale,” she noted, especially when conducted continuously (e.g., pulse surveys). But for optimal participation and results, HR departments need to execute surveys in a very intentional, action-oriented way.
“Don’t just measure to measure,” she advised — typically, you’ll end up with data you don’t know how to act on. “And then you’ll wonder why people don’t want to take your surveys.”
Filipkowski offered these tips for approaching employee surveys:
1. Make the survey a value-add
The most important thing Filipkowski learned from years of designing and conducting employee surveys? Pay attention to the user experience, and always seek to provide value.
“They want to be able to see that this is a platform where they can truly and honestly share how they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing with you, and that something is going to change because of it.”
2. Don’t substitute surveys for action
All too often, organizations conduct surveys as a stalling tactic, or to create the illusion of action. Beware of surveys seeking validation for preconceived ideas rather than input to guide future decisions.
A poorly designed survey can hurt rather than help, undermining future participation and eroding trust. “Push back on your business leaders and your senior leaders if they want to deploy a survey methodology but don’t have a good enough reason to do so,” Filipkowski said.
In contrast, the most effective and well-received surveys are approached as a true research opportunity, where feedback and anecdotes shape decisions and policy.
How to Survey Employees about Hybrid Work
To make sure hybrid work is a positive experience for all stakeholders — regardless of whether they choose to take advantage of it — HR teams need feedback on emerging questions related to the work model.
“Some organizations are in the opportune place to challenge the ways they’ve been working,” Filipkowski said. “This brings up a lot of questions around ‘Are we working in the best way?’ To answer that, you need data from your workforce, and you also need data on the preferences and the needs of your employees.”
Here are some potential challenges related to hybrid work that make good research angles for an employee survey:
- What working model fits our culture and business strategy? (e.g., hybrid, 100% onsite, is it top-down driven, do employees decide?)
- How does hybrid work change the employee value proposition?
- What resources do hybrid employees need to be productive and engaged?
- How does the employee experience (sentiment, collaboration, workload, and productivity) differ according to how much time an employee spends onsite versus working remotely?
- Are managers effective at leading remote and onsite teams? What feedback do employees have on this?
- Do “in-group” versus “out-group” effects occur due to frequency of onsite work?
- How does hybrid work influence patterns of communication and collaboration? (e.g., how often do you come onsite, and how included in your team do you feel?)
6 Expert Tips for Employee Survey Design
Before you sit down and create that hybrid work survey, consider Filipkowski’s top tips for designing well-received, effective surveys:
- Avoid leading questions — stay neutral and use a rating scale
- Avoid double-barrel questions
- Stay focused. Don’t throw in the kitchen sink!
- Connect every question to potential actions (don’t include questions that aren’t tied to an action)
- Invite twice as many people as you need for a minimally acceptable sample size
- Close the loop for respondents, and share survey results and insights ASAP
Want to develop a listening strategy for your organization? The template below can help you outline activities to include, as well as stated intent, frequency, survey audience, who will see results, and who is responsible for action planning.
“All HR functions should have something like this to be more intentional and less ad-hoc about your employee listening,” Filipkowski concluded. Employees are listening, after all.
Build, implement, and refine the employee experience to prevent top talent from walking away.