A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 7, 2016

Confronting the Tension Between Technology and Engagement In the Workplace

Automation anxiety is a major concern. Fear of not being as proficient as younger colleagues (however contractual or temporary they may be), of being a cog in a large technological machine which is constantly monitoring their efforts and making invidious comparisons with lower paid foreign workers or with computerized alternatives, and of being replaced by technology altogether.

There is also the possibility that technology at work may not be as easy to use or effective as their personal technology, though many organizations have reduced the reliance on company-provided devices both to save costs and increase productivity.

The larger issue is how to improve the operational and psychological work environment in whatever way makes sense in order to optimize performance. JL

Chris Cancialosi comments in Forbes:

Only one-third of the global workforce is engaged at work, research suggests. One factor in disengagement is the technology people use in their personal lives is better (faster, more accurate, and a better user experience) than the technology they interact with in the workplace.
Employee engagement has had quite a run in the spotlight, and many organizations are intent on cracking the code to develop and sustain high levels of engagement that, in turn, drive other business performance outcomes.
Research suggests a direct connection between engaged employees and a variety of performance outcomes, including productivity, profitability, reduced turnover, and customer experience. Yet, sites like Gallup continue to report that only one-third of the global workforce is engaged at work.
There are multiple theories as to why employees may disengage with their employers, but my recent conversation with Mike Ettling, president of SAP SuccessFactors, shed light on a technological factor that I hadn’t previously considered.
Mike suggests that one major causal factor in disengagement is that the technology people use in their personal lives is exponentially better (faster, more accurate, and a substantially better user experience) than the technology they interact in the workplace. He believes that by providing employees similar capabilities for people at work as in their personal lives, technology can enable new levels of engagement and a much more individualized work experience.
Consider these possibilities:
  • Learning and development. Consumers are familiar with user experiences provided by companies like Amazon and Netflix that utilize user-generated data to suggest products or movies that the user might like. Imagine if a company could track and analyze multiples aspects of an employee’s time spent, and experience, at work to deliver targeted learning and development content to their personalized social/learning feed? Companies would be able to better understand—in real-time—where employees are succeeding or struggling and automatically provide relevant support in true just-in-time fashion.
  • Development of informal networks. Informal networks within organizations can make a significant difference when trying to effectively accomplish ones’ work. Data could be used to track the work of employees and to help them understand who they should connect with to move the work forward and keep key stakeholders informed in the process.
  • Filtering meaningful information. How many times have you received a mass communication that has nothing to do with you or your work? Or, at a time where the information is not particularly relevant to you? Imagine if technology could understand when and how information was most relevant to someone so they can get the information they need when it’s most helpful.
  • Increased transparency. Ranjit Jose, co-founder of the engagement platform Hyphen, suggests technology can be utilized for continuous feedback loops. While this is being done today in some capacity, imagine if these tech solutions could filter and curate information and feedback opportunities to someone based on their specific, individual needs and interests?
These advancements don’t come without potential challenges, however.
  • Privacy. Philosophies on data privacy vary greatly from country to country. In the US, data privacy decisions typically reside with the individual. In Europe, the government has taken greater steps to regulate data. Although technology can offer a great many potential contributions in the workplace, it does feel a little like Big Brother, no matter what country you live in.
  • Integrity. For people to feel comfortable with privacy, the integrity of the data and the data collection process itself must be safeguarded beyond reproach. Misuse, or the perception of misuse, of the data continually collected from employees could quickly erode trust in leadership and the organization rather quickly.
  • Misinterpretation of data. Misinterpretation of data is a risk that must be dealt with as well. At best, misinterpreted data would lead to less than helpful recommendations for employees (and possibly lower user adoption). At worst, it could create greater levels of disengagement and eroded trust. Thankfully, with machine learning becoming increasingly advanced in recent years, computers can learn what data is most relevant and what suggestions are most helpful to employees, thus becoming more and more effective over time.
Rapid advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are opening new opportunities to help understand and manage your workforce like never before. If utilized properly, these advances will undoubtedly impact the employee experience. As it stands, however, many of the apps and tools in the market aren’t reaching their full potential- yet.


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