The Future of Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement

Employees face a number of challenges in their day-to-day jobs, with emails, distractions and a never-ending workload topping the bill. A great deal of time is spent learning to use business technologies in the name of improved productivity, but, twenty-five years after the release of Microsoft Windows, there are still significant gaps between the ideal productive workspace and the status quo.

Seeing Is Believing

A new generation of technologies promises to change this, by placing focus on employee engagement, rather than simply on tasks. These fall into the collective concept called “collaborative workspaces,” and they take advantage of the cloud to allow people to break free of their social silos and actually see each other.

The key phrase here is “see each other.” One of the key engagement techniques that has faded from view over the past two decades is the capacity for face-to-face communication. This decline started with email, and has continued in the smartphone era. It is very rare to see a person sitting anywhere – or even walking or driving – without being involved with text messaging on their phones.

Texting and social media are useful for many things, but genuine engagement is not one of them. Regardless of the age and generation of an employee, to be engaged with people, especially managers to staff, staff to managers, and supplier to customer, there must exist a degree of interpersonal interaction that cannot be conveyed or reinforced through digital means. This is easily demonstrated in the numerous cases of misinterpretation that have occurred within text messages and email. A lack of context turns easily into misunderstanding. People need a human connection in order to learn, to communicate and to work together. They need the skills of conversation and active listening, an understanding of body language, and both the willingness and the capacity to handle difficult conversations. This demands face-to-face contact.

New collaborative technologies are permitting this, through their greater bandwidth, in terms of data rates as well as compatibility across different platforms (desktop, tablet, phone.)

Some examples:

  • A project kick-off meeting has a far better chance of connecting with and positively influencing a team when everyone else knows what each other looks like, and can talk live via video.
  • Professional development workshops achieve far greater levels of retention when participants are given the opportunity to learn, research, ask questions and provide feedback on their own terms, learning according to their own style.
  • When teams schedule conference calls using video conferencing, the degree of engagement increases not only thanks to the face-to-face connection, but through the elimination of those side tasks people do, such as checking email, while they sit in on a teleconference.
  • Preparing to meet or chat with a new client/colleague is made easier by visiting business sites such as LinkedIn and finding out what they look like and where they come from.

Connecting With Permission

The process of employee engagement requires two essential components. The first is the means to connect, and the second is permission. When Toyota embraced the concept of kaizen (continuous improvement) into its factory workforce during the post-World War II re-build, a central component was the genba walk, in which managers were encouraged to walk around and learn from the workers through questions and conversation. This represents a physical embodiment of encouraging engagement – it allowed workers of all levels to communicate and know that they have been heard.

Collaborative environments further this approach by making human contact and engagement easier and less threatening. It heralds the potential beginning of an age in which people need no longer hide behind keyboards and can instead develop and reinforce their interpersonal skills.

For more on this topic, please visit businessvalueexchange.com, sponsored by HP Enterprise Services.

By Steve Prentice

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