How a decentralised business with a dispersed workforce responded to COVID-19
Founded in 1990, the company provides custom designed parking and transportation solutions to the healthcare, hospitality and real estate industries.
Its 1,350-strong workforce operates out of 200 locations, primarily across the Greater Boston Area and surrounding regions.
As a customer-facing business, the impact of COVID-19 was going to be significant, with logistical challenges to overcome. The majority of its employees work within close proximity to customers, such as valet attendants and patient ambassadors. (Ambassadors perform a frontline role, meeting and greeting patients and family members. Once the patient’s needs are assessed, the ambassador is able to connect them with the appropriate hospital support services).
The company’s decentralised operating model means that it can adapt to local market needs and trends. It capitalises on using local knowledge and drives decision-making at a local level. It comes with its challenges too, like maintaining the integrity of its brand and the customer experience.
As COVID-19 started to hit the US, VPNE needed to understand the impact on its employees and how it could best support them. Kyle Healey, Director of Talent Acquisition, Training, and Development explains.
We reached out to Peachy Mondays to help us understand our employees’ states of mind surrounding working from home, returning to work, and how safe they felt.
In the past, we’ve gathered feedback using Google Forms or Microsoft Forms, but we’ve never outsourced this before. We are very literally in the people business, so being able to swiftly understand how our employees are feeling and thinking gives us an advantage in business going forward.
“They seemed like they genuinely wanted to help us”
Kyle discovered Peachy Mondays at the HRD Summit in Boston last year, where he saw co-founder James Anderson talk about driving transformation using real-time employee feedback.
Just over a year later, President Donald Trump was declaring a national emergency in the US.
About that time, Kyle saw that Peachy Mondays was offering a free tool to help organisations quickly get to grips with how their employees were coping with the crisis.
Their COVID messaging and approach to help out really struck me as different from many vendors who were trying to profit from what is a terrible tragedy. They seemed like they genuinely wanted to help us understand what we were up against.
Some of our locations have as few as one or two employees who do not have traditional office infrastructure available. One of the biggest challenges for us is how decentralized our organization is, which makes it difficult to collect data like this.
Fast set-up, fast results
The COVID-19 Employee Pulse Check focuses on three areas: employee wellbeing; enablement (how well an employee can do their work from home or other place); and communication needs. The questions are created and validated by organisational development experts. And they can be tailored according to an employee’s current work situation (for those working remotely, at a site/on the frontline, or furloughed for example).
Questions like ‘My employer cares about me’, ‘I feel able to manage my levels of stress and anxiety currently’, and ‘I am satisfied with the level of organizational communication about COVID-19’ reveal telling insights about how well an organisation is handling the current crisis.
The speed at which the company was able to gather insights meant they could mobilise support quickly. Kyle says:
We were active with our survey within a week or so of our initial meeting and started receiving data later that same day. The most immediate, impactful response to the feedback was to quickly address PPE concerns at our locations.
Our frontline staff have been tremendously flexible with us and the sites where they work with the way job duties and guidelines evolved so rapidly. We cannot say enough about how well they approached their work during these uncertain times.
The pulse survey highlighted the value that employees place on their relationship with their manager, and that there is a slight disconnect with central headquarters. Kyle explains.
One of the more transformative pieces of feedback we received was the difference in how employees perceived their managers and the whole company.
We’re grateful that so many employees have strong feelings about their direct supervisor, and we want to do more to connect and build on those individual relationships to help improve the standing of the company with those employees.
Turning feedback into action
As a result of the feedback, VPNE is improving the channels of communication between all employees and HQ (including SMS-based tools and others that use their existing HR system).
The survey results from Peach Mondays also prompted discussions with some of their benefit providers about programmes that will make a direct impact to their frontline staff. Kyle says:
So far, the pulse check has been everything we had hoped for. The unexpected benefit, in my opinion, has been the willingness of our employees to provide extra information to help us nail down why they felt positive about certain questions so that we may replicate that elsewhere.
I find that people are usually very excited to tell you (sometimes in gory detail) what is going wrong… while it’s natural to gravitate toward fixing the negatives during an exercise like this, the versatility of the tool allowed us to pinpoint the things we were doing well to accentuate for everyone else.
The crisis puts HR centre-stage
On a personal level, Kyle says the pandemic in the US brought with it a lot of anxiety. It has also heightened awareness of the crucial role of HR when responding to a crisis. The pandemic has ravaged businesses and created incredibly complex people dilemmas for HR.
When you’re a leader in HR, a lot of people depend on you to have answers. The nature of the pandemic, of course, didn’t allow us to speak authoritatively for long, so our rapport with our employees was challenged. Finding new ways to facilitate a dialogue has been huge for us.
As lockdown restrictions in countries around the world are lifted, the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing impact of COVID-19 continues.
VPNE plans to conduct more pulses as it implements its return-to-the-workplace strategy.
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