Adapt your COVID-19 surveys to the stage of the pandemic

Author - Morten Hartvig Berg, Head of People Insights

An increasing number of organizations are ramping up employee surveying in connection with the COVID-19 situation. The primary motivators are twofold:

  1. To have a frequent inflow of employee input to be able to quickly adapt under unprecedented circumstances.
  2. To show the care and awareness employees long for when undergoing a time extreme uncertainty. 

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the globe from East to West, the contents of a survey should be adapted based on the stage of the outbreak. A combination of a fixed base questions and dynamic questions based on the current stage, is the way to ensure optimum yield.

Base topics: For continuous tracking

To be able to monitor the development of the situation's impact on employees, it is important to sustain a group of questions throughout the phases of the pandemic - regardless of which stage the first survey is launched. Guidelines and restrictions introduced by authorities change rapidly and organizations are doing their best to act accordingly. Repeating certain survey questions frequently, will enable business leaders to respond promptly and precisely to changes in sentiment within the workforce. The topics to track continually are:

  • Current well-being
  • Concerns about the long-term impact for the organization
  • Concerns about own job security
  • The confidence in senior leadership making the right decisions
  • The frequency and quality of communication from senior leadership
  • The support, attention and communication from the immediate manager
  • The team's ability to collaborate and remain productive
  • The employee's ability to remain productive

Most organizations will face some sort of negative impact from COVID-19 and will not be able to reassure employees that "everything will be back to normal soon". But an overinflated sense of fear in the organization is crippling to productivity as the negative thoughts will overcloud the ability to think clearly and act rationally. The base questions will provide a sustained measure of the overall health of the organization.

Stage 1: Calm before the storm

While some countries are slowly considering how to reopen society, others are just now in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. At this stage, employees will be considering how to cope with day-to-day life if they will be facing restrictions imposed by authorities or their employer. Simultaneously, thoughts about what would happen if you catch the virus will also be prevalent. Besides beginning to track the base topics, this is the time to focus on workplace behavior and addressing initial concerns connected to the potential changes ahead. Suggested topics for this stage are:

  • How to act in the workplace to reduce the risk of spreading the virus
  • How to react if you experience symptoms
  • How to respond if some else is showing symptoms at the workplace
  • How to get medical support in case of illness
  • How or if I should continue to work if restrictions are enforced
  • Implications if forced to stay home to care for children or ill family members

The first results will provide the first indications of whether employees trust that leadership is monitoring the situation and have a plan of action for what may come.

Stage 2: Disconnected

Depending on role, some organizations may be forced to send people home without work obligations. Here, the base topics should continue to be monitored. Other groups may remain at the workplace but under increased safety precautions. In this case, Stage 1 topics should continue to be applied.

Remaining is the vast group of roles, that are able to continue their work from home. For this group the main areas to cover are:

  • Obstacles in upholding productivity under the new working conditions
  • Mental health impacts from increased worry and disconnectedness
  • Fear of repercussions from being less productive than usual

Attending to mental wellbeing and resilience is absolutely doable from a distance, and surveys can serve as a compass pointing to where aid is needed and if a wider trend is emerging.

For most organizations, this level of remote working is unchartered territory, which will challenge infrastructure and the usual ways of collaboration. Structured surveys provide the best platform for identifying and prioritizing the obstacles facing employees. Even if the issues may not be immediately fixable, employees will have an outlet for their frustrations and leadership can respond by acknowledgement of the flagged challenges.

Stage 3: Light at the end of the tunnel

The severity and duration of Stage 2 may vary greatly depending on location and industry, but at some point, things will ease up and some sort of normal life can be sensed upon the horizon. But which reality awaits on the other side and what have we learned? Survey focus in this stage is:

  • Fear of returning to an unrecognizable reality
  • Fear of being called back to work without having care for children or family members
  • Fear of catching the virus when normal interaction and activity resumes
  • The wish to voice an opinion about how to limit the risk of spreading disease in the workplace
  • The wish to voice an opinion about how to handle similar situations in the future
  • The wish to voice an opinion on how to minimize the impact of the crisis on the organization's performance.

Just like it is key to have a plan when the pandemic is growing, it is equally important to know how to approach the gradual return to normal operations. Again, signaling that the organizational leadership is planning ahead should be first priority. Also, this is the phase where the benefit of hindsight presents itself and it is time to reflect - not only at C-level. Though it is virtually impossible to navigate a crisis unlike any before without making mistakes, it is vital to put your ear to the ground and allow for employees to participate in the evaluation phase.

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Morten Hartvig Berg, Head of People Insights

Morten Hartvig Berg, Head of People Insights

Morten has solid international HR experience and advises our clients who apply employee journey concepts. He is responsible for our People Analytics concepts and contributes to concept development in general.