People Analytics and Hybrid Work
People analytics grows particularly critical as work norms change post-COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted a number of workforce norms, and none more foundational than the tradition of in-person work — which has now evolved to hybrid. The location of work has profound impacts on our connections with colleagues, idea generation, satisfaction with our roles, and overall work product. Accordingly, I am interested in the role of people analytics in setting new workforce norms as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. My questions concern not only the best practices that people analytics can recommend to increase satisfaction and productivity around workforces, but also how people analytics can set proactive rather than reactive norms to maximize employee satisfaction and productivity; i.e., rather than people analytics letting managers know that they need to be more in touch in a hybrid environment, having people analytics managers run analysis to determine the optimal mix of remote versus in person work to achieve employee satisfaction and company output.
The literature to this point has primarily addressed the former point, understanding how workforces can help support and retain their employees. A study by McKinsey included several insightful stats on workplace surveys illuminating worrisome trends, for example that 40% of a client company’s workforce had not had a single person check on them, and that these people were 40% more likely to demonstrate signs of mental distress. This survey is critical to understand pernicious workforce trends and identify simple solutions to curtail them.
Interestingly, the McKinsey study also highlighted D&I as a main reason to bolster people analytics during the pandemic. Here, women and women of color in particular are more likely to report burnout. As a result, these individuals have higher rates of attrition. Paying attention to demographic trends that people analytics data show will allow companies to rein in burnout and minimize attrition.
The McKinsey article also included a section on people analytics and real estate — the idea that people analytics can inform office space function. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea, that insights from employee behaviors should determine the workspace, and had never considered how people analytics could determine something as foundational and concrete as office space, from increasing the amount of sunlight that employees receive during the day, to creating an open floor plan to ensure the free flow of ideas.
However, I would like to see more of people analytics leading future of work conversations. This article, and literature on people analytics more broadly, contained little information on how people analytics will change in a hybrid work environment and post-pandemic overall. Insights from the people analytics function should be instrumental in shaping hybrid work and future of work policies for workforces going forward.
Student comments on People Analytics and Hybrid Work
I agree, people analytics often feels very reactionary, but we have the opportunity to be more proactive with changing workforce norms. Like you said, people analytics can inform decisions on employee interactions (like little check-ins) to how the physical office is laid out. Another thing that I think is special about being proactive with analytics is that provides more transparency. Now, I feel like managers can say, “we made decision XYZ because the stats told us ABC” rather than, “we made decision XYZ because we thought it was best.” So, employees going back to the office might get a better answer to questions like “Why do I need to zoom with Pam today if she’s coming into the office tomorrow?” Although the response “because the stats say that if you don’t talk to Pam today she’ll be more likley to demonstrate signs of mental distress” seems off-putting, I’m sure there are better ways to communicate analytics-driven decisions to individual employees. Effectively communicating these proactive decisions will be important moving forward.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, Amanda. It’s certainly one of the most important questions that’s stemmed from the pandemic. I am generally curious about – how much data and analyses is too much? Do we know when we are getting too dependent on tools and algorithms than having a human pulse of the workplace? And how can we achieve a balance of both? Finally, I think one of the challenges I see in a post-pandemic world is scaling analytics effectively for organizations with large workforces. That’s something we spoke about with Eric Yuan, Founder & CEO of Zoom, in a SIP in January. He famously asked employees not to come to work if they weren’t feeling happy / up to it. That’s apparently a challenge now with 6000 employees than it was with 300 in the early days.