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COVID-19 Employee Survey and Action Plan

Wanting to be transparent in a highly ambiguous and shifting situation (COVID-19 or otherwise)? Here's a template using an intentional survey conversation process to support strong communication and decisions with your team.

1. Before You Begin:

It's important to think of any employee survey as more than a battery of questions and data to analyze. Your COVID-19 Employee Survey serves your organization as an intervention and catalyst for changing how your teams work and collaborate remotely, and stay safe returning to the office.

Some key points to consider for building an effective employee survey and meaningful metrics (LINK: Coetic People Science Brief: Employee Surveys as Meaningful Metrics for more tips):

  • The foundation for honest, constructive survey responses—create psychological safety, with an invitation for honest views. Evidence supports identified surveys as generally more effective than anonymous surveys.
  • Keep your survey focused and lean on validated survey questions for common organizational constructs (engagement, satisfaction, culture, etc.).
  • Include meaningful open-ended questions crafted to elicit balanced responses.
  • When reviewing data, remember that hidden information in your employee surveys provides additional insights. Consider who responds, who doesn't respond, and why; how you interpret passive and active nonresponse matters.
  • The most effective decisions use a combination of intuition, logical reasoning, and hard data. Use survey data to feed stronger decisions that what your gut and your head can accomplish alone to make the best.
  • Share survey results with employees—but be thoughtful about how you do it. Overcome negative thinking through transparency, communication, and involving employees in decision-making.
  • Measure and act on employee attitudes and feedback consistently for high impact performance. Employee attitudes are not just cultural, they link to effective performance and profit.

For more evidence-based insights about effective employee surveys, see Employee Surveys as Meaningful Metrics {link} in Coetic's People Science Briefs.

2. Pre-Survey Communication Template

[Note to Leaders: Modify this template to introduce a survey conversation related to COVID-19 (or another significant event).]

Briefly introduce the current situation, and the questions it's sparking:

[Sample:

As the COVID-19 situation continues to progress, we all find ourselves questioning when we will be able to get back to normalcy. While we hope it can be sometime soon, we are learning as we go. As we consider our options and timeframes, we want to be aware and prepared.]

Share the evidence – what do we know so far and what don't we know: When possible, become informed about the issue, and share information. Aim to look beyond media messages to consult scientific and expert sources. Consider providing links and evidence to explain the situation, as well as encourage employees to research on their own. Here is what we presented to our employees based on what was available in early June 2020:

[Sample:

There is a lot about this new virus that we don't understand well yet, and we may not for some time. According to current research, most people are getting infected in their own homes. In a majority of cases, a household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the home, where sustained contact between household members leads to multiple infections.

Apart from the home, the main sources for infection are workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. These account for 90% of all transmission events. Social distancing rules are meant to protect you.

To get infected, you need to get exposed to an "infectious dose" of the virus. However, based on infectious dose studies with other coronaviruses, only a small dose may be needed for infection to take hold.

While watching your health and staying home when feeling sick is important, it's not a guarantee of protection. Right now it appears that at least 44% of all infections occur from people without any symptoms.

Reopening and getting back to normal comes with a variety of personal risks. Keep in mind that your risks can have effects on people in your community as well. Here's an actualscenario:

  • A single infected employee came to work on the 11th floor of a building. That floor had 216 employees. Over the period of a week, 94 of those people became infected. Sharing an enclosed space, breathing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chance of exposure and infection.]

Connect the situation as relevant to your organization and employees, and explain why their perspective matters:

[Sample:

At this time, we believe it the workplace is a setting that poses significant potential risk of infection with a virus that appears to affect people very differently and unpredictably – while some people do not ever have symptoms, others require hospitalization and may die. Health and safety of our team members and communities are very important to us. Thus, for the foreseeable future, we will continue to work from home.

However, we are interested to learn what everyone's views are. We want to make future decisions about returning to the office with the experiences, personal situations, and risk assessments of our team members in mind.]

