Many employees hardly ever see the inside of an office and rarely have face-to-face contact with colleagues, let alone managers. Instead, they spend their weeks working alone, remote from the modern workplace. Where then, do they fit in when we think about the current problems surrounding employee engagement?
How do we address the needs of the road warriors in sales or maintenance roles, the frontline healthcare workers and emergency service personnel? The temptation is always to focus on the conventional employee surrounded by colleagues in an office. But for those working remotely disengagement is an altogether more serious issue.
Step outside the office
Improving employee engagement requires recognition that different types of work and environments generate varied challenges. Employees working from an office can become disengaged through lack of flexibility and autonomy, or because they suffer from a domineering, micromanaging boss, or lack of clarity around goals.
Remote workers, on the other hand, enjoy more flexibility and autonomy, but easily feel disconnected from colleagues and the organisation employing them. Managers too, can often struggle with too little contact and not enough guidance.
Hard-pressed care workers are a good example
Care workers are a good example of remote working. They visit numerous patient-clients in their homes while under considerable time-pressure. On paper they are part of a team, but in reality they rarely see their teammates or manager.
Given the unpredictable and challenging nature of their work, a sense of being adrift can trigger disengagement. In healthcare, such disengagement can have truly catastrophic consequences.
Research has found that not only does employee engagement have a direct link to patient satisfaction, but it can also be the difference between life and death. A Gallup report found engagement among nurses was one of the three main predictors of patient mortality rates, showing just how high the stakes can be.
The importance of feeling connected
Community, togetherness and feeling connected are important for all employees. Yet many organisations hold information and knowledge in departments that rarely communicate. Even at a micro level, without a medium for connecting people and sharing ideas, employees in the same room may feel disconnected from one another, let alone those working in the field.
It is also important that employees feel connected to the organisation itself – its goals, mission, values, and news. It matters because it helps people feel like they belong to something bigger. They find it easier to make sense of their work and understand how they contribute to the direction of the company and its objectives.
The importance of team work
Teams play an important role in this collective sense of belonging. They provide a ready-made network for support, feedback, collaboration and socialising and improve all-round performance. Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report highlights how 74 per cent of companies enjoy improved performance when implementing a team-based approach, as opposed to the traditional hierarchical system.
Feeling part of a team is easier for employees sitting alongside teammates, but it’s naturally more challenging for those who work remotely. How then, should businesses that employ remote or dispersed workers create a sense of togetherness and community? How can they make them feel part of a team with regular contact, feedback, and support from their peers, managers and the wider business? The answer has to be technology.
Social technology: getting everyone in the same room
Of all the ways technology has changed our lives, the ability to connect and communicate with anyone, instantly and regardless of location, is perhaps one of the most far-reaching. Social media, instant messaging and video calls mean we should never feel disconnected again. We have access to the world at our fingertips - so why should we feel more isolated at work?
Most workplaces have rapidly adopted platforms such as Slack and Skype, but to truly engage and connect people, workplace technology needs to replicate the experiences of social media. It should be familiar, fun, easy to use, mobile, and of course secure.
We know from our private lives how engaging social platforms such as Facebook can be, and how effective they are at keeping us in touch with minimal effort. This is where businesses need to catch up.
Business social platforms allow employees to connect across teams, departments, and locations, fostering a culture of openness and collaboration. This helps to break down internal walls and ensures that information flows freely throughout the organisation, but no further.
They are also a place to catch up on company news, to see what other people are working on, and to give and receive recognition, a key factor in boosting motivation.
Enabling employees to enjoy all this via their mobile phones makes staff connected to one another, their managers, goals, insights, and the wider company, regardless of where in the world they are. For any business this will transform performance, but in healthcare, it could transform lives.