Employee engagement is one of the big buzzwords right now, for good reason. Engaged employees are more productive, more efficient, more likely to stay with your business, and less likely to ‘phone it in’ or cause disruption.
But according to one study in 2017, only 15% of employees are engaged at work [source: Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace].
While salary and benefits are both elements that affect engagement, they aren’t necessarily the biggest or most important (as long as the pay structure is fair and equitable). People are more likely to stay in a company they love than one that pays better but makes them miserable or disengaged.
So, what are the main factors that affect employee engagement?
- Development opportunities
- Transparency and honesty
- Appreciation and individuality
Many of these are strongly related to the overall culture of your business – are you open and transparent? Do you provide opportunities for your employees to grow and develop? Do you have a recognition programme? All of these elements should be part of your employee engagement and retention efforts, and all of them are extremely important here at SpiderGroup.
And, because of the nature of our business, we’re especially interested in how technology can support engagement. And, there are a few items on that list that can be hugely influenced, empowered, and enabled by technology.
Today’s digital environment makes the traditional 9-5 in the office culture seem outdated and rigid. With high speed internet, light and efficient laptops and tablets, and extensive communication and collaboration solutions, it’s no longer necessary for every member of staff to be in the office all the time. Work is something we do, rather than somewhere we go.
Certainly, there are some businesses and some roles that don’t lend themselves to flexible working, but for the most part, employers should be looking at how to make flexibility part of the culture. In some cases, fixed core hours where everyone needs to be online is enough to ensure the benefits of flexibility aren’t diminished by lack of interaction.
Research found that 77% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company with flexible hours [source: Qualtrics survey]. Currently, millennials are the largest segment in the workplace. By next year, they will make up more than 50% of the UK workforce [source: The Institute of Leadership and Management].
So, don’t underestimate the value of flexibility and remote working – it’s increasingly crucial to engaging your workforce.
What are the benefits of a flexible workforce?
In addition to being a priority for many millennial workers, there are significant company benefits to offering flexibility to your employees.
- Higher productivity and morale – 89% of tech workers stated flexible working motivates them to be more productive [source: HSBC research]
- Increased staff retention – resulting in less disruption and reduced recruitment and onboarding costs
- Lower carbon footprint – fewer people commuting to the office, fewer emissions
- Reduced office costs – hotdesking allows for a smaller office footprint, with desks available to those who need them
- Increased talent pool and attractiveness to new hires
- Reduced lateness and absenteeism
It’s not only millennials who care about flexibility, either. A company that encourages flexible working is more family-friendly than one that doesn’t. If an employee can fit their work around their family commitments and needs, they’ll be a more loyal and engaged member of the team.
How can technology support a flexible workforce?
The crux of allowing flexibility is in ensuring that staff are able to be effective not only for their own roles, but as a part of the business overall. Everyone needs to be able to access up to the minute information, communication has to be prioritised, and expectations need to be clear and well understood.
- Access to documents
- With the prevalence of the cloud, there’s no need to be in the office to access documents. Upgrading from an on-site server to a virtual one enables you to offer remote working opportunities, knowing that everyone can open the same document, without having different versions on different machines.
- Messaging options
- Email is only one method of workplace communication. When it comes to a flexible work environment, a faster approach is more effective. Skype, Slack, and Microsoft Teams all offer instant messaging so that staff can be in touch whenever they need to be, whether that’s with other individuals, or with whole teams.
- Most messaging solutions include desktop and mobile versions, so your employees can also have a simple app to support communication and be contactable through the team-wide messaging system no matter where they are.
One of the concerns some businesses have when it comes to allowing an employee to work outside the office is that it’s more difficult to be in contact with that person. As long as you have clearly defined expectations around when they should be online and available, digital technology makes it as simple to be in contact as it would be in the office.
Instant messaging is one element, as discussed above, but if you’re worried about missing the personal touch, video calling is a simple and effective solution. Using a system like Microsoft Teams, you can video conference into meetings, share your screen with the other participants or talk face to face, share files and update to do lists during the meeting, and achieve the same level of interaction as you’d get with everyone in the same place.
Using various communication tools allows you to create a natural and effective way of interacting with remote employees.
But communication isn’t just about talking to the people working remotely – maintaining communication in the office is just as important. Staff feel more engaged when they’re connected, so ensuring you’re talking to them regularly is vital. Use a team chat to publicly praise someone for a job well done, share media coverage, let people know about upcoming events, or simply check in.
Encourage everyone to use the chat – it shouldn’t simply be a way for management to broadcast messages, it should be a tool for the whole team to engage with one another.
We’ve covered the collaboration of meetings, which is one of the main areas of working together as a team, but what about when multiple people need to work on the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation?
With cloud-based software solutions, you can have everyone working on the same content at the same time. Google docs has this functionality, but if your office runs on Microsoft, you don’t have to worry about switching over. Office 365 allows for instant collaboration, with a variety of ways to share documents – from using Teams to send a file, to storing files in OneDrive, or using SharePoint as a central point for all documents and updates.
People can edit the document online or in the relevant desktop program, and all changes are automatically saved and available to everyone else.
Systems like BaseCamp, Trello, Microsoft Teams, Active Collab, Teamwork, and plenty more, offer the opportunity to create shared to do lists, so everyone knows who is responsible for what actions, keeping staff accountable and engaged whether they’re in the office or not.
When a new member of staff joins your business, do you hand them an old laptop and leave them to it? Or do you find out what type of technology they’re most comfortable using? Do your systems allow you to offer a laptop, a SurfacePro, an iPad, or whichever works best for that person?
Have you considered a BYOD (bring your own device) policy?
By allowing people to work with the type of system they’re most comfortable with, you tell them that their comfort and preferences matter. They’re empowered to choose, and appreciated as individuals.
With any of these ideas, you might be concerned about security or compatibility, which is fair enough! We work with clients who’ve implemented BYOD, and one of the key areas we help with is device management and making sure your data is safe, no matter how your employees are accessing it.
While you may need a new employee to learn your systems and process, and perhaps the software you use, it’s quicker and easier to avoid having them also learn a new operating system. If someone is used to Windows, moving them onto MacOS takes time – the same goes for the reverse. Avoid their frustration and the learning curve by offering a choice.
Do you conduct employee satisfaction surveys? If you don’t know what makes your employees feel happy or engaged, increasing engagement is likely to be an uphill battle. Measuring engagement is a key part of the process.
Gathering feedback can be done in a variety of ways – face to face through one-to-one meetings, requesting comments through email, or using a tool like Google Forms, Microsoft Forms, or SurveyMonkey to ask specific questions.
The latter options allow you to make it possible for staff to provide anonymous feedback, though this isn’t always a good idea. While it might seem like anonymity would encourage more honest comments, this isn’t necessarily the case, and there may be some significant drawbacks. Adding a required name field to any of the forms or surveys can circumvent these issues and still allow you to gather the information electronically.
Once you’ve gathered your employee satisfaction feedback, you need to do something with it to address areas that need improved. You should also let your teams know the results of the surveys and the actions you’re taking as a result – this is how your organisation demonstrates its honesty and transparency.
Digital screens around the office could display the information, or you could post it prominently on your intranet page. Use your technology to share it, and continue sharing, don’t just send out an email and leave it at that.
Do what works for you
Every business has a need for engaged employees – without them, you’ll churn through the good ones and find yourself staffed entirely by apathetic or unhappy people.
The best way to create engaged employees is to benchmark where you are now and implement some new approaches. Engagement is about more than casual Fridays or occasional office drinks, as nice as those are. Add some technology to the mix and free up your teams to work more effectively in line with their needs and preferences.