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Fostering Employee Engagement Via Digital Workplace Tools

Employee engagement is the Holy Grail for any company these days. An engaged workforce is a sign of a supportive, inclusive environment where people feel empowered and can work efficiently. As a matter of course, anyone working in enterprise IT should be looking for opportunities to leverage technology for improved employee engagement.

Here's what employees have shared in surveys about feeling a sense of engagement:

  • At work, my opinions matter
  • I understand the company's mission and how my work contributes to our success
  • Resources are available to me when I need them
  • Obstacles are easily removed so I can get my work done
  • I have the knowledge, the tools, and the time to do my work well

Source: The Society for Human Resource Management

Employees today have much higher expectations than they previously have had in terms of overall work environment and work tools, driven in part by their experiences as technology consumers. The average employee has a wide range of technology assets in his or her personal life -- a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a personal wireless network, even a personal assistant, like Siri or Cortana or Alexa -- and the expectation is to have at least that same level at work. When the tools at work are not up to the standards set in personal life, frustration ensues.

Additionally, the entering workforce expects work to be much more fluid and collaborative. It comprises digital natives who have lived and breathed technology and expect to have a seamless experience between their work and home tools.

How do companies help their employees reach this new state of engagement? Many organizations are using technology to create an environment that connects people to people and people to information, and helps foster a sense of belonging and community. These tools can be collectively referred to as a digital workplace.

But what is a digital workplace?

There are a variety of definitions. I like these from industry experts:

    "A Digital Workplace is an environment where employees are able to quickly and easily share what they know and find what they need with consistent experiences across devices and locales." (Gartner)

    "In the simplest terms, a place where employee engagement and happiness is found by delivering the right information, to the right person, at the right time." (PwC)

Rather than simply another program for employees to adapt to, I see the digital workplace as an essential evolution for businesses. Done well, the digital workplace can empower and enable employees to do their best, and engaged employees benefit the business.

Important to note, however, is that a digital workplace is not a single strategy. It is a cross-disciplinary initiative that typically should involve Human Resources, Information Technology, Knowledge Management, and Facilities to create the right environment and the necessary cultural changes. A clear vision is also key -- what is the company's overarching vision and what expectations has it set to show the benefits and measure success?

Research shows that actively engaged employees are more productive and innovative, and a digital workplace can drive that engagement factor up by enabling employees to have the right information and tools at the ready. Tools that allow them to effectively collaborate across teams and time zones are key, as are tools that provide a way of sharing information or locating expertise in a large company. These tools can accelerate knowledge transfer as well as skill mastery by making information accessible to all. Ideas and innovations can be crowdsourced along with solutions to problems that others have already addressed.

One of the foundational components to a digital workplace is a means of connecting people to information and expertise. The basics elements of this type of platform, which should be available on mobile devices, are the following:

  • Central location where every employee has an identity and can establish a profile on the company intranet
  • Quick way to find people and expertise
  • Forum that allows people to ask questions and publish their thoughts
  • Way for people to share information, links, or even files with each other
  • Way for people to establish trust relationships with peers throughout the company
  • Community for groups and by skill or domain
  • Place to share company proprietary information securely
  • Way for a global workforce to stay connected with each other

A good mantra here is: "Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast, Expect Change." Following this method, a digital workplace can begin to deliver on the promise of better engagement for our employees and a stronger sense of belonging, empowerment, and community.

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