As organizations learn more about the employee experience during the coronavirus pandemic, data has emerged suggesting that employers will have to adopt new approaches and invest in technology that helps them listen, learn and improve the worker experience. HR managers will also have to lead as they build mature employee experience programs.
COVID-19 caused a surge in remote work, accelerated digital transformation and prompted a greater focus on improving the employee experience and engagement. Research shows that these priorities will continue in 2021.
A study released in December 2020 from Qualtrics and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) based on a poll of more than 200 U.S. CIOs, CTOs and other IT executives, highlights the trends in IT investments and indicates that employers are taking note of their workers' concerns during the pandemic. Among the study's findings:
- Ninety-five percent of IT executives said they have increased the frequency of listening to employee feedback since the coronavirus began.
- More than 65 percent of IT executives polled said at least 25 percent of their company's workforce will continue to telecommute after the pandemic ends.
- To meet remote work needs, respondents said investments were channeled toward security and privacy (82 percent), cloud infrastructure (78 percent), and additional IT support staff (71 percent). Additionally, 76 percent of respondents said they relied on employee feedback to gain actionable insights when considering new software or services, and 73 percent said they knew which initiatives would make the most impact on the employee experience.
Julie Schweber, a senior HR Knowledge Advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), said technology has helped remote workers collaborate even while they work from home.
"The beauty of technology is that it's allowing us to have a WebEx call or a Zoom call to have meetings of 100 or 200 people, and they are able to break out into small group sessions. We can see each other live if we want to because of the technology and log in to our virtual private network at home in a safe, secure IT environment," Schweber said.
But technology can't bridge the gap completely.
"You lose that personal touch in the virtual work environment," she added. "Technology doesn't take the place of a supervisor or a manager reaching out via a phone call or sending even just a small thank-you note. Managers and employees need to focus on that in addition to the technology, because having all that technology but not having a manager or an employer who is saying 'we care' may mean the message will fall flat."
The Qualtrics and PwC study follows data from International Data Corporation (IDC) that gauges how IT has impacted the employee experience and focuses on the importance of employee engagement during the pandemic.
IDC has been following the employee experience numbers since the pandemic forced nonessential workers to begin telecommuting in March. In a survey conducted in August 2020, IDC polled 670 company executives that have mature employee experience programs including work-from-home flexibility and employee feedback opportunities. When respondents were asked what benefits their organization's employee experience program has yielded, 43 percent said higher employee productivity, 41 percent said improved employee experience, 38 percent said reduced absenteeism and 27 percent said higher employee retention.
Another IDC survey in April that collected responses from more than 500 company executives posed the question "Due to COVID-19 and the need for new technology and changes to the working model of some organizations, how will your organization's demand for employee engagement technologies change?" Among worldwide respondents, 42 percent said they intend to increase their demand, while 45 percent of U.S. respondents said their demand will increase for employee engagement software.
IDC's April data also found that at companies with a mature employee experience program, workers are five times more likely to be engaged in achieving organizational goals and are three times more likely to feel that their organization is providing a strong COVID-19 response. Additionally, employees are 35 times more likely to feel part of one team driving business results.
Laura Becker, IDC's research manager in the Worldwide Services Group focusing on the employee experience, said there are several ways to improve employee engagement, such as implementing surveys and feedback measures; offering wellness and financial planning programs; and providing employee recognition and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Selecting software with modules that underpin these programs can make a significant difference to a company's success.
"If you have the technology in place and managers who are trained at using the technology, they can look at the data for insights to create action plans for their employees," Becker said. "That creates a much better organizational culture, and it leads to resilience in the organization, which will set the stage for a much stronger recovery after the pandemic."
SHRM's Schweber added that one of the most important lessons of the pandemic is that employee engagement is particularly important now that there is a higher number of remote workers who will continue to work from home in the post-pandemic work world.
"Employee engagement impacts employee retention, employee and employer productivity; it increases loyalty; and it is directly linked to customer satisfaction—meaning the customers who are served by an employer have increased satisfaction when there is a higher engagement among the workforce," Schweber said.
She added that employee engagement also impacts the company's reputation and brand. If it's a publicly traded company, the overall stakeholder value can increase if employees feel the company's success is their success, too.
"It's all tied into one circle," Schweber said. "Respectful treatment of employees is very important and always has been. I think in terms of the pandemic, with what's happening in the world, it's likely even more important now."
Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.