Employee sentiment check-in offers a new map for understanding emotion in the workplace.
Great and positive working environments are critical to business. One of the most elusive aspects of management is the challenge to understand and manage the emotional mindset of the workforce. The best places to work always seem to have their finger magically on the pulse of the organization, reacting with strategies that address both the individual and group dynamics.
One sour employee can quietly kill the energy of a team, while an entire department can passively stage a revolt and go unnoticed for weeks. A frustrated team member can feel discouraged to participate and powerless when dealing with things that empowered teams in the organization could fix.
However, current management methods typically rely exclusively on the experience, intuition, talent, and gut feeling of the human resources staff, resulting in subjectively clouded conclusions and actions. HR departments perceive the partial reality they have access to from their very limited point of view and for the most part they operate in the dark.
Meanwhile, people in the organization feel that changing things is a power reserved exclusively for those in a senior level. They feel discouraged to participate in fear of being tagged as individuals that affect negatively the overall mood.
So here's the paradox: HR has the power to make changes but they don't have access to the information. Team members — as a collaborative group of individuals — are the main source of the feedback HR need but they can't directly change how things work.
There's a clear disconnect between the two parts and one giant gap is separating the problem from the solution. Speed of information sharing is rapidly increasing in the outside world. Thanks to the adoption of social networks individuals are becoming more open about their emotions —take Facebook's addition of emotion to status updates as a clear reference. In contrast to these dynamics, communications inside organizations are broken, or in the best cases slow and most of the times dishonest.
Communication in both directions needs to be fixed by creating channels that feel fair and convenient to both parts.
New technology-based management tools borrow from the ingrained behavior patterns and social dynamics of the mobile generation. These employees hyper communication impulses will be leveraged by management to finely tune into the underlying attitudes of the workforce in a whole new way than ever before. Measurable insights will fuel more accurate sentiment assessments and lead to better reaction strategies.
Social check-ins are now a part of people’s everyday lives. Smart companies are looking at ways to translate this same behavior to the office by embracing the social behaviors that are seen in the outside world. The Mood Check-In leverages conceptually this social expression, making employees feel empowered at the same time.
What is a Mood Check-In?
A mood check-in is the submission of an emotional state. An impulse employees can transfer through the platform to a higher instance anonymously and in the most convenient way. Employees can easily check-in their current mood whenever they feel the need:
• By using a mobile device: A simple application can be installed by employees on their phones. This application does not require any login information beyond an activation code created by the HR team for the entire company, making every submission completely anonymous. The home screen of this app is a dashboard with a pre-defined number of options represented by a combination of text and icons (frustrated, anxious, happy, excited, insecure, etc). Users need to tap on the option that best represents their mood. They can also, as an optional parameter, provide a commentary with just enough information to help HR address the problem.
• By using a web browser: Aside from a mobile interface employees can install on their smartphones, the mood check-in extends to a browser plug-in that loads as the default every time an employee launches a new tab. The interface is based on the dashboard that exists in the mobile application and it's extended with a live streaming view of a common space in the office, to keep remote employees closer to the dynamics that only exist in the physical space.
Opportunities to make anything an input
Because every business and every office is different, the way the people interact with the tool and give feedback can vary according to the context in which it happens. Some types of information can also be more relevant for specific industries.
- Being meetings one of the main sources of frustration inside organizations, placing touch screens right outside conference rooms will help the system capture mood changes that are the consequence discussions that just happened.
- Sensitive tiles in the restroom. A set of tiles represents the range of mood options that were defined to the mobile and desktop experiences. An icon is attached to each one of the tiles in this array.
- Punching bag in a corner of the office, every time someone hits it reports to the system an increase in the level of stress in the room.
- Detailed check-in for temperature, for spaces that are very sensitive to the climate.
- Big “beach ball” that can jump around the entire office and will create a check-in according to how the people treat it (hug, kick, punch). Led colors inside the ball can also reflect the overall mood for the entire organization or that specific area.
Being always present, in this moment, keeps the Mood Check-In a part of the employee’s routine workflow. Instantly familiar features keep the user interface super simple. One interaction is all it takes to participate.
Making the data public
Large visualizations are projected onto communal wall spaces in and around the ofﬁce that emote the employee sentiment. Advanced, interior lighting innovations complete the mood by adding depth to the environment. Combined, these displays create an exciting and dynamic emotional temperature of the organization. Offering the entire company a shared biofeedback mechanism.
Aside from lighting, and according to the nature and the scale of the organization, other forms of feedback can be implemented altogether or by phases:
- Additional screens. Since an overall mood projected on a wall does not always represent every individual's mood, additional smaller screens in cafeterias, lounges or hallways can display more detail about new check-ins as they get into the system.
