It’s a strange and troubling time to be a People leader—or any type of leader. When coronavirus came, everything we thought we knew about running a business and leading teams went out the window. Each day brings the unprecedented, and we have no best practices playbook to call upon.
The coronavirus crisis has affected the way we work, childcare, economic outlook, our sense of security and most importantly–personal health and emotional wellness—all at an individual level. It’s a lot to balance and support.
At SurveyMonkey, we leveraged our anonymous Coronavirus leadership check in template to understand what matters most to our employees around the world. If you’re a leader or HR pro and decide to do the same, I hope that this outline of how we used our data will inspire your own efforts.
When the coronavirus first started making news, we made a few initial decisions based on our instincts and the credible information we were tracking from the CDC and the WHO—things like increasing our office cleaning schedule, reducing business travel, and encouraging hand washing.
But the next wave of decisions we faced were much more drastic: it meant an extended work from home period and major changes to our planned events and travel. We needed to prioritize the use of resources, and support employees through an unparalleled period of history. For those decisions, we wanted to rely on more than just our instincts—and that’s where the survey came in.
Like most organizations, we have limited resources, yet we still need to support this set of new needs. We needed reliable insights from our team to help us make confident decisions on their behalf. I believe, based on the valuable feedback we got, that surveying our employees both made them feel heard and gave them a chance to weigh in on support the they needed most.
Here’s how we synthesized our survey results and came to our current policies.
Working from home
The most obvious change to our business in recent times, like many others, was the shift to working mostly remotely. We started strongly encouraging employees to work from home in early to mid March, and canceled all business travel. We knew that it might be harder for many of our employees to access programs and/or tools that they needed, but we also knew that there would be subtler impacts, like inability to socialize with coworkers.
In a normal day at SurveyMonkey, you’d grab coffee with a few coworkers and hear about their kids, chat with another one over lunch, get live, in-person updates from your team. We wanted to see how these challenges, as well as the logistical ones, were impacting our employees.
The data: As it turns out, we’re much luckier than most other companies in terms of ability to work remotely: 57% of our employees say that they can work from home comfortably for at least 2 months, and a full 73% feel good about doing it for at least a month. But there were still challenges.
40% of our employees were troubled about social isolation, 24% about their physical workplaces at home, and 22% about childcare—something that can be debilitating for productivity, especially if younger children are younger and home from school.
Our response: We decided to extend a $250 budget to every SurveyMonkey employee, so that they could purchase whatever they needed in order to feel more empowered. We had originally planned for this to cover new software, hardware, desks, etc., but after seeing the survey results, we decided to extend the budget to cover (responsible) childcare, dependent care, and academic subscriptions for kids stuck at home.
We also started planning virtual events—like Zoom meetups where employees can share their pets or introduce their children to other SurveyMonkey kids. We want to make sure that the community is able to come together digitally, even if we can’t all be together in person.
Addressing overall anxiety about the world of coronavirus
The number one challenge that our employees cited about working through the coronavirus was a general anxiety about the state of the world, and the health of themselves and their families (59%). It’s a universal experience right now, but a tough one to address. We simply don’t have the answers. Our best option, then, is to provide resources, communicate transparently, and be as open to feedback as we possibly can.
The data: A striking 86% of our employee base is worried about the impact of the coronavirus on them personally, while an additional 32% are either “very” or “extremely” worried about the company as a whole.
From an economic point of view, our company is lucky to be relatively unscathed, being an enterprise software solution that people can access from anywhere (and potentially even more in demand than before, given the need for organizations everywhere to connect with their customers, employees, students, patients and more). But from a health and community perspective, there are far more unknowns. We can’t calculate how likely it is that our employees or their families will be personally impacted.
Our response: Of course, we can’t “fix” external threats and anxiety, but we can help address it through empathetic policies and helpful informational resources.
We started with online resources: we built a page on Treehouse (our internal intranet) that details the latest changes to our policies and improved healthcare benefits, and offers tips for health and safety. We also recently started providing a service called Ginger—an online mental health platform—in addition to our normal mental health benefits. The fears about coronavirus prompted us to remind our employees of its availability during these challenging times.
Additionally, we decided to make some changes to our normal policies, extending sick leave for employees outside the U.S. by 5 days (U.S. employees have what’s known as “responsible PT”, which is more fluid). This was something that we’d planned to do even before sending the survey, but seeing the results made it crystal clear that it was the right decision. We also started encouraging employees to end meetings 5 minutes early, so that everyone gets a few breaks.
Tailoring our communications to our community’s needs
One area where I felt we had the least clarity was in what our employees preferred to see in the form of communications about coronavirus. Would emailing too frequently make them feel overwhelmed, or kept in the loop? Did they want consistent surveys, or were a few key data points enough?
The data: Perhaps unsurprisingly for a survey company that celebrates curiosity first and foremost, it turned out that our employees were far more interested in transparency than quiet inboxes. 66% of our employees wanted email updates a few times a week or more.
Our response: We’re doing what our employees have asked: sending routine updates whenever we can, and resending the survey as conditions in the world continue to change. We need to keep our fingers on the pulse of our people’s evolving needs, knowing that it’s entirely possible that they change from week to week.
Addressing confidence in our company and leadership during this tumultuous time
One of the most heartwarming elements of the survey for me as a leader was seeing the confidence that our employees have in our company, our benefits, and our executive team. In a world so full of uncertainty, it’s so meaningful to feel a vote of confidence from our employees—and to know that we’re ready to rally around each other when we need to.
The data: 90% of SurveyMonkey employees are either very or extremely confident that our leadership team will make the right choices to bring our company through this period of history (with another 9% being somewhat confident) and 75% are either very or extremely confident that our benefits program will support their needs, with an additional 23% being somewhat confident. Having 98% or more of our company be fairly certain about the success of our systems feels good, and tells us that there is still lots of room for optimism in our workplace.
Our response: However, we still care about the 2% who have concerns (and the larger group that is only somewhat assured of their support). Our CEO, Zander, made a point to address those concerns in our all hands, and other leaders followed suit in smaller meetings. Our message was as clear as we can make it: we will be open and transparent about anything that changes. We are optimistic about our business, and there are many reasons to continue to be. We are available—always—for questions, ideas, and special requests/requirements.
We also provided managers with a different, more targeted survey template that they can use to check in on their individual direct reports. (This template is also free and available to the public). And, we’re also likely to send our initial survey again. Given the fluidity of this situation (none of us could have predicted this a few weeks ago), we’ll want to redeploy so we can stay close to our employees and their needs as the things evolve.
Changing policies and offering resources is hugely important, but so is maintaining trust. Keeping an open dialogue plays a powerful role in maintaining hope and support in tumultuous times. Not every company has the budget or capability to offer financial compensation or flexible work hours, but every company can embrace transparency and openness, and share helpful data when they can. Even sending a simple survey can help show your employees that you truly care, especially if you follow it up with clear communication and information about staying healthy and/or socially connected.
Having insight into what our community is feeling has helped myself and the other leaders at SurveyMonkey validate our early decisions and feel confident in our path forward. It’s comforting to have at least a few things feel certain, at a time when so little else seems to be.