FreeWave’s Kirk Byles explains why listening to your employees is an easy way to increase engagement and productivity among remote teams.
WIRED recently published an article about why we are seeing pushback from executives about working from home despite the fact that businesses have transitioned successfully to the WFH model and employees routinely express greater satisfaction with it.
The article highlights the disconnect in both planning and execution between executives and staff and it basically comes down to three things: assumption, bias, and transparency.
It’s not about knowing all the answers, it’s about asking the right questions.
One of the most important things we’ve done at FreeWave during the pandemic when working from home wasn’t a choice, but a necessity: increase the cadence of our engagement survey to every six months and *really* listen to feedback.
Like most businesses in the last two years, we had to react quickly to the changing tides of COVID. We shut down our office on March 13th of 2020 and, after consistently receiving meaningful and reliable feedback from our staff, we decided to transition to a “remote encouraged” culture.
And, it’s working.
The article mentions that executives have very differing views, experiences, and appreciation for in-office than most of their own staff. There are assumptions and biases about what is needed for both productivity and engagement and about the experience that most staff have versus the experience of the executive.
The survey refers to it as “a focus group of one. I have X, Y, and Z resources and experience so that must be true of everyone in the company from Assembler to Customer Service and Accounting.”
We approached the challenge of engagement with a simple premise: we don’t know the answer so let’s ask questions and base an iterative plan on the data. We wouldn’t start developing a product without market research so why would we do the same with employee engagement?
Transparency and the Fail Fast Philosophy
In the article, Brian Elliott of Future Forum cites the reticence of executives to announce an action plan if they “don’t know all the answers”.
Maybe it’s because we’re a tech-based business where iteration is the norm or maybe COVID taught us lessons in adaptability but, whatever the case, we’ve always understood the fail-fast philosophy is not just for the technical side of the company.
While actively addressing the issues of assumption and bias in collecting the survey data, we still had one more challenge to address and that was transparency. To that end, not only do we present ALL survey data in our quarterly All Hands; we also announce specific plans to address areas of concern.
We set expectations and not only encourage employees to hold us accountable for the action items but acknowledge that these plans build upon each other.
In every, all-hands gathering we summarize any changes in survey results, announce whether the previous two- quarters plans’ have seen any success, and move forward with new plans to either maintain or improve engagement results. These relatively short timelines and repeated testing allow us to move quickly to actively address not just employee needs but the needs of the business as a whole.
As any businessperson knows all it takes for top talent to leave is a phone call from a recruiter on the right day. Businesses who have neglected to both survey their employees, publicly announce results, and work on improving engagement are seeing this in droves.
I’m sure there are many other companies like FreeWave that don’t have the ability to provide many of the perks that other large tech companies rely on such as gyms on-site or free food or even salaries in the top 10%.
However, on the flip side, many of those companies have doubled down on returning to the office and implemented micromanagement and monitoring tools of their staff and even old-fashioned dress codes and attendance policies.
Their employees become more frustrated at losing the flexibility, trust, and better work/life balance benefits they have come to appreciate during the pandemic. If they were successful and thriving over the past 18 months, why should we consider they wouldn’t be going forward?
Maybe we’re lucky, but we’ve been able to attract some really top-tier talent from larger organizations by providing, not just the flexibility employees’ demand, but the trust that allows them to flourish.