Feria Kazemi

Sussex Business Times got into contact with Broadband Genie’s Feria Kazemi, who explains the ways in which using the right technology can drive employee engagement and therefore, ensure a more productive workforce

The traditional workplace has changed dramatically in the last quarter of a century. Once dominant across industries, many companies have since cast aside the cubicle-style office space in favour of open-concept workspaces, in an effort to promote greater collaboration and communication among employees and teams.

However, it’s the collaborative nature of open-concept workspaces that proved to be part of its pitfall for employees. Studies show that employee concerns about open-concept workplaces are warranted, as the increase in workplaces interactions and distractions that occur in these spaces has been found to cause decreases in employee productivity, creativity, wellbeing and engagement.

As researchers call for a balance between the ‘me’ and the ‘we’ in the workplace, it’s clear that businesses can no longer adopt one type of workplace environment, especially the extremes of solitude and collaboration that the cubicle office and open-concept office present. Instead, businesses must seek to find and strike a balance between the complete solitude the office cubicle provides and the highly social environment of the open-concept office.

Workers agree on the need for balance and have consequently become a driving force behind the evolution of the modern workplace in recent years. Statistics show that nearly four million Britons currently work from home. Even more Britons (over half of British workers) desire flexibility in their jobs. This flexibility can come in different forms, but whether it’s in terms of work hours or location-independence, the evidence is clear – modern employees expect more from their employers than the bygone traditional workplace.

As employees demand more from employers, companies are shifting their organizational and workplace structures to adapt to the new work landscape. Following the lead of tech giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google, and like-minded startups, companies across all industries have awoken to the value in building a strong corporate culture and employee engagement by listening to the needs of their people.

Research shows that strong employee engagement and organizational affinity has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. However, companies are left at an impasse with the modern worker being flightier than ever, set to hold over six jobs in their lifetime. Thus, building a strong corporate culture and focusing on employee engagement are the keys for companies looking to build long-term relationships with their people.

But what elements drive employee engagement?

According to a recent Deloitte study, meaningful work, a positive work environment and growth opportunities are all contributing elements. These elements show that creating a culture of recognition, investing in people and increasing individual autonomy are all strategies that companies can employ to drive greater employee engagement. So how are companies implement these elements in their workplace? Technology is the answer.

Technology enables digital collaboration and communication, independently

Although the lingering fear exists among organizations that employee productivity will decrease as location-independence and flexible work hours increase, over 30 per cent of those working remotely believe that their productivity has increased, as a result.

Chances are, the increase in productivity stems from the space and mental capacity to focus that an individual work environment brings, but that’s not to diminish the value of engaging with colleagues and collaboration. Fortunately, there are new technologies that can help foster a balance between the ‘me’ and the ‘we’.

Communicate with anyone, from anywhere

Communication is everywhere in organizations. From internal memos and emails, to team meetings, all-hands, and holiday socials, communication is an integral part of how individuals connect, teams collaborate, ideas spark and businesses are built. While location-independence and flexible work hours for employees may appear unconducive to workplace communication, there are tech tools out to bridge the gap.

The wide scope of communications applications available for business can make it difficult for companies to select one that’s more appropriate for their needs. With so many to choose from, companies must focus in on the needs of their business, to incorporate the platforms that are best suited for them.

For businesses looking to keep the lines of communication open among employees, whether employees are working from the office or across multiple locations, applications like Brosix, Slack and Hipchat, can help.

Many companies worldwide swear by these apps, and it’s unsurprising. Allowing employees and teams to communicate across open, private or direct channels with each other, these applications are stacked with ingenious features that make remote communications effective and easy. Filled with functions like file and image embedding, individual chats, and searchability, these apps are not only powerhouse communication platforms, but also archives of information that employees can easily go back and reference, when needed.

These instant messaging apps can also help foster greater employee engagement and increase morale, allowing colleagues spontaneously connect over chat, from anywhere at any point in their day. Similar to office banter and water cooler chatter, instant messaging apps promote socialization among colleagues, while allowing employees to decide to respond to casual chatter on their own schedule.For some companies, instant messaging applications are a start but may not be enough to foster stronger engagement among employees. Sometimes, face-to- face interaction is needed to convey messages for effectively. Fortunately, video conferencing applications like Skype and Zoom can help fill companies to fill this void using technology.

For simple video-conferencing needs, Skype fits the bill. Colleagues and teams can video chat with each other, while using Skype’s chat to send files or attachments, or send instant-messages as needed. For businesses needing greater video-conferencing capabilities, Zoom is the ultimate solution. Great for hosting larger video-conferencing teams, or perfect for an all-hands meeting, Zoom handles a large number of users with ease. Plus, for companies seeking to create a flow among their various applications, it also has Slack integration, among many more.

While instant messaging and video conferencing offer communication solutions for informal and collaborative communications, sometimes employees and employers seek directed Communications, like feedback and evaluations to track project progress or set goals.

For such needs, applications like Impraise and Reflektive are useful platforms that let employees and employers request and receive feedback on their projects, progress and goals. Focusing on integration with employee and organizational goal alignment, both these applications promote the ability to request and receive real-time feedback. Not only does this improve directed communications and regular check-ins among teams, but also lets employees take control of their own development and growth in the organization, giving them the power to request and receive feedback whenever they desire.

Stay in sync with cloud-based collaboration

While communication is a vital ingredient in the workplace, even more so is the ability to get the work done. Cloud-based collaboration tools let teams do just that, whether team members are working alongside each other, or across the world. Applications like Dropbox and Google Docs can make it easier to collaborate on documents and projects with colleagues located everywhere. With varying levels of permissions, both applications let users decide which team members can view or edit specific files and folders. Also, if colleagues are working in the same document, these applications will show where they are and let you chat with each other in the platform, making collaborative projects effective and seamless.

For informal ways of collaborating, note-sharing app Evernote makes it easy for colleagues and teams to brainstorm collaboratively, jotting down ideas and sharing notes in different notebooks. For ideas that are better shared in sketches, annotations and drawings, Evernote’s Skitch app, makes idea-sharing through imagery easier than ever.

As with all collaborative projects, teams need a way to organize, track, and prioritize what needs to get done. While traditionally, a project manager can organize teams, applications like Wunderlist and Trello are effective project management tools for autonomous teams. Not only can these apps help companies visualize the tasks needed to complete projects, but they also provide colleagues with a platform through which they can share project progress, track the status of materials they may be expecting, and update each other project completion.

Let technology balance the scale between ‘me’ and ‘we’

The workplace has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, forcing many businesses to evaluate the effectiveness of their workplace. As companies work to find that fine balance between the ‘me’ and ‘we’ in their office policies and environments, considering how new technologies and applications can benefit them should be a priority.

In the last decade alone, technology has made society much more mobile, while giving greater opportunity and autonomy to individuals. With employees expecting these same elements in the modern workplace, the key to building greater engagement employees is to extend the benefits of new technologies to the workplace. The traditional nine-to- five workplace is long gone and the sooner companies recognize and adapt their environments to reflect this change, the greater chance they stand to energize and build engagement among their people.