What employees want most from their organizations in the post-COVID-19 world
March 16 2021
by Rosanna Jimenez, Chris Marsh
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced much-needed change in the workplace, and may have surfaced new employee expectations going forward. Based on our latest Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Engagement 2020 survey, employees seem, on the whole, content despite the pandemic. However, organizations still fall short of meeting some key employee needs, especially around technology, such as information accessibility, customization and connection to colleagues. The survey also surfaced more nuanced needs that could be trickier to address, such as more meaningful conversations about job growth, opportunities, autonomy, community and a sense of purpose.
All together, these various needs add to what was an already growing mandate around employee engagement that will require more specific strategies than most companies have in place. The trick for organizations will be to look at how these areas are interconnected and reinforce each other, and how they can support growing needs around greater transparency, flexibility and connection across the workforce.
The 451 Take
During the pandemic, employees have been forced to learn rather quickly exactly what would best help them accomplish their work, and many of them will expect their organizations to continue to evolve their approaches to employee engagement well beyond the transition to the 'new normal.' While some employee needs, such as those around compensation, aren't as readily addressed with technology, the vast majority of employee needs can be supported with the right workplace technologies. According to our survey data, transparency, flexibility and connection are the three main areas where employee needs are not being met. We believe organizations should consider these three areas when creating their technology road maps to ensure a smooth post-COVID-19 transition. To help organizations with these efforts, workforce technology vendors will need to find where their capabilities may align with these areas of improvement.
According to our survey data, employees want easier access to information. This comes as no surprise – information silos have been a notoriously prevalent and difficult-to-address issue of the enterprise that has only been made more complicated by the variety and number of technology tools that keep information spread out and hard to track down. We can see in the below graph that, from an array of options, the top response to the question of what employees most want to see in their organizations, with regard to the tools they provide, is making information easier to find (19.1%).
The survey also surfaced additional areas where more transparency is desired. According to the survey data, organizations should also consider the impact of transparency around feedback and rewards. When asked about how their organizations go about recognizing and compensating achievements, the two weakest areas for respondents to our Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Engagement 2020 survey were understanding what's needed to get a raise (25%) and providing clear feedback (24%). These areas are potentially interrelated – employees want tools providing easier access to relevant information, and more feedback and information on what is needed to advance in their roles. Productivity tools are no longer just about day-to-day productivity, and are increasingly playing a wider role in supporting the long-term productivity aspects of career aspirations and progression. OKR (objectives and key results) technology is one area of tooling gaining consideration as a way to address the connections between day-to-day work; short- and long-term career goals; and team, departmental and organization-wide objectives.
Workplace flexibility has been on the radar of organizations long before COVID-19 and enforced remote work impacted the way work gets done. However, flexibility isn't only about remote work – it encompasses needs around technology as well as employees' roles. When asked what employees most want most in terms of personal and professional development, the top responses were new opportunities to learn skills (16.9%), opportunities to gain experience in other parts of the organization (14.6%) and the autonomy to decide how to work (13.6%). We can see from the graph below that having a level of flexibility with room to grow within one's role is highly important to employees. Organizations may need to re-address their managerial practices, ongoing learning and career path strategies if they are to ensure that employees are engaged, challenged and feeling a sense of autonomy within their jobs.
We understand what flexibility needs employees have with regard to their careers, but what about flexibility when it comes to workplace technology? Flexibility in workplace technology manifests in customization capabilities. When employees can easily customize their work tools to accommodate different modes of thinking and working, it creates a path to increased productivity. Our data shows that employees feel customization is the weakest area for work tools provided by organizations. When surveyed, employees where presented with a variety of statements about the capabilities of their day-to-day work tools – the ability to customize their works tools (29.3%) ranked at the bottom.
As we can see in the figure above, the second-lowest response was tools enabling employees to feel more connected to colleagues (30.6%). Connection is another key area of employee needs that organizations must address. With the increase in remote work due to COVID-19 this past year, many employees might only now be realizing the types of tooling they need to feel connected to coworkers virtually. Connection is perhaps the trickiest area to address out of these three main themes (transparency, flexibility, connection) because, within organizations, there may exist multiple subcultures and modes of communication within teams and individuals, and every team and individual is different. While some employees may feel most engaged with active ongoing team chat rooms or digital collaboration spaces such as whiteboards or shared docs, others may prefer less frequent, in-depth, company-wide update meetings that don't require employee participation but provide a great deal of information. Some employees may prefer a mix of both, but striking the right balance and obtaining and acting on employee feedback along the way is crucial to a successful and sustainable internal communications strategy that enables a genuine feeling of connection among colleagues.