Share your overall plan and how survey input fits in:

[Sample:

Here's What We Plan to Do at Coetic…

  • Reopen our office only when we deem it reasonably safe to do so. Working remotely has its downsides for our collaboration and productivity, but we are growing in proactive outreach as a team and can sustain this mode for as long as it is necessary to do so. If you are having challenges with remote work, please voice them so we can brainstorm solutions. As others relax "Stay Home" policies and return to workplaces, we'll view those as a pilot test for the safety of reopening. As community habits change and there appear to be positive results, we will plan a substantial buffer period due to the 2-week incubation period of COVID-19.

  • Encourage a collaborative effort to protect our office space and therefore each other -- We'll need to be in this together! We encourage accountability regarding personal exposure, and preventive caution about what we are bringing into the office. We encourage self-protection when in the office. We encourage cross-team sharing of COVID-19 information and risk mitigation strategies, and discourage sharing of germs. We already had some good preventive practices in place (e.g., stay home if you're sick policy, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in work areas, touchless trash bins, recent furnace replacement and installation of air purifier). We'll amp those up and work together even more to get through this pandemic.

  • While infectious risks are still high and vaccination is not available, we will continue to consider work from home as an option for all or some team members, for all or some of the week. For instance, to reduce exposure, some organizations are running schedules where part of the team works in the office Monday/Tuesday, and part Thursday/Friday, with disinfecting practices happening Wednesday and over the weekend, or where teams alternate weeks in the office. We do not need to have an all-or-none, one-size-fits-all solution – we need a flexible solution that supports our success as a team in a challenging and evolving situation.

  • Promote frequent hand-washing. We stock hand soap at every sink, and hand sanitizer in additional locations.

  • Actively encourage and enforce our "stay home if you're sick" policy more than ever. If you or any household member or contact shows symptoms of COVID-19 infection, Stay Home. If you were in a risky setting and think you may have been exposed to the virus, Stay Home. If you're feeling well enough to work from home, we know how to do that! If not, rest & recover.

  • Emphasize self-care with continued voluntary avoidance of high-contagion settings and mindfulness regarding travel, outings, and gatherings.

  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, such as covering coughs and sneezes. We provide tissues and no-touch trash receptacles. We encourage personal face masks – for comfort, please provide your own and change/wash frequently.

  • Provide access to disinfectant cleaning products for office surfaces. We'll be on the lookout for products marked with the EPA seal showing evidence of effectiveness against the coronavirus.]

Invite people to share their views, concerns, and ideas via the survey and explicitly acknowledge a desire to understand diverse views:

[Sample:

As we begin to think about what Return to Office looks like for our team, we invite your input! Your openness about concerns you do or do not have will help us understand diverse views on our team and how we can make the best possible choices.]

3. Survey Content

[Note to Leaders: This survey is intended to gauge employee views around returning to the workplace and specific concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. You can modify it to highlight concerns relevant to your region, organization, and team. Then use insights from the responses to inform decisions about communication, training, and action is needed to support employees and create new approaches to organizational effectiveness away from the office or when re-opening. You can repeat all or some of the questions to detect shifts in employee views and concerns]

At Coetic, the survey supported us in gaining insights into the following questions:

1. What are the most important reasons you look forward to returning to the office?** Why does time in the office matter to you?**(3 Fill-in Answers)

2. What are the biggest drawbacks of working from home for you? (3 Fill-in Answers)

3. How comfortable do you feel returning to work in the office within the next month? (Very Comfortable, Somewhat Comfortable, Neutral, Somewhat Uncomfortable, Very Uncomfortable)

in the office? (Not at All Concerned, Slightly Concerned, Moderately Concerned, Very Concerned, Extremely Concerned)

  • Getting exposed to the coronavirus at the office
  • Getting exposed to the coronavirus while commuting
  • Potentially spreading coronavirus to my coworkers
  • Leaving family members at home who need assistance
  • Organizing childcare
  • Losing flexibility related to working from home

