Finding the right technologies to keep remote workers engaged

Hybrid working models look set to become the norm for many, which means businesses need to build technology ecosystems that promote productive, connected and engaged workforces

It is clear that hybrid working models are here to stay for many, particularly office, workers. NatWest’s chair Howard Davies is the latest executive to suggest cultural changes caused by the pandemic are here to stay, telling Bloomberg that the days of staff doing “five long days in the office” are gone. 

That shift is demanding the construction of technology ecosystems that promote productive, connected and engaged workforces. Connected technology is vital to employee engagement in this new way of working, equipping colleagues with the right devices and hardware reflecting the consumer technology experience.

Yet research from Ricoh shows around a third of employees often feel unmotivated while working remotely due to technology and communication issues.

“For a long time, we have assumed technology is an IT problem, but it’s not, it is a human problem,” points out Jacob Morgan, author of The Future Leader and The Employee Experience Advantage.

“When your technology doesn’t work you get a very human reaction of being upset and frustrated.  Similarly, when technology works well, you feel more engaged and connected. Giving employees the right tools helps with workplace flexibility, productivity, overall engagement, communication and collaboration.”

The problem of proximity bias

The danger as business shifts from remote to hybrid working models is ensuring a level playing field for all employees. Proximity bias still poses a threat. While the pandemic has swept away many misconceptions about the need to be physically located in a specific workplace, the challenge remains to ensure employees working remotely aren’t disadvantaged in a hybrid model. 

High-spec technology plays a major role in democratising the employee experience and maintaining engagement for all,  allowing everyone the same experience and access to projects and connections regardless of their age, location, or seniority. For Victoria Usher, chief executive of the communications agency GingerMay, investment in technology can dismantle feelings there is “a primary group and a secondary group, as psychologically that is putting people at a disadvantage which can be very demoralising”.

For a long time we have assumed technology is an IT problem, but it’s not, it is a human problem

Especially where younger workers, who may be based in a house share or working from a bedroom in the family home, are concerned, it is essential they are equipped with the tools to carry out their jobs professionally and successfully to maintain their confidence.

“Some people have great set-ups, but where they don’t have the facilities, additional microphones and lights ensure a level playing field in how they are seen by clients and by other staff as well,” she explains. “The home working environment must be 100% because it’s a real block if you can’t get things to work properly.”

Meaningful consultation with employees

One of the key tenets of engagement is allowing employees a voice that is genuinely heard.

Whereas pre-pandemic, the role of employees in the technology strategy is likely to have been limited, it is increasingly recognised that meaningful dialogue and consultation is a significant driver for success.

Closer collaboration between HR professionals and technology leaders makes sense, while listening to employee feedback on what is working and what is not can improve the investment journey and engender trust. Yet in its report Workplace Technology: The Employee Experience, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found only 35% of employees were consulted on the implementation of new technology.

Involving employees in the technology process means fostering a sense of ownership over what is needed, moving away from a top-down approach. Consultation has been a priority for information management company Iron Mountain, which is currently working on a technology refresh programme that “addresses parity”, explains chief technology officer Kimberly Anstett. 

“We have been working across the company to capture the voice of our employees, empowering them to be a part of driving their experience,” says Anstett.

“The investment in new, secure hardware has proven to benefit our workforce greatly as we grow and maintain a hybrid of remote, office and frontline employees.”

Device investment for technology parity

A new report from IDC found 62% of organisations committed to digital transformation are investing in peripherals such as headsets and cameras this year to enable technology parity for all employees. On average, at least a third of businesses across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific are planning upgrades to PC or mobile devices, showing a commitment to making technology work for all.

Defining the right technology for the job is paramount as employees become increasingly independent from a single physical location. Making assumptions about employees’ technology capabilities can quickly lead to digital isolation, which is where consultation and taking an individual approach to workers can make a huge difference.

It’s important to have the right devices to give employees the end-to-end digital experience they receive as consumers at home and rightly expect as employees at work

For Josh Pert, chief technology officer at Virgin Experience Days, ensuring employees know it is ultimately the company held accountable for the tech experience has been crucial in developing a culture of trust. As the business moved to remote working, its mainly younger call centre workers found themselves in an environment apart from their familiar face-to-face collaborative workspaces.

“For a lot of the call centre workers, it was the first time they have been given a laptop and other equipment, which is a responsibility for them,” explains Pert. “But as a company we are responsible for our people and technology so, if we want them to work remotely on our behalf, it wouldn’t be fair to make them feel wholly accountable for it.”

The business also allowed call centre employees access to messenger tools previously not encouraged, with a positive effect on employee engagement; in January 2021 its employee engagement survey recorded the highest score ever.

“Everyone has been forced to make an investment in trust, with great effect,” he adds. “Transparency comes through as one of the biggest builders of trust, it is almost about over-communicating. We went out of our way to make sure people felt they could ask anything, so they weren’t sitting at home on their own having a problem.”

Where technology and employee engagement are concerned, there is no one size fits all solution. Frustration with devices or technology can be an issue at every level of a business and managing different seniority is a key consideration.

For executives, the ability to take control of their own technology destiny is equally as important as providing IT support and levelling the playing field for more junior workers.

Expectation of seamless technology experience

With the shift from the office being the place with the most advanced technology, to the home or other remote locations, there is an expectation from employees that work devices mirror the seamless nature of consumer devices. This can be a change in mindset for IT professionals, who need to fully understand what employees need to be productive, engaged and excited to do their jobs.

Following a merger in September last year, wealth management and professional services group Tilney Smith & Williamson needed to ensure all its employees remained engaged.

It is a priority that “anyone, anywhere is able to contribute effectively within their team”, says the company’s chief technology officer Mayank Prakash. He adds: “Software tools like Teams and Zoom have become synonymous with both home-based and hybrid working but it is just as important to have the right devices to give employees the end-to-end digital experience they receive as consumers at home and rightly expect as employees at work.”

As work becomes more flexible, employees need the right devices and tools to stay connected, be productive, and to promote engagement and creativity. A strategic approach joining technology and people professionals, with a focus on meaningful consultation and support, will underpin enhanced employee engagement as hybrid working becomes embedded in business life.