Assess Your Business

graphic of the Workforce Optimization Cycle showing the 6 stages: Assess Your Business, Project Labor Demand, Workforce Gap Analysis, Develop Workforce Strategies, Communicate & Implement, Monitor, Evaluate & Adapt

In our first article in the Planning for economic recovery series, we gave an overview of the Workforce Optimization Cycle (WOC). WOC is an operational guide that each business can follow to identify their unique challenges and best strategies for re-opening. We will now dive into the first stage in the WOC, which is to Assess Your Business.

To Assess Your Business is to evaluate the current state of your workforce before progressing through the rest of stages in the WOC. There are a variety of ways to review your current status, and we will discuss some of those strategies in this section, including employee surveys, legal considerations, workspace capacity, and financial stability.


Employee Surveys: Understanding who is available to work

One of the first things you need to determine in the Assess Your Business stage is whether your employees can work remotely, and if not, whether they can return to work with social distancing, or if some combination of the two is required. For example, to promote social distancing you might have half the staff come to work and the other staff work remotely, and then switch the work schedules weekly with thorough office cleaning in between the shifts.

Another consideration for this stage of the WOC is to consider what resources and accommodations employees need to be successful in this new work environment. There may be a need to review schedules and provide flexibility in order to accommodate situations like child care. Accessibility is an issue that also needs to be considered. If you are changing work schedules, or asking individuals to work from home, it would be good to review reasonable accommodations they might require, such as screen readers or ergonomic chairs, or expenses they may incur, such as internet or personal cell phone use.

A recommendation from the Workforce Strategy Consultant team is to do data gathering by surveying your employees as part of the return to work plan. This would allow you to better understand how your employees have been impacted by working from home, layoff, slow down, or furlough your company experienced. A survey would give you insight on how to restart your organization in the least disruptive way to your employees. It also signals to your employees you value their opinion about the reopening procedures. It could be a good retention tool to help convince your employees not to seek other employment, as well. The survey could also be used to create an Internal Factors Evaluation matrix, SWOT analysis, or another preferred strategy tool. For more information on the Internal Factors Evaluation matrix, see the Strategic Management Insight website.

What’s the best way to approach a survey of your employees? For help with this, we reached out to Monica Haynes, Director for the University of Minnesota – Duluth’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER). “Surveys, when done well, can provide valuable information to businesses about their employees' experiences. However, if a survey is thrown together quickly and without much thought, the results often fail to answer the intended questions,” Director Haynes shared with us. Her top 10 tips for conducting a survey are included below.

BBER Checklist for Survey Development:

1. Assess need

Do you really need to survey? Are there other ways you could gather the information? Interviews and focus groups can be time consuming but provide more nuanced feedback.

2. Determine your goal

Before you begin – determine what you hope to accomplish with the survey and STICK to that goal! Avoid adding questions just for curiosity. Keep in mind: How will you use the information once you get it?

3. Keep it simple

Keep language simple and straightforward. Keep in mind your respondents’ reading comprehension level and attention span.

4. Avoid open-ended questions

Multiple-choice questions are easiest for respondents. Text entry questions often get skipped.

5. Organize your questions

Start with questions that are most critical to your survey. Leave demographic or “softball” questions for the end, when survey fatigue has begun to set in and your sample size might be smaller.

6. Beware of common errors

Keep in mind how the wording of your question might skew the responses. Avoid absolutes (“Do you always wear a mask when going out in public?), double-barreled questions (“How concerned are you about the availability of masks and sanitizer in the office?”), and leading questions (“What has been the most effective action the company has taken in its response to the coronavirus?”).

7. Time it!

Once you’ve completed the survey, see how long it takes to complete. Surveys that take longer than 10 minutes have a high drop-off rate, so you may lose participants.

8. Test the survey and review results

Test the survey on at least 5-10 individuals before mass distribution to determine if any questions were confusing or missing critical information. And be sure to complete the survey multiple times yourself, role-play with a different type of respondents in mind each time.  You might be surprised at the number of mistakes you find when you actually complete the survey rather than just read it. Once you have a few responses, download the results to see what they tell you. Adjust questions as necessary based on feedback and results.

