4 Principles Guiding the Return to Workplace

How and when to reopen business locations in the midst of a global pandemic involves complex issues. Workday executives are leaning on the company’s core values and an employee-centered approach to guide the decision-making process.

Julie Jares August 13, 2020
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From technology companies to retail stores to manufacturing plants, every business is wrestling with how to keep their employees and customers safe as the global community continues to grapple with the health risks of COVID-19

Recently, Workday leaders discussed the complex issues that surround reopening business locations. They didn’t have a playbook to respond to a global pandemic, but the executive team leaned on the company’s core values and an approach with four key principles to guide decision making. Employees were at the center of the response. “Our view is if we take care of our employees, they will take care of our customers. That's been central to our philosophy,” said Inna Landman, senior vice president, talent acquisition, operations and insight. Greg Pryor, senior vice president, people and performance evangelist, joined her in conversation. 

A COVID-19 Response Strategy Centered Around Core Values 

Workday’s approach was, and continues to be, focused on four key principles, with health and safety being table stakes. According to Landman,  the key tenets are:

  1. Lag, don’t lead. Culturally, we are more used to blazing trails than following sign posts, but in this instance we realized that our employees were living the agility and adaptability that we try to engineer into our products. Our surveys revealed that 80 to 85 percent of our teams continue to be productive at home, so we can take a cautious “wait and see” approach.

  2. Empower local decision making. “When we have local decision makers in each country, in each state, in each office, the decisions are faster,” she said, “and they’re the right decisions.”

  3. Be flexible. “We want to be able to adapt and change based on all the elements that may come into play,” Landman said. 

  4. Be transparent and embrace open communication. Workday doesn’t have all the answers, she acknowledged, but leaders are providing them whenever they can. “We’re focused on what we can do to enable us to respond swiftly, recover mindfully, and emerge even stronger when we do come back together.”

Keeping a Pulse on Employee Sentiment

Open communication is a two-way street, Pryor pointed out. Just as the leadership team is regularly sharing information with employees, they’re also frequently soliciting feedback from Workmates, leveraging Workday survey technology to listen.

“Absolutely central to the work we're doing is having the insights around how our employees are feeling and making sure we understand that,” said Pryor. Workday adapted its Feedback Friday initiative, which was already a weekly tool in place to measure employee sentiment, after the fast shift to a fully remote workforce. Survey questions in March focused on employee well-being and productivity, and how Workday could better support Workmates.

Within Workday, said Pryor, “we store the data in Workday Prism Analytics. That allows us to look over time, across offices, and across functions. Through Workday, our senior leaders have real-time access to see how their teams are feeling, to respond quickly, and to point out the opportunities for improvement.”

Evaluating Workplace Readiness and Planning for Returning to the Workplace

Understanding employee sentiment is just one part of the equation. In addition, said Landman, Workday is examining community risk factors, such as infection rates, hospitalization rates, and shelter-in-place orders, along with workplace readiness questions, such as having enough personal protective equipment and sanitizing products. The local decision making teams are also weighing the situation with schools, daycare, and public transportation.

Then, the local decision makers look at city dashboards—created using Workday Prism Analytics—to visualize the readiness of that location, coupled with general employee sentiment data. “We need to have both sets of data,” explained Landman. “We won't spend a lot of time readying a location if we don't have a large number of people opting in to return.”

While Workday announced on July 10 that its U.S. office locations are closed for the rest of 2020, some office locations in other parts of the world are reopening. Once a site is ready to open, with employees who want to return, employees will have to opt in to come to the office. There’s a parallel process in place, said Landman, with managers and leaders to understand who they would like to prioritize based on the nature of work. “Then we can compare the employee opt-in process and the manager nomination process, and use those factors to determine who will be the first to return to the office.”

To juggle all those pieces, Workday uses Workday Adaptive Planning. “We’re putting these factors into Adaptive Planning to compare all these elements and develop robust scenario plans,” said Landman. “The beauty of scenario planning is that we can change these factors on a dime. We've done hundreds of variations of these based on the early nature of what we thought was happening, and we've had to pivot quickly.”

When it comes to safely returning to the workplace, preferences are going to change, and the virus is going to change. But, said Landman, “it's all about flexibility.”

“We’re focused on what we can do to enable us to respond swiftly, recover mindfully, and emerge even stronger when we do come back together.”

Inna Landman Senior Vice President, Talent Acquisition, Operations and Insight Workday

Enabling Employees and Sites for a Workplace Return

A critical piece in reopening and returning to the office is matching employee sentiment data, which is already in Workday, with people who have an interest or business reason for coming back to the office. Figuring out what happens next is where Pryor has been playing an important role. 

“We’ll take this data to trigger a set of actions, perhaps requirements, that would happen in Workday. This is an opportunity for us to lean into the digitization of HR,” he said.

To make that practical, Workday is taking advantage of its Workday Journeys functionality, part of the People Experience capability, which was initially used to help new people leaders transition into their manager role. “We repurposed that to create what we call a COVID-19 care kit—or to enable people to return to the office and ensure safety. Journeys enable us, first and foremost, to provide announcements. We can't let social distancing become social disengagement, so we're using our technology, in this case, to let people stay connected, to let them know about particular events, to micro-curate announcements,” said Pryor.

For workers who are permitted to return to a local office, their COVID-19 Journey could also include video content previewing the updated in-office experience, checklists, schedules, and other important information.

Ensuring Health and Safety

Like all companies, Workday will be entering new territory regarding the health and safety of employees. Doing this right is critically important to the Workday leadership, so they’re consulting with medical experts to help navigate the different scenarios when it comes to attestations, temperatures, and testing.

Privacy for Workmates is also vital.  “We're looking to make sure that information such as daily health attestations doesn't stay on the worker profile, that it gets purged,” said Landman. “We have lots of related considerations and questions when we start getting into the medical field, and making sure we comply with different laws and regulations. There are myriad elements to think about from a healthcare perspective, a testing perspective, a screening perspective, and then an overall philosophy.” 

Helping Our Customers Plan Their Return to the Workplace

Every organization will need to develop their own plan for returning to the workplace, taking into account the specific nuances of their business and the needs of their workforce. Workday customers can take advantage of return to work solutions that help them better manage their people and finances in today’s changing world.  

Workday is also partnering with IBM to offer an integrated solution that can help customers accelerate return to the workplace by combining planning capabilities with critical employee, community health, and workplace data. Built around Workday Adaptive Planning and leveraging data from Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) and IBM Watson Works, the solution combines dynamically changing data from multiple sources to allow for return to the workplace planning that puts safety first.

The solution lets customers quickly and easily model different scenarios and plan for workplace demand,  taking continuously changing factors such as site capacity, community risk, levels of critical supplies like PPE, and employee sentiment into account.

A Playbook in Progress 

Pryor emphasizes that with all these decisions, the key is to start with a principled approach, especially when every company is facing a velocity of decision-making that they’ve probably never experienced before. 

“It’s important to let people know that while the playbook is still being written to some degree, we have a plan that builds confidence in our employees to know their leadership has a set of principles; they're thinking about the relationship between the workplace and the workforce. We're showing our workforce and our customers that we care about them,” said Pryor. 

To learn more about bringing employees back to the workplace safely, register for our webinar on August 13 featuring IBM, or view previous webinars on the topic of returning to the workplace. 

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