THE BLOG
07/27/2016 04:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Employee Engagement isn't Just Providing Tools and Tweets

Engaged employees yield many benefits to businesses today - increased productivity, talent retention, and the enablement of better customer experiences being just a few. But, as Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report illustrates, with 87% of employees not engaged or actively disengaged, building a culture of engagement is no easy feat. This is especially true in a world of 24/7 access, where 80% of organizations believe their employees are overwhelmed with information and activity at work. For Employee Engagement to be a business strategy that will actually foster a culture of engagement, companies need to focus holistically and different functions need to all come together. Instead, what we often see is each function driving their own strategy in siloes - leading to unengaging and unproductive experiences.

We have all been in the conference room, where the large projector was replaced by a very high-tech flat screen - only for the people in the room to be left squinting at the 100 row Excel that the presenter is sharing out, then self-hacking the situation so that they can actually get their work done by sharing out to their individual laptops whilst still in the room together. This is what happens when engagement and productivity are not designed together - people have to focus on how they will get the work done, rather than on the work itself.

So, if you want the outcome that has been touted, namely that engaged employees are more productive and can positively impact a company's profits, you need to recognize that there are two main factors in fostering employee productivity; 1) making sure they can actually do what they need to, and 2) making sure they feel the desire and passion to do it. For example, an employee can have great tools that allow them to complete their work easily, but, their manager doesn't really give them good direction on what's next in their career. They don't want to do this forever, and what's more, the office is a drab sea of grey cubes. In this situation, the employee is very unlikely to be doing the best and most productive job ever. Enabling them to be productive in this case would span many factors - the tools to complete the job would need to be available and working, there must be good employee management, exciting and achievable career opportunities, as well as an engaging physical workplace to bring everything together in.

Technology, in fact, can enable all of these facets, playing a role in much more than just ensuring that the actual systems that employees use for work are functioning. While people are at the core of engagement, technology plays a huge role in today's Employee Experience agenda. Quite simply, it provides the effective means to create working environments in which the drivers of engagement can be cultivated.

To begin understanding how technology fosters an engaging workplace, you first need to open your mind to what engagement really means - it goes beyond launching a "social" tool, or ensuring employees get "pats-on-the-back". Engagement, for an employee, encompasses many factors from their daily work, career growth and development, the workplace itself, their purpose, their manager and leadership, to their social environment, their compensation and benefits and the teams they work in. It is a complex mix of many components that can only be holistically achieved, cross-functionally, through the collaboration of the teams responsible, including HR, Facilities, Communications and Branding, the Business Units and IT.

Technology plays a fundamental role in empowering teams by creating working environments in which all of these engagement drivers can thrive. Some of these ways include:

Technology as a part of the user solution itself: providing the systems, applications, hardware or other technology needed to do the job. This spans many solutions such as performance management software, company social networks, smart campus objects, or a meeting room scheduler.

Infrastructure: providing the capacity to enable the available tools to work effectively and securely. This covers the quality with which employees can complete their tasks, e.g. access documents quickly, hold a video conference with good audio and visual, collaborate on shared documents, have meetings on the go, etc.

Information and tracking: providing ways to access various data streams, such as social and sentiment, and to analyze these streams to provide information in a meaningful, actionable and useful manner. Technology can enable organizations to garner employee feedback through tools and methods in real time and with frequency. This includes closing the feedback loop with employees and could also lead to predictive analytics for identification of potential low engagement so that organizations can be proactive.

Process enablement: while some of the processes for engagement are human orientated (e.g. manager feedback or reviews), technology can help people to follow these processes easily and efficiently by providing easy-to-use tools, reminders, and tracking.

Workplace technology: the digital and physical worlds have collided. With connected furniture and smartphones enabled as control devices it is imperative for technology to enable and connect the physical workplace to make spaces fluid, engaging, and productive.

Mobility optimization: enabling people to work wherever they need, provides them with a sense of control over what can seem like a very crazy life, full of work. The hours of 9-5 rarely exist. We can pay a bill while waiting for a coffee, so why can't we get some work done in the same way?

IT enablement to business: providing the means for business-necessary tools to be deployed through partnering with other business functions. For example, if HR wants to deploy a tool for employee rewards, IT can help to ensure that there is process and capability in place so the tool can actually be deployed. This might include infrastructure, provisioning, security, supportability and scalability checks.

Obviously, teams and businesses cannot do everything all at once; you will often find that employee initiatives have limited funds and resources in comparison to competing goals within a business. For this reason, it is crucial to make smart investments that will actually impact Employee Engagement to avoid wasting time and money.

To make these decisions and optimize investments, you must first find your engagement drivers. Start out by understanding what your employees need to help them feel motivated and actively engaged. Then, you will be able to see where you currently stand for each of the identified drivers, i.e. what is your employee engagement level overall and for various segments. Once you know this, you can materialize the strategy needed to drive an engaged workforce and work collaboratively across functions with a common, shared purpose and goal. But, do not forget that implementing technology alone will not have the desired impact. The human element, supporting processes and people enablement will all be needed for a successful Employee Engagement Strategy.

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