TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Brad Anderson, president of products and services at Qualtrics, about how CIOs can help employee satisfaction and engagement in the new hybrid working model. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Karen Roby: Brad, we had a major shift, of course, last year with everyone having to work, remotely, really changing things for people and how they work, how they feel about their work. A year later, are employers doing a good job of addressing how their employees feel about their work?
SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Brad Anderson: You’re exactly right. The experience that employees have is one of the things that CIOs are much more intently and deliberately measuring. And what we saw as we were doing our research in early 2020 until late 2020 is the number of organizations that actively deployed listening solutions to understand that experience of employees increased from 51% of organizations to 69%. But there’s a massive gap. And here’s the gap: What we found is that when we were interviewing employees, 92% of employees told us that their employers having active listening systems was incredibly important to them. But the gap is that they thought that only 5% of organizations actively responded well to the feedback that came back to those listening systems. So, there is an understanding in CIOs that they need to be actively listening, but the gap from the employee perspective is they don’t see employers actively engaging and acting on that feedback.
Karen Roby: Knowing that this is the issue here, Brad, what is it specifically that employers need to do to make sure that their employees feel positive about the work they’re doing?
Brad Anderson: If we look at what is happening right now as we’re recording this, organizations are beginning to reopen their offices, and it’s happening at different rates in different parts of the world. For example, in our organization, our offices in Australia are fully open, we have 80% of the office back there. But as organizations go from everyone working remote to some people being in the office and some people being out of the office, this world of hybrid work experience is going to introduce a change about of the same impact that we saw a year ago when everyone went remote. Because what happens now is in a world where everyone is remote, everyone’s working in the same playing field, there’s a level playing field because all voices are remote, but in a world where we are now in a hybrid model, some of the voices are going to be in the office, in the room, and some of the voices are going to be out of the room.
And so what organizations have to have now is these listening posts that enable them to understand the experience that is being had in the room and out of the room. Here’s what CIOs today need to understand. They’re swimming in data, they’re swimming in the operational data that they’ve looked at for years. They understand deeply what their employees are doing and how they’re doing it. What most CIOs do not have is that signal that says why they’re doing it and how they’re feeling about it. And there’s a difference. That operational data we call O-data is critical, but you have to marry that O-data with experienced data or X-data. And that’s what we have Qualtrics bring into that. Our research, our background is helping organizations understand the why, the feelings, and the sentiment that employees are feeling. And more than ever today, the CIO has more impact on the culture of a company than ever before, because that digital workspace that the CIO delivers to their employees becomes the proxy of the entire organization to the employee.
SEE: Why companies need to have a working plan for a return to offices (TechRepublic)
Karen Roby: Brad, an interesting thing to me is, over the last year, I’ve talked to a lot of CIOs who will say now all of a sudden they’re the most important guy or gal in the room, and people are looking to them to help get companies through this incredibly trying time that we’ve been living through. Who would have ever thought that that’s who we would be looking to, to say, “How do we gauge and help our employees with how they’re feeling about their job to make sure they’re in a positive place?”
Brad Anderson: I love this. The bulk of my career has been working on behalf of the CIO. Before coming to Qualtrics, I spent 20 years at Microsoft building and operating the Office and Microsoft 365 capabilities. And the CIO has transitioned and the CIO team from the nerds in the basement to being the individuals who really are delivering the enablement of the entire organization. If you think about it, we’re living at a time when the digitization of everything is happening. Everything is digitizing and so the CIO has that place now of such importance and such impact that in my belief they are one of the primaries, if not the largest, driver now of culture and in driving cultural change, because everything we do is digital.
Karen Roby: Brad, looking ahead here, this past year, what has it taught us in terms of how we should be looking to our employees going forward?
Brad Anderson: In this Employee Experience Trend Report that we just published, there are a couple of things we saw were new factors that contribute to employee engagement. And one of the interesting things to point out is employee engagement during 2020 in the pandemic actually went up significantly. And the two new factors that we saw emerge were, first of all, a sense of belonging, and second, an understanding or a sense of pride in how the organization is doing right or good for the world at large. So, with those new factors emerging, what organizations need to be listening for is understanding how they are being perceived and how employees are feeling the experience that is being delivered to them. And so, as I look at what’s going to happen over the next year, offices will reopen, and what we see in the research is about 70% of employees expect to be able to work from home part of the time and in the office part of the time.
So, the world’s going to be very different than what it has been for the last 12 months, because, as I said, of everybody being remote, you’re going to have half to two-thirds of the people in the office and the rest working remotely. That is going to change the dynamics in how people work and how they operate and how they collaborate. And more than ever at a time when change is happening so quickly, IT leaders, CIOs, need to have that signal coming into them, both the operational data and the experience, because you need both, and you need to bring both together to understand what people are doing and why they’re doing it to make the right judgment calls on what the future holds. Take this as an example. Today, leaders are making choices about how much office space they need one, two, and three years from now.
These are not trivial choices, and these are choices that have substantial impact financially as well as on the culture of how employees engage with a company. You have to have that listening coming in, that signal coming in continually, to be able to make real-time determinations and real-time changes to the strategy you put in place, because change is going to happen quickly.