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Anybody who has returned from holiday to find thousands of unread emails waiting, or found themselves locked in the interminable downward spiral of a company-wide ‘reply all’ email chain, could be forgiven for thinking digital technologies are the enemy of employee engagement and effective workplace communication.
But don’t confuse ‘doing it wrong’ with ‘doing the wrong thing’. Digital technologies hold the key to effective engagement – we just need to get better at using them.
You may remember the first time we were given a work BlackBerry, laptop or smartphone, or when we were first set up with remote access to systems and folders. Collaboration technologies and social media platforms have undoubtedly taken digital engagement to new levels since then.
With this has come a flipside, however. Our personal data is now almost completely transparent. No matter how much we keep to ourselves, our life and actions are on display. This is changing the way people work together and interact, and requiring companies to rethink the way they manage their employees.
Those of us who have seen these changes through from the beginning have either done so reluctantly or enthusiastically, but the young talent entering the workplace today has never known anything different. They are digital natives whose use of technology in their personal lives has shaped their thoughts on how it should be used in the workplace.
The modern workforce demands more of its employers than ever before and in a world where talent is in high demand and loyalty less of a given, particularly from younger hires, companies need to step up and meet those expectations if they are to retain but also get the best out of people.
Collaborate and listen
Above all else, all staff young and old want a personalized working experience. Just as companies understand that each one of their customers has individual needs and preferences, they must recognize that each employee has different skills and aspirations that need nurturing. This is the secret to building and retaining an engaged workforce.
Above all else, all staff young and old want a personalized working experience.
Employers must also foster a culture of social media interaction. This isn’t about allowing staff to browse Facebook all day ‘liking’ pictures of cats or babies, but rather about accepting that people want to interact in a fluid, immediate way even when it comes to their work. They want to be able to quickly share information with their peers, get instant feedback, and easily draw on the expertise of their peers to do the best possible work.
HR teams have a major role in encouraging this culture and helping the company adapt the way it engages employees. The Facebook comparison is not a frivolous one. We can dip in on Facebook at any time for an update on how a friend is doing, what they have been up to, what they have coming up. We can give them pointers for an upcoming trip, or provide feedback on an open question they have posted. We can quickly organize events or mobilize a group of people.
What the above example proves is that social collaboration breaks down barriers. It provides people with more opportunities to share, to build off each other’s knowledge and skills, to find innovative solutions to problems. These benefits are just as evident in a professional environment. A company with a collaborative culture breaks down the illusory barriers between departments and ranks so that people can work together more effectively and innovate more quickly.
A company with a collaborative culture breaks down the illusory barriers between departments and ranks so that people can work together more effectively and innovate more quickly.
Line management should be social too
A more social employee engagement has an equally important role in improving line management. Many organizations still rely heavily on manual process, static documents and set review periods to manage employees. This approach lacks the fluidity, instant feedback and two-way conversation needed to truly benefit workers. It is outdated, makes the business seem disinterested in employee development, and ultimately frustrates staff.
It should be as easy for an employee to share their workplace achievements with their line manager – and receive feedback – as it is to share their personal achievements with their Twitter or Facebook network. The conversation with them should be constant, topical and immediate. People tend to update their social feeds weekly, at the very least, so how can annual reviews still be relevant in the digital age?
It all comes down to culture
A more open, employee-focused approach improves employee culture across the entire organization. It breaks down internal barriers and ensures people have access to the information they need, rather than being bombarded with too much information through one-way communication channels. It helps build meaningful relationships between peers, teams, and managers, and gives people a greater sense of inclusion and being valued.
It’s also worth noting that the benefits will extend beyond current employees. A more attractive workplace culture will also prove more attractive to prospects and future hires. At a time where the youth skills shortage has never been more pronounced and experienced workers are nearing retirement age, businesses must do what they can to make themselves attractive to the best talent.
A more attractive workplace culture will also prove more attractive to prospects and future hires
Finally, it is essential that businesses can analyse the effectiveness of the social and collaborative approaches they’ve put in place. This is crucial if HR teams are to ensure these initiatives are delivering on the business’ needs, that they are benefitting employees, and that nobody in the organization is being left behind or excluded.
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