Like most businesses, Ashfords put actions and policies in place to help ensure a smooth operation throughout the pandemic, while considering the wellbeing of our people and the importance of communication at a time when remote working became common. One key method adopted has been our use of ‘pulse surveys’.
A pulse survey is defined as a brief and regular set of questions sent to employees. As the term ‘pulse’ suggests, it is carried out to continuously gain employees’ views on subjects such as job-related roles, communication and relationships, and the overall work environment. Since the beginning of lockdown, Ashfords has sent focused pulse surveys to all of our people to ensure effective communication across the business while working remotely, as well as gathering information on how our people are feeling about a variety of issues. The topics have included general wellbeing throughout lockdown, as well as opinions on office working and general working practices. The surveys consist of a maximum of five questions, making it easy to: digest the information, ensure detailed awareness of what the whole business is thinking, be transparent by sharing the results and demonstrate that action is being taken.
A key question asked in the pulse surveys related to whether staff felt Ashfords was communicating Covid-related information effectively. The results revealed that our people felt they were kept informed and the response level improved with each survey. The increased confidence in Ashfords’ communications emphasises the success of the pulse surveys.
Collaboration is incredibly important at Ashfords and a big part of our culture. The firm has implemented a new ‘Ways of Working’ framework, which has been developed taking into account the feedback we have received from the surveys. We recognise that future effective ways of working are the responsibility of everybody and the framework is for everyone to work within and to help find workable solutions for our clients, the business and our people. It encourages everyone across the business to communicate and collaborate – it is certainly not a ‘top-down’ approach.
Ashfords’ policies will evolve over time and they are driven by the feedback we will continue to receive. The firm’s first objective is to reassure people about our new ways of working and to build from there in developing the ‘new normal’ by finding out the key drivers and motivations of our people and what they enjoy about office working. A key finding from recent pulse surveys has been the opportunity office working provides for collaboration across the business. Based on these findings and sometimes taking a targeted and tailored approach, Ashfords has decided to refurbish the Exeter office to allow for more open spaces.
Flexible working has certainly been a hot topic since the early days of the pandemic, and the desire for more hybrid working is evident across the pulse surveys. As with most businesses, there was a hesitancy towards flexible working prior to Covid-19, but the pandemic has accelerated open thinking around productivity and flexibility.
Recent pulse surveys have shown that our people value office working for collaboration, personal development and supervision. It is also important for those new to the business, as you cannot pick up a company’s culture and establish effective working relationships on Microsoft Teams alone. The feedback received shows that it is important that staff spend a reasonable proportion of the working week in the office, where office working will focus more on collaboration time and working from home will allow for more individually focused time. Ashfords’ Ways of Working framework will evolve over time and the firm is encouraging personal and collective responsibility for establishing what hybrid working should look like – emphasising the importance of balancing what is right for our clients, the wider business, teams and individuals, and ensuring fairness and consistency across teams and work groups.
The pulse surveys have been a very useful tool to gauge how staff are feeling and even though the results have shown support for office working, the firm has acknowledged that not all staff members feel the same and some are anxious about returning to the office post-lockdown. It is therefore important that any policy reflects the feelings of all our people as the firm focuses on a gradual, phased return to office working. We made clear that people were not expected to return to the office until after the school holidays on 6 September as it was felt that this would help support the wellbeing and work-life balance for everyone. The firm has decided to maintain social distancing policies and the use of face masks for an initial period of four weeks and then, subject to review, to help ensure a comfortable and safe environment for a return to office working.
Pulse surveys have certainly become part of the culture at Ashfords and they have helped to encourage our people to provide honest, individual opinions that inform effective decision-making, rather than telling the firm what they think they would like to hear, or deciding that there is no value in participating. It is important to the firm that we are continuously engaging with staff and the surveys have given us a real impetus to improve communication. The surveys have helped to drive Ashfords’ new Ways of Working framework, which is ultimately based on communication, trust and responsibility.
Louise Workman is CEO at Ashfords