How data is saving the watercooler chat

By Sarah Manning, Senior Director, HR at Zendesk

Published October 9, 2020
Last updated November 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to government restrictions that have abruptly and unexpectedly transformed the way we work - in many cases irreversibly. These changes have impacted every team, but perhaps especially HR, as entire workforces move to remote working, creating the need to completely rethink styles of management, as well as longer-term employee engagement strategies.

Given that its workforce is a company’s best asset, making sure that employees feel listened to and supported, considering their personal circumstances, and ensuring they have all the resources they need to succeed in this new world of work are critically important now. Happily, data is aiding HR professionals in achieving this, enabling them to stay in tune and connected – even from afar.

Gauging employee needs from a distance

A day at the office would normally give employees plenty of opportunities to express their thoughts and feelings to their managers in ‘watercooler moments’ that might take the shape of a spur of the moment tea break or coffee run, or a canteen lunch or team building day. However, without the day-to-day interactions that take place naturally in an office, direct reports are finding far fewer opportunities to reach out to their managers. Proactively scheduling a call or video meeting feels much more formal, and, as a result, employees are taking longer to request any help they need.

To try to combat this, HR leaders are encouraging more frequent, virtual 121 meet ups between employees and their direct managers. They are also connecting teams via community software tools like Slack, so they can stay in touch and keep their team spirit alive through informal video beers, quiz games or competitions. But we are also now seeing data play a more prominent role, helping HR to read the mood and make any improvements in an agile way.

HR teams are creating and sending out regular employee surveys , with the responses giving them a better understanding of how staff are feeling and any worries they might have. Data from inbound Helpdesk enquiries is also providing important insight about where employees need greater support. Meanwhile by monitoring the content that is being accessed via company Help Centres, HR can hone in on which subjects are of interest to employees at which times.

Belgian media company DPG Media created a Help Centre that, on average, gets 4000 views per month and is used by 1600 employees daily. “People know our Help Centre is a valuable information source,” explains Stijn Van den Acker, Team Leader of Facility at DPG Media. “We invest a lot in adding the right content to it and regular data reports have provided us with some interesting insights, making us aware of opportunities for further improvement.”

It’s by acting on detailed insights like these and making changes that HR can really elevate the employee experience. For instance, by combining survey data with what employees are searching for in their Help Centre, HR teams can pinpoint the exact topics that staff are anxious - or excited - about.

These insights can also help to identify where they need to supply further information on a topic, elaborate on available topics to include additional areas of interest or to alleviate worry - or even adapt policies based on regular enquiries. This will all ensure that key company messages are easily accessible to everyone and that nothing gets ‘lost in translation.’ HR can also use data to identify common trends when it comes to employee needs that can then be addressed more broadly with people managers across the business.

HR management in 2020 and beyond

As the pandemic rumbles on, all businesses must adapt to new ways of working and many may never return to the same physical office space that they had before. HR teams will therefore need to be creative and proactive when it comes to safeguarding the company culture that means so much to employees, but also make sure that it’s fit for purpose in our new, digital-first working world. That way employees will retain the sense of community and belonging that is so critical for sustaining a strong and engaged team.

By using their data smartly, being receptive and compassionate, HR teams can ensure they continue to nurture honest, productive relationships with employees and give people managers the right tools to support staff through the current period and beyond.