5. How important are these precautions to help you feel more comfortable returning to work in the office? (Not at All Concerned, Slightly Concerned, Moderately Concerned, Very Concerned, Extremely Concerned)

  • Providing cleaning supplies & hand sanitizer
  • Using all spaces on our upper and lower levels to create distance
  • Limiting the number of people in office at once
  • Requiring masks when in a room with others
  • Daily temperature checks Installing partitions between desks
  • Govt guidance saying it's OK to return to office
  • Availability of antibody testing
  • Availability of a vaccine

6. To what extent would you be opposed to or irritated by these precautions if REQUIRED before you return to work in the office? (Not at All Concerned, Slightly Concerned, Moderately Concerned, Very Concerned, Extremely Concerned)

  • Wipe-down responsibility for desks, chairs, and tables you use before leaving them
  • Mandatory masks policy, bring your own washable/rewearable
  • Daily temperature checks
  • Assigned days to work in the office / work from home
  • Waiting for govt guidance saying it's OK to return to office
  • Required antibody testing
  • Required vaccination

7. While we're still working from home, what are the best things we could do that would improve your work engagement, enjoyment, and productivity? (3 Fill-in Answers)

8. Any other comments, questions, or concerns? (Open Ended)

Thank you for taking our survey. Your response is very important to us.

4. Post-Survey Communication Template

[Note to Leaders: Modify this template to continue your survey conversation related to COVID-19 (or another significant event). Your goal is to express appreciation for participation in the conversation, share the results and more importantly insights that have developed from the responses people provided, share any decisions informed by the input, and set expectations for next steps. Following up on surveys with strong communication is vital to build trust and psychological safety in your culture and to encourage participation in future survey conversations.]

[Sample:

Remind people of the survey purpose and context, and express appreciation for the input gathered :

[Sample:

At the start of June, Michigan dropped below 200 new cases daily -- for the first time since mid-March when we announced our decision to go remote and the Governor shortly thereafter required remote work statewide.

We asked everyone to provide input to Return-to-Office decisions.

Thank you all for your prompt and thoughtful responses. Please see below for a report of perspectives.]

Share what you're thinking about and the path you are on toward decisions:

[Sample:

We continue to watch the data as restrictions lift. Michigan is looking wobbly at best and possibly climbing again. Right around the corner from our office, exposure at Harper's appears to be responsible for 85+ direct cases and that story alone continues with reports of infected individuals spreading to many more people in other locations. Other states are pulling back on reopening decisions as community spread skyrockets. Asymptomatic carriers are a continuing challenge with this highly contagious virus.

Provide an overview of how survey responses have provided insights :

[Sample:

We are thinking also about our particular team composition and concerns — your responses were very helpful to remove guesswork. We are fortunate that our team includes talented people from a wide range of locations — in this case, that also means our office becomes a potential connection point for many communities with varying current stats. As many of you voiced in survey responses, we also collectively have a range of personal situations related to COVID-19 risks and exposures.

Give the bottom line of any current decisions :

[Sample:

Considering all of the issues, we believe our wisest choice is to continue to require remote work for the foreseeable future.]

Announce plans of action based on your assessment of the situation and the survey input:

[Sample:

We have a preliminary idea of what a phased Return-to-Office plan might look like for Coetic when the time is right.

