Katie Whitehouse, from ServiceNow, advises businesses on how technology can help them manage employee experiences, inclusion and productivity in the hybrid workplace.
In a recent survey, it was found that four out of five hybrid workers in Ireland feel unsupported in their jobs.
The research by HRLocker revealed that 62pc of employees think their managers do not listen to them and fail to provide adequate feedback to enable them to perform effectively. Moreover, almost half of those with hybrid working arrangements report feelings of isolation.
The research attributes these findings to ‘passive management’ practices. It firmly places the onus on managers to listen and engage with those splitting their working life between locations.
Other studies suggest the problem lies more broadly at the feet of the organisation. A Cisco study, for example, found that the majority of hybrid employees (73pc) believe their company’s leadership needs to rethink culture and mindset to improve wellbeing, work-life balance and inclusion.
While it’s true there’s an abundance of positive impacts associated with hybrid work, as shown in the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) report, organisational and people leaders cannot ignore the unintended, adverse effects.
As part of its global 2022 Work Trend Index, Microsoft surveyed Irish workers and reported some alarming findings: 44pc are finding it harder to build trust with colleagues; 37pc think their team culture has deteriorated; and 36pc feel alienated.
Left unchecked, these negative impacts on employee experience can severely affect the bottom line. Reduced productivity, high churn rates and failure to attract new recruits are just some of the harmful consequences.
In my opinion, returning to the pre-pandemic norm of five days in the office isn’t the solution – this can further alienate employees and reduce the flexibility they need. It is, then, in both the business and employees’ best interests to better manage hybrid work. But how do employers go about this mission?
The truth is there are no simple answers to solving hybrid work challenges. It’s a complex set of interconnecting issues with nuances between and within different organisations. What works for some might not work for others individually or collectively.
Nonetheless, technology exists to help organisations of all sizes, across all industries and in every sector tackle these challenges. Here we look at a few ways tech can help.
Collaborate using digital workflows
In this new world of work, opportunities to interact are often limited to video conferencing and emails. These not-so-personal engagements can leave some workers feeling unhappy, isolated and excluded.
It can be especially burdensome for more introverted employees or those with additional needs, such as hearing and sight impairments, to contribute equally in these rapid-fire screen-only exchanges.
Working as a team is also more challenging when everyone is in different locations. Add in dodgy WiFi, painfully slow legacy technologies and uncontrollable interruptions, and you have a recipe for collaborative chaos.
Digital workflows facilitate better collaboration between all employees, giving even the quietest ones a presence. Through prompts, automated task assignments, real-time status reports and seamless handovers, everyone has access to information about their job, who to communicate with and how to work with their colleagues to achieve the best results.
The blending of clear-cut virtual and physical interactions at home and the workplace means employees can better manage relationships with co-workers. The accountability provided by digital workflows means individuals, teams and departments can better cooperate with and trust one another instead of having to wait for face-to-face updates or chasing each other for completion dates – making for a happier work environment all around.
Automate to maximise the employee experience
Nothing deadens an employee’s enthusiasm like repetitive and tedious processes that require no thought or creativity. These low-value operations might be essential for the business but can be soul-destroying for workers.
Often the most junior or newest starters are burdened with these repetitive jobs that eat at their motivation and can leave them feeling underutilised. The result – high churn rates, a lack of new talent and a disengaged workforce.
Innovative technologies exist to simplify and automate repetitive and tedious tasks. The reduced pressures granted by automation mean workers can focus on high-value functions. It frees employees to work on more challenging, collaborative or creative projects that require them to develop and apply expertise and skills.
When combined with a strong nurturing and training environment, organisations can champion staff to be their best selves. What’s more, automation doesn’t just improve employee engagement.
A 2022 global survey by McKinsey found that about two-thirds of companies that have adopted automation benefited from improved quality control, greater customer satisfaction, reduced operating expenses and increased revenue.
The report further highlighted the better risk mitigation practices associated with automation. In particular, data governance, standardised protocols and quality control checks were all less error-prone when automated.
Boost efficiency with AI and ML
An efficient and engaged workforce achieves faster outcomes with fewer resources in a more streamlined manner. The emergent technologies of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are the key to optimising productivity and efficiency.
AI and ML can automate cumbersome processes into quick, repeatable workflows. These workflows can remodel communication by reducing silos, and divert valuable resources to high-stakes projects by removing unnecessary steps, avoidable roadblocks, and the need for input from outside teams.
Ultimately, these workflows can empower employees to hit every deadline and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of each working day.
Being empowered to get work done faster and more easily drives enthusiasm and employee engagement, which is advantageous because engaged employees are healthier, happier, less stressed, and more motivated. They’re also more likely to go the extra mile, seek learning opportunities and take on more responsibilities.
The overarching outcome of AI and ML is, then, a positive impact on workers and organisational performance.
Technology isn’t a silver-bullet solution. But, when implemented with thoughtful, well-planned hybrid work policies and a strong company culture prioritising employees, it is an essential tool.
Technology furnishes organisations with the capacity to give hybrid employees seamless experiences. These experiences mean employees can work efficiently while building meaningful and lasting connections with their colleagues and the business, regardless of location, now and in the future.
Katie Whitehouse is senior people director for EMEA at ServiceNow, leading the HR and people initiatives for the region. Whitehouse has more than 20 years’ experience in human resources and management, having worked with several enterprise organisations including Sky, Blackberry and Ticketmaster.
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