9. Consider an incentive for completion

If response rates are important, consider an incentive to encourage participation. Either a small prize for all who complete or a large prize for one random winner can help boost participation.

10. Be strategic about your distribution timing

You will likely get one large response after your first distribution and a slightly smaller response after each reminder, so carefully consider the timing of your communication.


Health and Safety Considerations: Stay Safe MN Plan

As part of your reopening strategy, you will need to develop a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. A survey is a great opportunity to receive input from your managers and employees as you are developing the plan, as well as make sure their concerns are addressed in the plan. Requesting input may reduce hesitation to return to work. If you have not yet begun working on your COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, there are resources to help. You can find guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health, as well as a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan template on the DEED Safely Returning to Work page.

One additional item to consider as you move forward toward reopening or ramping up your business is your employees returning from unemployment insurance. People are not eligible to continue to receive unemployment benefits if they are offered their position back, except for workers who are not able to return to work because a health provider has told them they should not return to the workplace or they have lost childcare and no reasonable accommodations can be made. You can see the details in Executive Order 20-05. It’s also important that employees understand all available of FFCRA and FMLA options, as well as ADA / EO protections.


Workspace Capacity

As part of your assessing your business, you need to understand the workforce capacity you have at this time. You will need to develop your COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to determine how many employees you can have on location safely. Based on your business model and industry, slight changes or possibly extensive changes to your current policies and workflows may be required to adhere to CDC guidelines.

One element that might be harder to determine is your remote work capacity, and the survey may assist with that information. Two elements that need to be reviewed in the survey are technical limitations and broadband availability.

Technical limitations refer to the fact that not all jobs, and not all parts of jobs, can be done remotely. Or it could be that the company itself cannot afford the remote technology to work effectively with their current resources. It could also be a technology divide, or lack of training in the technology before COVID-19 hit.

Broadband is another issue, especially in rural areas or for those in lower economic conditions. Not everyone has access to high speed internet, which is more limited and patchy in rural areas like Northeast and Northwest Minnesota. Also, not everyone can afford it without assistance. As individuals have moved to working remotely for work continuation, many employers may not be offering to assist in paying for broadband internet. If remote access moves from being a temporary measure for business continuation to a norm in daily work, employer may need to revisit paying for home broadband access for employees.


Financial Stability and Liquidity

Recovery will not mean restoration. This was a key point from a recent Strong Towns webinar, The Local Leader's Toolkit: A Strong Towns Response to the Pandemic, and worth repeating here. Many of the projections we have seen on GDP indicate no matter what type of recovery we see post-pandemic, we will not recover back to where we were pre-COVID in the near term. In this Assess Your Business stage, it’s important to take time to understand the financial impact the pandemic has had and will continue to have on your organization.

Part of the Assess Your Business stage is reviewing your assets. Whether you have been shut down for a while or didn’t close your business at all, this is a good time to take stock of the resources you have available. This should mean conducting an in-depth audit of your physical, human, and financial assets before ramping back up again.

We also recommend, if possible, a deep internal audit of your business financials. If you have not reviewed your statements, ratios, and overall strategy this is a great time to do so. Resources exist for small businesses, including local U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) representatives who can help with everything from your business planning to understanding and completing financial reporting. You can find more information on the SBA website. Every business will be different, but all have been impacted on way or the other by COVID-19. Before moving forward with projecting labor demand, it’s important to understand your current resources and liabilities.

Assess Your Business is the first of six steps of the WOC. Continue to follow DEED’s Workforce Strategy Team as we take a deep dive into each phase, talk with subject matter experts from organizations throughout the state, and share resources that will help along the way.

Workforce Strategy Consultant Authors:

Shawn Herhusky, Workforce Strategy Consultant for Northeast Minnesota

Della Ludwig, Workforce Strategy Consultant for Central Minnesota


Related content:

Main Workforce Optimization Cycle page

Next Workforce Optimization Cycle blog post in series: Project Labor Demand


Additional Resources:


CareerForce Virtual and Interactive Services for Employers

Small Business Assistance Office

DEED Safely Returning to Work

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. SBA Disaster Loans and Emergency Grants