We are watching for the following signals to trigger a more serious look at that plan:

1. Overall Michigan stats stabilize at 200 or below for at least two weeks

2. Localized (county) stats are low for Coetic-related communities (where we work and live)

3. State officials are moving through reopening phases without additional pauses

4. Our team members support starting a careful phased reopening plan (watch for a future survey to check on how your views are changing)

Again, thank you for sharing your views in our survey. From this input, the approach we foresee to Return-to-Office focuses on gaining the most from time together in the office (and time to be away from home for a while!) while also reducing contagion risks (including a recognition of things like "how lunch happens"):

We have already ordered hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to make those readily available

We will likely require masks in our initial phase, potentially only when in proximity to others

We will expect everyone to pitch in to disinfect surfaces you are touching for your own safety and others

We do not plan to make physical adjustments (e.g., partitions) but instead to focus on using our spaces differently such as spreading to different rooms up and down when not collaborating

We will first ask people to step forward as willing to return; we do not want anyone to feel forced to return to the office in early reopening

With an understanding of who wants to return, we will identify the best overlaps so that we bring in only small groups at one time to max the ability to distance when not actively collaborating

We will work out a turn-taking schedule based on the needs of the groups - there are two great models for this - one splits the week with M/T and Th/F shifts, with W being an air-clearing day - the other alternates full weeks between teams

We will ask team members who are using the office to avoid crowds and/or self-quarantine by working from home for 2 weeks after possible exposure

We will proceed gradually, testing each additional Return-to-Office phase before moving forward.]

Add a personal note. Whether the result of your survey is a joyous return to work or an acceptance of prolonged pandemic-induced conditions, acknowledge these feelings. Stay focused on how the team is working together no matter where everyone is, and what that means to your employees.

[Sample:

We miss being in the office together for many of the same reasons you all shared - the personal connection, ease of impromptu alignment, and ability to be "at work." We are grateful that we are all figuring out how to make the most of working from home and remotely.]

Invite people to connect post-survey in more personal ways. We encourage leaders to connect with teams to discuss survey results as well as promote connections that don't always revolve around projects and work tasks. Human interaction improves working relationships and outcomes. Especially when we are separated, making personal connections across the team matters. Caring about each other's lives and experiences during this time strengthens our teams.

[Sample:

See you Wednesday for a Zoom Coffee. Remember to reach out to each other and to us to stay connected.

Attached: Coetic Return-to-Office Survey Report]

  1. Results Template

As stated earlier, it is vital to share survey results with employees. We recommend presenting the full analysis to employees and also discussing the results.

Results discussion can add depth to your survey conversation by sparking new insights about how different parts of the survey response relate or providing more nuanced views of what particular response patterns might indicate.

Before sharing broadly, it's wise to screen survey responses for sensitive information, particularly if respondents were not aware that responses would be shared (hopefully that intent was transparent). The goal is not to censor important views, but rather to remove potentially harmful or private information (e.g., an employee reveals a health condition in their response, a complaint names a specific individual).

[Sample:

Here is what our results looked like:

Coetic's Return-to-Office Survey Analysis

Comments: Let's Go Back!

[Here, we briefly discussed the level of risk our workplace presents and a note about a return to work.]

Example Comments:

  • I feel very comfortable returning to work. Based on the Update COVID-19 letter I feel that Coetic knows the proper measures to take.
  • My primary wish is to share physical space with my coworkers and collaborate face-to-face. If the only way to return is to enforce precautions that impede that ability then I think the value of being in the office is largely lost.

Comments: Remain Working From Home

[Here, we briefly discussed that there are team members who present higher risks and are hesitant about a return to the office.]

Example Comments:

  • With as many people that work in the company, the office has people in nearly every space working and eating and social distancing seems to be a challenge.
  • I feel somewhat uncomfortable due to the fact that [a household member] is at a higher risk. It just concerns me because of more vulnerable [household member(s)].

What are the most important reasons you look forward to returning to the office? Why does time in the office matter to you?

[Here, we presented the points about working in office that team members look forward to or miss.]

Example Comments:

CollaborationCommunity & Interaction
- Easier communication with team members- We feel more connected as a community when we work from the same place.
- Being able to have face-to-face interactions with my team again- Being social even if not always about work.
- Opportunity for collaboration- Interaction with people beyond just the people I'm directly working with.
- Whiteboard brainstorming- Able to see all coworkers / watercooler talk
- Ease of Impromptu Meetings and Questions
- Quicker feedback

What are the biggest drawbacks of working from home for you?

