The Star asked people about the culture of the COVID-19 investigation and asked an expert to interpret our results. In short: chances are we’re all asking the wrong questions


If you work in an office, there’s a good chance you’ve recently received a SurveyMonkey link from management trying to assess what it will take to get you back into the building in the coming months.

It’s a weird quiz to answer (I had to fill out one too) because businesses are basically trying to figure out how to get people out of their homes and into the office in the middle of a pandemic. The question is whether surveys are useful, whether it is giving companies clear direction on what to do or giving employees an idea of ​​what is being done to reduce the risk of infection. .

To find out how effective surveys are, I created a very unscientific survey… on surveys, to ask people if they found it useful to complete them. Of course, I also asked a workplace behavioral consultant if he was helpful.

“It’s something that no organization had to face before, so they want to know how to better adapt and help employees cope,” says Juan Salcedo, partner at Toronto-based management consulting firm BEworks, who specializes in using behavioral science to improve well-being at work. . “Most of the organizations that ask us for help don’t bring back the entire workforce, so they want to get a sense of what drives job satisfaction for people working from home.”

The results of my completely unscientific investigation arrived after a day. Eighteen people filled it out – Salcedo later points out that more people could have participated if I had written an intro to let them know the purpose of the survey (my bad one).

Thirteen said they had received surveys from their workplace and a third of respondents also received back-to-school surveys. Others were questioned by places of entertainment and sports. Of these surveys, half mentioned increased sanitation, limited capacity and mandatory face coverings. A few respondents were asked about their current situation, for example whether they use public transport or are able to do their work from home.

But overall, when I asked whether return to work surveys made people feel more comfortable returning to work, most said no. Among the responses:

” No. I won’t feel safe until there is a vaccine.

” No. I pay more attention to health recommendations and will follow this advice rather than an investigation. “

“I’m less comfortable going home. Investigations focus more on the “status quo” rather than a new standard.

“No, I’m not comfortable going back to a huge, poorly maintained office building with limited access (a few elevators for hundreds of employees). “

“These surveys just tell me that the caregivers don’t care about the health and life of me and my family.”

“No, because they don’t address issues related to the long-term effects of working alone or without interaction with a team. “

” No. I think they help businesses see what kinds of risks people are willing to take to get back to what they consider normal, but it’s a lot different to creating a low risk environment. Minimal effort to get people through the door (does not amount to) reducing risk. “

“Only useful for gauging opinion, not useful for changing the real environment. “

” No. Senior management wants people to come back to 110 (percent) capacity and will hear what they want to hear to make it happen.

Salcedo wrote an article on the BEworks site earlier this week about what companies have failed to convey through surveys. In short, they don’t dig deeper into why employees feel the way they do when it comes to working from home or returning to the office.

“If organizations want to get an idea of ​​what it would take to make employees feel safe to return to the office, I don’t think a survey is a good approach because most of us don’t. specialized knowledge of protocols to mitigate the risk of contagion. We are not epidemiologists, ”he says. In fact, there is a course in designing and conducting public health surveys at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“The key is to focus on the ‘why’ if that’s the reason people don’t feel safe going back to the office; what are the sources of the threats; and why employees are or do not perform as well when working from home, ”says Salcedo.

To get there, Salcedo suggests that employers ask staff more about their mental well-being, their ability to separate family and work life and whether they are comfortable communicating freely with their bosses.



As for the most common question in these return-to-work surveys, which asks the respondent to verify anything they would like to see implemented in the workplace – like staggered shifts, closure of common spaces, wearing masks and limiting the number of visitors – that’s a poorly worded question, says Salcedo.

“We face a lot of uncertainty, so we tend to cover all of our bases and tick all the boxes anyway. But if 70% want plexiglass dividers and 50% want masks, how do you act on that data? What do you do, especially if you are a small business and have limited resources to implement everything? He suggests that respondents rank their choices to see which protocols they want the most.

But overall, he says the key to these surveys is figuring out what motivates employees and ensuring their mental well-being, rather than trying to bring things back to the way they were.

Karon Liu is a Toronto-based cultural journalist for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu


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