Each firm needs to find its own balance of open, consistent communication without being bothersome to employees.
Year after year, Zweig Group sees changes in trends from the data we collect on the industry. We see data fluctuate up and down depending on the question or dataset. Normally, it is fairly predictable and consistent. Employee sentiment doesn’t change very radically when you survey more than 13,000 people. The average change is just 2 percent in either direction in the 2021 dataset, so when one score dropped by more than 10 percent, that was something that really stood out. That major drop was in employee agreement that things were effectively communicated at their firm.
Historically, effective communication has never been at the top of Zweig Group’s employee perception data. It is typically one of those areas that hangs in the middle of the dataset. It is also one of the most commented on sections of the survey, with most of the comments tending to be negative or about firms needing to work on communication as a whole. Scores had been on the rise the last few years though, hitting their peak in 2020. You read that right: 2020, the year of drastic change due to COVID-19, was the highest effective communication had reached in our dataset. While most scores dropped in 2020, for good reason, effective communication did not follow suit.
Firms were forced to scramble in 2020. Work environments changed almost overnight. In an industry that had been very slow to join the “work-from-home revolution,” the AEC industry was forced to by factors outside of our control. We couldn’t just leave our people in the dark about what was happening, though. So we were very intentional and turned up the communication. Zweig Group CEO Chad Clinehens mentioned this in his State of the Industry keynote at our ElevateAEC Conference in early November. Firms were doing such a great job keeping their employees informed about the state of things in the company. Leaders were checking in regularly to make sure their employees had what they needed as they transitioned to a work-from-home environment. It seems as though employees really appreciated being kept in the loop about the state of their company, which is true even outside a mad scramble in response to a changing work environment. Things seemed really rough, but firms were able to pull through the change by communicating with their employees effectively.
But then, something happened. Everyone started to get comfortable working from home. Maybe a little too comfortable as effective communication scores plummeted in 2021. Like I said earlier, scores don’t typically rise or drop more than 2 percent, so a 10 percent drop is really significant. It could have been how busy everyone was. It could have been we thought we were over-communicating. It could have just been an oversight, or a combination of things, but we have to get back to what was working.
I am not saying we need to go back to weekly all-hands meetings or daily check-ins. Each firm needs to find its own balance of open, consistent communication without being bothersome to employees. Keep your people in the loop, personally check in with them every so often, give them updates on your company as a whole, not just the projects they are working on. Communicate well with your employees, and that can solve a lot of issues that might be plaguing your firm.
Kyle Ahern is awards manager at Zweig Group. Contact him at email@example.com.