George Dickson - April 01, 2020 -
10 Min Read

9 Simple But Meaningful Questions You Should be Asking WFH Employees

The past few weeks posed a tremendous challenge for people and organizations across the world. Employees whose jobs haven't vanished had their way of working upended in a matter of weeks or even days. 

Those accustomed to working in expansive offices are now working on makeshift desks in cramped apartments while they manage other aspects of their lives that changed seemingly overnight.

Despite their experience with remote work, even companies with distributed teams are feeling the impact, because clearing out of the office on short notice is only one facet of a multi-dimensional puzzle we're all trying to solve.

Without warning, parents suddenly face the trials and tribulations of balancing multiple roles: teacher, parent, coach, caretaker, chef, and productive employee -- all at the same time. Others must be extra vigilant in caring for themselves, their loved ones, and their community.

Leading with Empathy

Although this situation is equally new and challenging for managers and leaders, employees still look to them for structure and guidance. These unprecedented circumstances demand that we improve our emotional intelligence. 

Communication, understanding, and empathy are more critical skills than ever, and it's essential to build them into your daily interactions.

In this guide, we'll cover some of the most important questions you as a leader should be asking your team to ensure their wellbeing, to build the shared context that fosters empathy, and to confirm you're all still making progress together. In addition to the questions themselves, we'll discuss:

 

  • Why communication and feedback are so critical, especially now
  • How to fortify communication channels you share with your team
  • Strategic questions you should be asking at a regular cadence
  • Actions you can take, based on the answers you receive

 

Some considerations, before getting started:

Communicate thoughtfully.

What you ask and how you ask it reveals what you care about as their leader -- and right now, your team needs to know you care about them. 

Crises aren't the time to extract information from your employees to wring out an extra three widgets' worth of efficiency. Instead, you have a chance to show you want to understand so you can help.

Keep it easy. 

Don't overwhelm your employees. They already have enough going on; you don't want to add to their workload or stress levels. When you ask questions of your team, make them direct and easy to answer.

If it makes sense, use emoji.

Emoji are instantly recognizable, and in many cases, they do a much better job of capturing sentiment in a small space than text alone.

Show your employees you hear them.

Communication and transparency are paramount even in the best of times, and both are a two-way street. Employees need to feel heard, especially if they're physically isolated. 

If you want to solve real problems for your team, you need real answers to your questions. If you want real, candid answers to your questions, you must strive to be open, authentic, and honest yourself.

Take visible action.

There is no point in gathering feedback and data and doing nothing with it. Asking for input but failing to act on it can be more detrimental to morale and future efforts than not asking at all. 

Share the feedback you gather with your peers in management and leadership. Make a concerted effort to address it. 

If you make any changes as a result of employee feedback, make sure they know that their feedback influenced the change. If you don't make changes based on employee feedback, explain why you haven't (or why you haven't yet). 

OK, let's get to the questions:

How is your week going so far?

😍 😀 😐 🙁😢

Why ask this question?

This question is intentionally vague -- and here's why: phrasing the question like this allows each employee to express at a high level how they're dealing with everything that's going on into a very personal emotion. 

It broadly covers whether they're feeling safe, overwhelmed, motivated, anxious, distracted, productive, and everything else, all at once.

If you are only going to ask one question, make it this one.

It might be tough to take the aggregate, raw results of this question and translate it into concrete, actionable steps for your organization. Still, you can use this question to assess the general sentiment of your employees during this period. 

If you also allow for comments after asking this question, you'll likely gain very personal, qualitative insights into how your employees feel. 

Before you can take any action, your first step is to ensure you have the context to guide that action. 

These days, I feel well-prepared to do my job. 

💪 🤔 😓

Why ask this question?

With so many variables changing, it can sometimes be hard for employees to feel empowered to do their best work.  

Understand that negative responses here are not necessarily a bad thing; you should make it clear as an organization that your goal is to work with employees to make their experience easier and more positive. Doing so benefits your organization because the better prepared your team is to do their job, the better they'll likely perform.

There might be something relatively small you can deliver that would have an outsized impact on their preparedness.

This company cares about my wellbeing.

👍 🤔 👎

Why ask this question?

There is enormous uncertainty in global social dynamics – whether it's the economy, the health of loved ones, teammates, or the world at large. People are concerned about their wellbeing from multiple perspectives, and it's during these high-stress times that individuals need assurance that the organization they belong to invests in their welfare.

As tough as things are, this is an opportunity to step up and be a leader and an organization that people are proud to work for -- one that values employees and the unique contributions they make.

If you're noticing a trend of low scores in this area, consider the benefits you provide and the employee experience initiatives you currently have running. Are they accessible and relevant to a broad enough range of employees? 

Over the past few weeks, how would you rate the social connection you feel with your teammates?

😍 😀 😐 🙁 😢

Why ask this question?

Employees are not just facing isolation and distance from their coworkers, but also their circles outside of work. In some cases, interactions with colleagues are one of the few interactions people have daily. The more we can do to facilitate the quality of those interactions, the better.

