Employers are searching for the magic formula that will increase employee engagement. Among the tools companies are considering are software platforms and applications designed to increase communication, collaboration and, ultimately, engagement.
But can technology actually increase engagement or is it just the latest shiny new object? And, if it is effective, how does a company weed through the plethora of technological tools to find the one that will work best?
It's not the tech tools themselves that drive engagement, but the productivity enabled by the tech tools, said Madhura Chakrabarti, employee engagement and people analytics research leader at Bersin by Deloitte.
"A study published by Harvard Business Review, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, says that the extent we as employees make progress in day to day work is the biggest predictor of ongoing engagement." Employees feel good about their work when they can be productive on a regular basis, she added.
When looking at technology to decrease disengagement, Chakrabarti said, it's not just how much progress can be made with it, but how technology can remove derailers of engagement.
Engagement through improved communication
For Weight Watchers International, the derailer it faced was the inability of its 18,000 employees across the globe to have an easy, reliable way to communicate with others in their work locations and across the organization.
"We knew from employee surveys that there were silos. 'Silos' isn't even an accurate term. There were divisions among certain groups in the organization," said Stacie Sherer, senior vice president of corporate communications at Weight Watchers.
With the separation of corporate and field employees, and a geographic gulf, the company had no way to come together physically and had no technology to bridge that gap, she said.
That disconnection didn't match the organization's culture; its roots as a weight management service were based on creating a sense of community. "We needed and wanted to work in a global mindset," she said. Although Weight Watchers had some technology platforms, the experience was not seamless.
The company also wanted to encourage more interaction within employee communications — emojis, comments, sharing — something that was more unwieldy to accomplish with the existing email system.
Sherer said the company used several criteria to select a technology tool. The software needed to have a simple process for employees to interact with each other and it had to be intuitive.
The company sought something phone-friendly — an app that would enable the majority of Weight Watchers employees to connect from their mobile devices from work locations outside the corporate offices, like branded retail stores, places of worship and community centers.
Weight Watchers implemented Workplace by Facebook, a collaborative platform similar to the familiar Facebook, but designed for business. Where Facebook is friends-based, Workplace is based on groups, so employees in the same office location receive content, information and updates related to that group, Sherer said.
"It's an opportunity to make the employee experience much more personalized," she said. Though 74% of the groups that use Workplace at Weight Watchers are team or project related, other groups have formed based on common interest, including a group for runners, parents, and health and wellness.
A three-month survey conducted after Workplace by Facebook launched in January 2018 indicates success, with 72% of employees agreeing or strongly agreeing that Workplace helps them feel connected with their purpose, and 66% agreeing or strongly agreeing that Workplace helped employees feel more connected with their colleagues, Sherer said.
Keys to finding the right technology for your company
From Workplace and other communication and collaboration platforms to gamification, performance management and employee recognition, companies are purchasing tools that will help employees feel more involved, said Jim Johnson, senior vice president, technology at Robert Half.
"When we survey CIOs, 20% said right behind recruiting, they're investing in new technology to drive engagement for customers and employees. Does it work? Absolutely. Where to start? It depends on your business," he said. Rather than make a "flavor-of-the-month" purchase, he advised, figure out what will work for your individual organization.
If I know my employees spend a ton of time filling out expense reports and timesheets and booking travel, how can I use tech to reduce that time 50%, or accelerate the tasks they need to do?
Employee Engagement and People Analytics Research Leader, Bersin by Deloitte
Gamification software may help a team make a mundane activity fun, but a communication platform might have greater impact if the workforce is dispersed and needs to speak face to face, he said.
Companies should be open to bring your own device (BYOD) policies, Johnson said. While companies may need to consider security risks inherent in BYOD, companies can find apps that all employees can use. A disjointed team could connect through a fitness app, with groups building cohesiveness by competing to drink water, Johnson said.
Before delving into the abundance of tools available, Chakrabarti said leaders should consider these questions:
- Will this help my employees get work done?
- Am I removing the hurdles?
- Am I making the mundane tasks more doable through technology?
"If I know my employees spend a ton of time filling out expense reports and timesheets and booking travel, how can I use tech to reduce that time 50%, or accelerate the tasks they need to do?" she asked.
Leaders should be clear on what they want to achieve by implementing a tool, Chakrabarti said. "Are you solving for a better employee experience? What do you need to take it from good to great?"
Next, assess your organization's readiness for change: Form a change management counsel and do an assessment to identify the organization's mindset for adoption, she said.
"Behaviors have to change as well as technology," Johnson said. Even as technology is implemented, leaders still must coach employees on how to interact with each other, he added.
Determining the success
As Weight Watchers implemented Workplace, Sherer said she could see the difference in engagement through surveys and anecdotes. Other organizations might do the same, with a pre-project and post-project measurement, Johnson said.
"We've increased revenue, we've increased client count, we've increased client conversions." Johnson also said he recommended looking for anecdotal proof from non-performance improvements, he said.
"What we find as the process goes is that employees who are engaged are more likely to share ideas and talk openly about challenges," Johnson said.
Technology can't solve a company's engagement problem. But effectively applied, it can be a tool that, in addition to invested leadership and consistent nudges to culture, can make a difference.