[Here, we discussed challenges we've found in working from home.]

Example Comments:

SamenessLack of InteractionCollaboration Feels HarderMy At-Home SpaceDistractions
- Mixing home and work life has been a hard balance- Don't have access to a whiteboard + collaboration environment for team- Communication was not as effective as face-to-face meetings- I don't have a great space for work at home.- My Wi-Fi can be unpredictable
- The change in scenery when I work/study in areas outside of my home can sometimes help increase my focus- Miss seeing coworkers during the week- Difficulty explaining visual problems over zoom- Distractions from people not working in my house.- Limited childcare at the moment

While we're still working from home, what are the best things we could do that would improve your work engagement, enjoyment, and productivity?

[Here, we gave opportunities for employees to voice their needs.]

Example Comments:

Huddles & Chats – 1-on-1, Team, & All HandsCommunication – All Hands, Look Ahead, Availability, Reaching OutRoutine & My Personal BubbleWe're Succeeding – Adjust as We Go & Our Own Nudges!
- More frequent coffee meetings - to help the team feel like a team- Posted availability from everyone for chat and collaboration- Have a routine- I enjoy the content of the nudges that we've had, they've been specific to our current situation which makes them more engaging
- Set up regular 1-on-1 check-in meetings would be good.- Switch from slack to email ;)- Eliminate distractions

How comfortable do you feel returning to work in the office within the next month? (Asked June 2 – 10, 2020)

[Here, we presented a bar chart as visual representation of answers.]

Example Bar Chart:

A bar chart to show how comfortable survey respondants were with returning to work in the office in the next month.

How concerned are you about the following challenges related to returning to work in the office?

[Here, we presented a bar chart as visual representation of answers.]

Example Bar Chart:

A bar chart to show how concerned survey respondants were about the following challenges related to returning to work in the office

How important are these precautions to help you feel more comfortable returning to work in the office?

[Here, we presented a bar chart as visual representation of answers.]

Example Bar Chart:

A bar chart to show how important are these  precautions to help survey respondants feel more comfortable returning to work in the office in regards to their main concerns

A bar chart to show how important are these precautions to help survey respondants feel more comfortable returning to work in the office in regards to their secondary concerns

To what extent would you be opposed to or irritated by these precautions if REQUIRED before you return to work in the office?

[Here, we presented a bar chart as visual representation of answers.]

Example Bar Chart:

A bar chart to show how opposed to or irritated by these precautions if REQUIRED before survey responders return to work in the office

Additional Resources

Aubrey, A., Wamsley, L., & Wroth, C. (2020, May 23). From Camping To Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities. NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/23/861325631/from-camping-to-dining-out-heres-how-experts-rate-the-risks-of-14-summer-activit

Bromage, E. (2020, May 6). The Risks—Know Them—Avoid Them. Erin Bromage PhD: https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them

CDC. (2020, February 11). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)—Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Duarte, C., & Sethi, B. (2020). COVID-19: Workforce considerations. PricewaterhouseCoopers. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/workforce-considerations.html

Gaskell, A. (2020, April 28). Will We Return To The Office After COVID-19? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2020/04/28/will-we-return-to-the-office-after-covid-19/

Maffeo, L. (2020, March 23). 4 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Remote Teams. Capterra. https://blog.capterra.com/improve-communication-with-your-remote-teams/

OSHA. (2020). Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. 35.

Reynolds, K. A., Beamer, P. I., Plotkin, K. R., Sifuentes, L. Y., Koenig, D. W., & Gerba, C. P. (2016). The healthy workplace project: Reduced viral exposure in an office setting. Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, 71(3), 157–162. https://doi.org/10.1080/19338244.2015.1058234

WebMD. (2018, December 23). Slideshow: Germiest Places in Your Office. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ss/slideshow-germs-office

© Copyright Coetic 2014-2020. All rights reserved. Updated 2020-09-01.