How much data do you need to make a decision?
We’ve all asked this question — and discussed it here, too — but it’s not the whole question we need to answer.
Ask yourself this: How fresh is your data?
Stale data leads to bad decisions — it’s as simple as that. The good news, however, is that fresh data enables you to take quick action to resolve a pain point before it turns into a trend.
The fresh data jungle
While surveys are definitely part of a data collection plan, we get data from numerous sources. The news, external research studies, ad hoc feedback from customers and employees, analytics from CRMs and other tracking software — there’s no end of information out there.
Imagine that you need to make a decision about if, how, and when your employees will return to the office. Depending on where you are in the world, this could be a question you’ve already answered or one that you’ve pushed back for now.
Speaking from experience, I know that you could spend hours and hours searching for the latest guidelines and guidance, and it’s not hard to be overwhelmed by the wide range of information available. We know that the latest search results have the benefit of recency, but that’s not the only deciding factor in thinking through whether to follow or even read them.
Recent results may simply be pulpy click-bait — providing astonishing simple “five steps to” answers to a complex problem. They may have the veneer of science, but no credible citations or references. They may be watered-down replicas of “real” updates and analysis. It’s truly a jungle out there.
Following the same thread: If you need to determine guidelines and policies for returning to work, what authorities can you trust? Commercials often feature someone in a white lab coat recommending a particular drug or treatment, but it takes more than a lab coat to make someone a true authority. Even if the person is truly a doctor, for example, her most valuable advice will be given in her specialty field. (Would you ask a psychiatrist to treat your cold, or a podiatrist for suggestions on dealing with depression?)
International organizations or governments are often seen as top authorities, but it’s the experts in their ranks who can offer the most valuable insights. We’ll comment on the value of local resources momentarily, but these large organizations often have the resources, knowledge, and capacity to turn large amounts of data into digestible advice.
The World Health Organization plays a major international role, and offers COVID-19 guidance and research for public consumption. In the US, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) deliver high-authority guidelines, including guidelines on returning to work. Note that the latest reference (updated April 2) on what you can do if you’re fully vaccinated is currently titled “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” Even the CDC knows that fresh data will deliver more answers.
Local insights matter
With new updates coming in all the time, the “big players” need to move carefully as well as quickly. At a local level, the “boots on the ground” leaders need to make decisions that prioritize health and safety while respecting community values and culture.
OSHA (the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides guidance on protecting workers (updated January 29), and SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) offers a steady stream of references on topics like when employers should consider listing mask mandates (Spoiler: Not now!).
If your workplace is in a facility administered by a building management company, it’s likely that they’ll already have clear current guidelines in effect. The big picture questions (HVAC, which stairs go up and which go down, and how many people can be in an elevator at once) will be answered for these common spaces, but it’s likely your responsibility to sort out the details in your own space. Along with state and local guidelines, it’s important to review all the guidance you can get your hands on from every level.
Finally, the people in your organization matter. Consider the logistics: Do people need to be in the office in order to do their jobs? Will you require everyone to be vaccinated before returning to work? Will you need to adjust seating arrangements and post social distancing reminders?
Consider the softer side of these arrangements, too: Are there colleagues whose family members are in high-risk categories? Is the potential awkwardness of a socially distant masked ball worth the community and culture you’ll be building together? Do you have over-excited colleagues who need to be reminded of the new policies — and/or hesitant colleagues with qualms they haven’t yet shared? How can you celebrate the return to work together without making anyone uncomfortable?
Even if you’ve been regularly conducting employee pulse check surveys for some time, it’s important to ask for fresh feedback as you get closer to making decisions. You may have asked for return to work feedback at some previous points — only to scrap those plans in light of the evolving situation. Ask the right questions now, and you’ll get the answers you need now.
Incoming: A systematic approach to regular data collection
Even beyond the specifics of the current return to work scenario outlined above, fresh data is always one of your most valuable resources. Whether it’s employee experience and engagement or customer experience feedback, keeping a steady flow of feedback across each touchpoint in the journey is critical.
Remember, too, that your community members don’t just have feedback when you choose to ask. Especially in rapidly evolving situations, it’s important to keep an open line of communication to ensure that all the feedback you receive gets the response it deserves. Failing to close the loop when people are especially stressed means failing to support your community. Stay connected, keep collecting feedback from any and all points, and process your decisions through insights from both authorities and your own community.