- Ambient music. Music in certain common spaces can reflect the current overall mood or can help to improve it (ie. relaxing music is played to help a stressed out team keep calm)
- Audio signals (elevator doors that make a bell sound when the mood is positive or a buzz sound when the mood is negative)
- Project dashboard. Project managers can also see a modified version of the dashboard that combines system information with project milestones or issues to add an emotional layer to the project and the team associated with that project, hence taking project management to another level.
Transforming data into intelligence and intelligence into change
For the human resources teams, custom dashboards display real time visualizations for management to analyze by mood, role, department, over time and more. Alerts are triggered in the case of recurring negative check-ins coming from a specific team or at any specific time.
Check-ins that become trends are treated as a priority, but every submission needs to be addressed by a sub-team inside the larger HR group. To help them keep track of what comes in from the first moment to the moment it's transformed into an action, submissions work like “tickets” in a help-desk system. Tickets can be open, resolved and can also be assigned to other teams to handle.
Another interesting feature of trends is that they represent the feelings of a group of individuals. According to the specific situations, the HR team could implement all kinds of temporary or permanent programs going from training on different subjects to yoga sessions.
The biofeedback of environmental visualizations that change in real-time to reflect employee sentiment, as well as the multiple possible outputs of feedback unleash a powerful workplace communication tool that both unifies the workforce and respects the individual’s place within.
One of the features of the tool is the ability to capture an open and honest reaction from the workers without sacrificing anonymity (thus, providing the information in an honest way). The mood of the office, being now available to everyone, creates an implicit obligation to try and fix the situations behind emotional changes, starting by contributing with each individual's positive attitude.
In addition to this, one improvement that could be implemented and tested in a future phase is giving the platform the ability to offer reactions (rather than plain feedback) to try and counteract a mood trend; so if, for instance, the mood is leaning toward “tense”, the platform, instead of reflecting this on the environment, will trigger a series of smart actions like playing relaxing music, projecting cold colors on the walls, etc.
That's just an immediate and automatic response to the collective feedback. However, mood trends can trigger reactions that go from a simple attitude change to HR taking direct action on the matter.
Mood check-ins submitted in different ways by the employees are sent anonymously to the HR dashboard where they become a ticket or a “case” than can be tracked over time until it is addressed. All this information becomes intelligence, it is highly valuable to make decisions that improve the overall workspace. Positive results that are visible to employees and that were triggered by a simple check-in make people feel they can help improve their environment by just being open about what makes them feel bad or good.
- Privacy concerns: Employees might be uncomfortable or avoid reporting their mood if they feel their privacy or name is being attached to the reporting.
- Mood visualization: The shared mood visualization is being proposed as a light projection. However, each organization would need to decide the best viable solution, according to office location, budget, and infrastructure limitations.
Changing the way people inside the organizations communicate is not an easy task and in this case this change comes from trust:
- Team members need to trust that all their feedback will remain anonymous to everyone — from the maintenance team all the way up to the CEO. They also need to trust that their check-ins are not going to be ignored, but instead, that HR is going to use that information in order to make a difference.
- Management and HR need to trust that people will be completely honest and will provide feedback, be it positive or negative.
Management need to make trust the strongest pillar of this platform. Ideally, the HR team should schedule an all-hands meeting prior to the definition of the platform. Then employees will learn about the initiative and will be able to express any concerns they might have. There needs to be absolute transparency in terms of how the information is handled, stored and interpreted and employees need to understand that.
But the main reason to communicate the idea to the entire company ahead of its implementation is that everyone in the team should be allowed and encouraged to contribute with ideas around options to define the system and make it better. After the all-hands meeting, volunteer employees can participate in the ideation and development of the platform, help define the rules and contribute with specific techniques to capture data and share the feedback through sound, visualization, etc.
The implementation should happen by phases, starting with an MVP (minimum viable product) that will include at least these features:
- Core of the application, including basic services to allow input, analysis and output.
- One input mechanism: a mobile-first approach is always recommended.
- One output mechanism: a large visualization that communicates the overall mood in a key common space of the office.
- HR dashboard, with a limited number of metrics available for them to address the anonymous feedback that comes in
After the deployment of this MVP, testing is key. The product owner should be empowered to tweak existing features or build new ones and A/B testing with different groups of users and make decisions based on the data that comes out of that.
Features that can’t be implemented in a short period of time, are prioritized and sent to a repository of features where they are organized and scheduled for future phases.
DJ Edgerton and the Zemoga team for making our participation possible.