Using Workforce Insights to Rethink the Post-Pandemic Employee Experience

Over the past decade at exaqueo, we have interviewed thousands of senior leaders and employees across industries, from all corners of the world -- from healthcare to hospitality, from big tech to 100-year-old manufacturing. One consistent phenomenon we uncover is the gap between what executives think employees value and expect from work, and the reality of what employees think, value, and expect.

The art and science of unbiased workforce research is the key way to connect executive thinking with the reality of the employee experience, especially those employees working on the frontlines, as well as the perceptions and expectations of candidates. Only by truly uncovering the realities and perceptions of an organization’s unique employment experience, can we begin to break down executive assumptions and build true understanding. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to have an understanding of how employees feel about their work experience. When there’s a shift from going into the office where you can feel the culture to working from home, day-to-day experiences and perceptions change. If employees are still physically going into an office or bricks-and-mortar location (during the pandemic), this, too, may influence their experience and perceptions. 

If your organization has laid off employees, understanding what’s being said about you online and in public forums is important for you to understand perceptions. If your organization is open, hiring, and (dare we say) thriving during the crisis, that too is important to understand how you’re being perceived. Perhaps senior leaders have made public statements about the organization’s stance as it relates to the pandemic or other social issue; it’s important for you, as an employer brand leader, to understand the impact those messages have on your employer brand, employees, and potential candidates.


It’s not news that COVID-19 changed the world of work. There’s much talk about how the pandemic has made people rethink their priorities and employers the employee experience. A recent survey from Korn Ferry found that 53 percent of respondents are only “somewhat likely” or “not likely at all” to return to the office when able. Additionally, a survey from McKinsey found that “more than 80 percent of respondents say the crisis is materially affecting their daily work lives.” McKinsey also found that “in addition to basic needs (safety and security), three other experience themes (trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual purpose) are having a disproportionate impact on employee well-being and work effectiveness.”

While there are reputable global surveys and general advice articles to inform and inspire, every organization is unique. Retailers are different from transportation companies. Corporate office roles are different from frontline essential work. Rural communities are experiencing the pandemic differently than cities. 

Your culture is changing in ways that are different from your competitors. While we’re all in this pandemic together, individually and at a corporate level, chances are, we’re experiencing it differently. The big question is: do you know what your employees are experiencing and what they expect from their employer?


Unbiased workforce research allows you to discover the realities of your organization’s employment experience. It removes assumptions (what we think employees expect or want to hear) and allows you to strategically identify employment messages you need to differentiate, dial up, or dial down. Understanding the research offers insight to and clarity around employee programs and initiatives you may wish to start or stop. And, most importantly, it enables you to keep a pulse on your brand from the inside.

So how can we, as employer brand professionals, begin to seek this understanding … when we need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and working virtually?

For organizations interested in taking a deep look inside your organization to truly understand what is inside the hearts and minds of your people, there are approaches and tools you can use to conduct the research you need -- despite the global pandemic and lockdowns. 

Executive interviews: A vital component to the early stages of workforce research, executive interviews offer a clear understanding -- at the very highest levels -- what company leadership looks for in talent, envisions for the future of the company, and believes to be true about the current state of their employment experience. At exaqueo, we pioneered myth discovery: the difference between what leadership believes employees discover, and what is actually true. This difference is essential to education and authentic brand building. With executive interviews, it’s certainly helpful to have in-person face time; however, during times of social distancing and shutdowns, it is easy to switch gears to phone or video. In some ways, executives are more reachable now due to sharp declines in their travel schedule. 

Online surveys: Though many organizations we’ve talked to recently claim employees have “survey fatigue,” surveys have long been a friend to the workforce researcher. They are one of the most important tools in our toolbox. When paired with the right questions and aligned to specific audiences (alumni, current employees, early career, tech talent, women, boomerangs, offer declines, etc.), your survey(s) can offer quantitative data to complement qualitative approaches. To combat survey fatigue, consider short, pulse surveys or Yes/No survey questions, making the surveys more palatable. Rewards and incentives help, too! 

Live focus groups: While in person, internal focus groups have been a long time staple for many workforce researchers, making the shift to virtual focus groups (when expertly facilitated) offer similar robust conversations and qualitative data. Using Zoom, WebEx, or any other virtual platform requires more visuals and rethinking live focus group activities, but with some creativity and planning, work just as well as traditional, conference room groups. 

Chat-based market research: A recent innovation in the world of market research is chat-based technologies. These easy to use platforms can be accessed via smartphone or desktop, and allow researchers to include larger groups of participants at the same time. Typically, they require less time on the side of the participants, too. When properly thought through, chat technology can allow researchers to quantify what is generally seen as qualitative data. 

Knowing how to redefine your organization’s employee experience means going straight to the source: your employees. As an employer brand professional, you can leverage your talents, tools, and techniques typically used for recruitment marketing, brand building, and employee engagement activities to help your organization understand its own employees, workforce themes, and how to best create its employee experience in a post-pandemic world. By leading with your own original workforce research, you can provide your executives with a clear understanding of a potential new path forward -- for your employees.

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