CEO Reflections: From the desk of Dr. Fiona Jamison

If you’ve never been comfortable with uncertainty, it’s time to make it your friend.

Everyone is buzzing about the process for returning to their workplaces. Will they work in staggered shifts? Will the conference room be off limits? Will cubicles replace the open-office floor plan?

Your executive team may be urging you to help get people back into the office quickly so they can collaborate in person. Some workers may be raring to go. Others may be balking, noting that most Google teams will be working remotely for the rest of 2020. Facebook plans to reopen at 25% capacity. Jack Dorsey, who leads Twitter and Square, said his employees can work from home “forever.”

As you think about what reentry looks like for your company, I encourage you to consult the premier industry experts: your employees. To ensure a safe and successful return, you must first understand your workers’ concerns and fears and the larger complications that affect their morale and productivity.

You’ll need a carefully crafted survey to pinpoint these barriers to reentry—and your workforce’s level of uncertainty—so you can make evidence-based decisions. But don’t expect your survey to show unanimity. Workers aren’t drones or soldiers who obey a commander’s orders. (If you don’t believe me, demand that they return to the office next week and see what happens.)

Your survey will help you understand what proportion of your workers fall into each of these broad categories:

  • Social animals: Like colonies of penguins, these employees thrive in a richly communal environment. They gather energy and ideas through interaction and long for office dynamics.
  • Cautious creatures: You’ve seen squirrels hesitate before darting across the street. These employees are just as tentative about making a move. Is it safe? Is it wise?     
  • Leopards: These self-reliant workers don’t run with the herd. They are productive, safe and happy at home. So why should they squeeze into work clothes, commute to an office and be stuck at a desk?

It’s highly unlikely that these three groups would ever agree on when their office should reopen and what health and safety protocols are sufficient to protect them. But you’re not looking for agreement. Instead, your survey should gauge how uncertain your employees feel about returning to the office. I know this seems odd. Why would your executive team want to know what their employees don’t know?

Let’s say your survey finds that 50 percent of workers aren’t sure when they’ll feel ready to resume their jobs on site. Your task then is clear: You must build their level of certainty by acknowledging and addressing the unknowns.

You’ll need to dig deeper to understand why they feel unsure about returning to work. Some workers may say they will feel ready when their children’s school or daycare reopens. Others who no longer feel safe on public transit will return once they work out their commute. Others may wait for a state or county health officer to give the all-clear. Some may need to know the protocols in place for social distancing among coworkers and sanitizing the office.

Gather as much information as you can. Then, share the survey results with your employees, explaining how their concerns have shaped and refocused your company’s plan for re-entry. I guarantee that your employees—whether they’re social animals, cautious creatures or leopards—will feel heard and grateful and are highly likely to remain loyal.

If you’re not sure how to create a survey that effectively measures employee concerns, we can help. Contact us at [email protected].