Keeping Employees Connected in an Uncertain World with Feedback

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By Tor Stenbakken, Director, Organizational Development at Four Winds Interactive

COVID-19. Social distancing. Flattening the curve. It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, none of these phrases were part of our collective vocabulary.  But today, they loom large and have changed the face of the workplace. As remote work becomes the new normal, new challenges begin to emerge. 

Feelings of isolation are hard to shake. Distractions abound. So do anxieties over an uncertain future. This puts additional strains on organizations as they struggle to keep their employees connected and engaged. Now more than ever, keeping the lines of communication open are essential, and eliciting feedback makes this possible. 

When done right, employee feedback can affect real change throughout your organization. But all too often, companies miss the mark, not making time for feedback. Worse yet, they fail to act on the data they collect, increasing employee frustration and jeopardizing engagement in the process.

Employee Engagement: An Ongoing Struggle 

Even before the world so drastically changed, organizations struggled to keep employees engaged. While many have embraced employee engagement strategies, nurturing an engaged workforce continues to remain an elusive goal. In one study, ADP found that 84% of the global workforce is disengaged. This disengagement adversely impacts productivity, customer satisfaction, and revenues.  

When you add in the challenges that come with the Coronavirus pandemic, the problem only intensifies. Before our current situation, disengaged employees cost organizations up to $550 billion in lost productivity each year. Today? It’s too soon to tell, but at a time when organizations are desperately seeking ways to increase efficiencies and decrease costs, the result of employee disengagement can be staggering. 

Yet companies who get engagement right can turn the tide. Increased employee engagement decreases isolation and increases connectedness in a distributed workplace. What Forbes found earlier still holds true today. “Companies with a highly engaged culture perform better, with higher stock prices, higher productivity, lower turnover, and greater customer satisfaction.” 

Deepening Connections Through Feedback 

Increased engagement means developing deeper connections.  And deeper connections come from creating an open dialog with employees. Through ongoing feedback, employees are empowered to share their input. They also feel a sense of ownership, as this feedback is integrated into operations. At a time when current events increase feelings of powerlessness, this sense of control goes a long way to easing fears and anxieties.   

Unfortunately, not all feedback systems are created equal.  Over the years, we have seen companies make some common mistakes that undermine their efforts.  

Intensifying the Need for Continual Feedback 

In a world that is changing by the minute, it is more important than ever to solicit continual feedback.  A mistake many companies make is to rely on annual employee engagement surveys as their sole feedback mechanism. Trying to pack in a year’s worth of feedback in one survey has definite disadvantages. Traditionally lengthier participation can suffer. And while these yearly exercises may offer a snapshot of employee sentiment, measuring ongoing organizational health requires continuous data.   

Other companies have adopted shorter, more frequent Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys to take the pulse of their cultures. These simple, single question surveys are based on a single question: 

On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend Four Winds Interactive as a great place to work? 

The eNPS scores derived from these surveys offer excellent benchmarks. However, eNPS scores alone fail to tell the whole story. Companies must also dig deeper to understand the whys behind the scores.  

Collecting Data Is Just the Beginning 

It is easy to fall into the trap of collecting data, only to tuck it away in a report. Data has an expiration date. To be truly useful, the feedback collected must be able to close the loop, feeding systems throughout the organizations quickly, and enabling stakeholders to drive change.  

The human impact of ignoring data is also destructive. Instead of feeling heard, employees view surveys as an exercise in futility. This hurts the very engagement companies hope to foster. 

Never Underestimate the Role of Managers 

All too often, engagement is seen as just another initiative owned by HR. But according to Gallup, “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.” To move the dial, companies must put managers on the front line of engagement strategies. To effectively engage their teams, fast access to insights is essential. 

Our Process at Four Winds Interactive 

As a leading software provider for enterprise digital signage networks, Four Winds Interactive (FWI) is transforming the way organizations communicate with their customers and their people. We are known for helping organizations in every major industry inform, inspire, and connect their audiences with the right message at the right time. 

Two years ago, we embarked on a mission to create and nurture a more intentional, people-first culture – with employee engagement as a core pillar to our overall business strategy. 

In order to truly tap into the pulse of the company, we needed to collect better data. We replaced our annual employee satisfaction survey with a quarterly Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) survey. We limited it to three questions with a few open-ended responses. Using a highly customizable and easy-to-use survey solution called Alchemer, we are able to survey our entire workforce, then segment the data to take immediate action on the feedback. 

The eNPS survey also includes several follow-up questions to dive deeper into the reasons behind the scores, providing valuable detail and context. Once the data is collected, FWI drills down to the department level, using both scores and commentary to uncover valuable insights and trends. This allows the FWI organizational development team to work closely with individual managers to create action plans to increase both engagement and productivity within their business units. 

Due to the constantly shifting environment, we have been using Alchemer on a near-weekly basis to stay in touch with the general wellbeing of employees and how they are adjusting to our new normal of working remotely. This includes a working from home survey to assess the overall sentiment of the workforce and what additional needs or wants they have to ensure the best possible working experience. 

From benefits to development to diversity and inclusion initiatives, data from FWI’s quarterly eNPS surveys informs the entire FWI employee experience. And the results followed. We saw a 10x increase in our eNPS, putting us well above the national average for employee engagement.

The Path Forward 

As organizations across the globe struggle to find their footing, nurturing employee engagement is more important than ever before. Feedback is an essential ingredient to success, allowing you to tap into the pulse of your remote operations. The insights gleaned from this data keep you connected, helping employees stay engaged and productive during this time of unprecedented uncertainty.  As a result, you can tackle this crisis as a cohesive team, better navigating whatever comes your way.  

You can download a copy of the Four Winds Interactive case study here.

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