If you notice a dip in sentiment here, there are a few things you can do to help build social connections amongst teammates.

 

  • If possible, prioritize collaborative work between employees who don't often work together.
  • Try a purpose-built tool for making informal connections across departments and geographic distances, like Donut.

 

Over the past few weeks, I feel well supported by my leaders.

👍 🤔 👎

Why ask this question?

An employee's relationship with their leader is one of the key defining factors in their engagement, retention, and overall success. Your success as a leader hinges on your ability to foster the success of your team. If you're not supporting them to your full potential, it's hard to expect them to reach theirs.

If members of your team don't feel as though they're supported, consider the way you're addressing interactions. Do you have an 'open door' policy, where they can come to you with any questions, or are you taking proactive steps to provide the support your team needs. 

If you lean toward the former, consider scheduling weekly 1:1 meetings and alternate between addressing projects at hand one week, then culture on the other week. If you plan to schedule these meetings, never skip them -- otherwise they can have the opposite of their intended effect. Life (and business) often get in the way of our best laid plans, and sometimes you might have a scheduling conflict. That's ok, just make sure you reschedule.

I have access to a safe environment, conducive to work.

👍 🤔 👎

Why ask this question?

Safety can mean a lot of different things to different people, but one thing is for sure: people who don't feel safe for any reason aren't going to be performing at their best. 

Physical safety is probably the easiest to solve because it's cut-and-dry. Employees put in physical harm's way, especially without any apparent reason, are going to struggle to perform at their best. Some professions are inherently more physically dangerous, but even within those professions, there are procedures and protocols you can put in place to help ensure safety.

Psychological safety can be more difficult, but no less valuable to address in all its nuances. At a base level, psychological safety is the assurance that within a particular environment, it's OK to put oneself out there. Whether that's sharing a out-of-the-box idea, taking calculated risks, or admitting mistakes. 

If you find that employees don't feel safe in their work environment, it's incumbent on you, their leader, to find and implement a workable solution. 

I have a high degree of stress caused by economic uncertainty.

Strongly Disagree - - - - - - - - Strongly Agree

Why ask this question?

It's essential to ask this question directly because it's the elephant in the room. Most people are experiencing this stress right now to some degree. 

If you find a number of your colleagues are feeling significant levels of stress in this area, take time to assure the team of your organization's stability. If this stress acutely impacts some members of your team, there may be some things you can do to help, like (if possible) offering an advance on their pay.

Over the past few weeks, rate your sense of acceptance at the workplace.

😀 😐 😔

Why ask this question?

Similar (and inherently connected) to psychological safety is the level of acceptance someone feels within their peer group. Psychologist Abraham Maszlow established a simple pyramid, or hierarchy, of human needs. At the base of that pyramid, you'll find physiological needs, followed by safety, then right after safety you'll find the need for love and belonging. Above that are esteem, and finally, self-actualization.

Self-actualization is the mental space where people are doing the best work of their life. If someone is struggling to meet more fundamental needs like safety and belonging, they'll struggle to fulfill higher-level needs, and as a result, struggle to do their best work.

If you find colleagues are feeling as though they're not accepted, it's an opportunity for you to provide the support they need. As a respected leader, your outward actions carry significant weight within the group. Show them and those in the group visibly that they're not only accepted, but valued and held in high esteem. 

I feel that my efforts are recognized at work.

😀 😐 😔

Why ask this question?

Recognition is one of the most influential aspects of employee engagement. If employees don't feel as though their organization recognizes the value of their work, the work feels less valuable overall. 

If a mediocre job and a great job are rewarded equally (or worse, not rewarded), there's less incentive to put forth the discretionary effort it takes to do a great job.

It's crucial to call out excellent work in a timely, visible way -- especially for remote workers who may not otherwise interact with leadership enough for their contributions to be called out. It's nearly impossible for a leader to witness and recognize every valuable contribution an employee makes, so leveraging an employee's peer network to call out great work can be a simple, yet effective way to ensure that recognition happens. 

I have a good work-life balance.

😀 😐 😓

Why ask this question?

Perhaps counterintuitively, work-life balance can be a challenging issue for remote employees. Some have a difficult time 'switching off' at the end of their workday. Others find it much easier to focus on work-life integration, rather than keeping a strict separation between the two.

This is particularly true during the period of adjustment between a colocated work setting and remote work.

If you find that some of your teammates are struggling with work-life balance, there may be some ways you can help. Adding schedule flexibility can help those who prefer work-life integration. Providing guidance on finding a healthy separation between work and home (now that they're both the same place) can help those who gravitate toward achieving work-life balance.

In conclusion

These are some of the most simple, yet vital questions to ask remote employees to ensure their experience in your organization is positive, productive, and long-lived. If you're looking for more actionable steps you can take to improve your organization's WFH experience, check out our dedicated WFH guides here:

WFH Part I: How to Make Working from Home Work for You

WFH Part II: How to Lead a Successful Remote Team

 

George Dickson

Written by George Dickson

Lives to learn and build cool things with good people.