By: Brooke Fevrier and Todd Sommers
Like most of my colleagues, I frequently worked remotely – in client conference rooms, airport restaurants, hotel lobbies, the middle seat – but spent most of my time in an Allison+Partners office. As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed A+P into a remote work instant adopter, the senior leadership team saw a need to understand the newfound challenges our roughly 500 global team members faced. To capture these insights, our in-house Research team began fielding short and frequent “pulse surveys” from early March through the beginning of June. They then shared aggregated results and findings with leadership to inform the agency’s approach to remote work policies and communications.
This wasn’t a tool we had available when I worked in-house, and I wanted to see what the Research team learned about this process that could be applied to other companies’ future employee communications. The following are excerpts of a Q&A with A+P Research Analyst Brooke Fevrier, who led the pulse survey process.
Q. To set the stage, can you share the kinds of questions the Research team asked A+P’ers in our pulse surveys?
A. Our main priority was to keep the pulse surveys quick and easy for team members, while digging into the potential emotional factors the pandemic played in their day-to-day workflow. We asked employees to simply tell us how they felt that day, with answer options ranging from extra stormy, a little rainy, mild, partly sunny and finally all sunshine. We asked what communication channels and frequency would be most effective, and about their pre-pandemic life to better understand the level of disruption teams faced. For instance, did they normally work from home, always work in an office or, for some APAC employees, already start returning to the office?
Q. And to be clear, these frequent employee check-ins weren’t something we did as a company before the March lockdown. This was a unique challenge with everyone suddenly working from home, and the Research team was tapped to help. What kinds of questions were most useful – asking how people felt, how their lives had changed or open-ended questions?
A. That’s right, we didn’t conduct employee pulse surveys prior to March. The A+P Research team is usually focused on developing consumer and B2B surveys to uncover strategic insights for our clients and ensure the agency remains a thought leader. But as Cathy Planchard noted in her recent post on “The Economics of Employee Engagement,” we realized quickly that capturing employee feedback could be a powerful tool to surface insights.
The most useful questions were really a combination of all of them, as the data allows us to understand how each question response plays into employees’ likelihood to then respond a particular way to the remaining survey questions. So, how did daily emotions correlate with the positive or negative sentiment expressed in employees’ open-ended feedback? Was the way they felt that day due to overall pandemic anxieties, or was it something our senior leadership could help address? That’s where the data’s strategic value really came through – providing actionable insights that could help improve employees’ work life and ultimately strengthen the agency’s culture.
Q. Can you share how the data was used to inform A+P policies? Did this have an impact on internal communications?
A. Feedback from these surveys informed a number of our internal initiatives and communications, including weekly CEO updates, short videos from partners, monthly company calls and other one-off communications. We created an internal communications channel to share news, WFH life updates, best practices and lists of cancelled events. By providing company leadership with a multilayered sense of how people were doing across 30 offices, they were able to make data-driven and, importantly, employee-centric decisions. The surveys also gave a clear picture of employees’ comfort levels with returning to the office, which will now be completely voluntary when offices reopen based on employee responses.
Q. The range of topics covered changed dramatically over time from March and April shutdowns to the partial reopening of some regions, the Black Lives Matter movement and now the realization this new reality might last for all of 2020. Not every organization has a pulse survey program in place to inform communications. For those organizations, are there any insights you can share from our program that might better inform their future employee communications?
A. Three areas stand out to me that apply to other organizations.
First, we noticed was the volume of internal communications increased dramatically in mid-to-late March, and it was just too much information for teams to digest. For companies that plan to adopt new safety procedures, begin bringing people back to the office or introduce new policies, it’s invaluable to understand the channel, timing and frequency needed to ensure employees at all levels understand internal messaging or changes being implemented.
The second challenge will be the lack of a shared experience. Every market is different. New York in April was very different than New York today. Working moms with toddlers at home have a completely different experience than recent college graduates living alone. Many parents did their best to balance homeschooling and conference calls, but it was a major adjustment. You really need to think about the human experience, not just the corporate need to communicate.
Third, feelings about personal safety have also shifted throughout the process, and undoubtedly will continue to do so. Flexibility is a must – companies should be prepared to modify policies at a local level as conditions and overall sentiment change, keeping both employers and employees’ needs at top of mind.
Our biggest takeaway is that giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback and letting their voices be heard – whether in a pulse survey format or otherwise – has a tremendous ripple effect that results in more engaged employees and, in turn, better client service.
If you’re interested in learning more about how our research team can help you during this time, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brooke is a content analyst on the Allison+Partners Research + Insights team, specializing in turning quantitative data patterns into strategic insights and effective communication tactics for clients across all industries.
Todd Sommers is a senior vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programs for clients.