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Digital workplace: why employees matter


In the “war for talent,” we are all looking for new ways to attract and retain the best talent in our industry. We all know that salary is just a hygiene factor and the effect of a raise only lasts six months. So what can a company do to make a difference in the marketplace?

This is a complex question, but my wife gave a very good answer a long time ago (at that time she was an HR manager at our company). Her dream, as HR manager, was to create an environment in which each individual voluntarily chose to work at our company on a daily basis. Easy, right? Probably not, but the essence is compelling. What if your employee had a choice every day to start with a new employer and salary was not relevant? Forget your current HR tools, applications, workplace environment – what would you do to make each employee choose your organization?

I have been working on an answer for years and still haven’t mastered the full picture. Nevertheless, I would like to share my experience and some provoking thoughts that might help your organization take a giant step forward:

1. Unleash the full potential of each individual

When I did my MBA, one of the most valuable lectures was about the X and Y theory of HR management. Do you believe that you can trust your people and let them work freely, or do you think that if you don’t control them they will make the wrong decisions? I’m a true believer in the former, but only when people feel empowered and truly connect with the job they are doing. You can make this happen by tapping into their passions. How can you connect their passions to their jobs (this doesn’t always have to be 1:1)? My passion, for example, was to be a rock & roll guitar player. But one look at my fingers will tell you that is a no-go. As CTO, however, I can create stories, be on stage, and even get the occasional round of applause. While I may not be able to play my guitar at work much, my current role taps into the essence of what it means to be a rock & roll guitar player. Looking at it from this vantage, how can you help people connect their passions to their day jobs?

2. Empower them to the max

I still have to laugh when we ask how many people have a more powerful PC at home than at their work. Since people spend so much time on computing devices (whether it be a PC, laptop, or phone), make sure that they have the same experience as they do at home. Let them choose which device they want to work on, not the one that’s most convenient for you. With “Bring your own device” and the platforms supporting it, companies can empower their employees in a safe and secure way.

Personally, I would take this beyond hardware with two additional steps:

  • Bring your own application

In our TechnoVision framework, we have “All in the Catalogue” and the “API Economy” as two trends that can shake up the enterprise world. The first states that we can have multiple solutions for a process we offer; mostly SaaS applications that can be quickly deployed. We have already seen this in the enterprise space where different units can choose between SAP or Salesforce when it comes to their CRM environment, based on what fits their operations best, rather than having a fixed “Unless” policy. But what in combination with the “API economy” trend, we now empower users or groups of users to explore their own tool and integrate the relevant data into the backbone applications. Companies like Zappier are providing many integration options. Of course, you have to set standards on the security and integration capabilities. But if you actively provide a catalog of options, you can be in the driver’s seat, rather than clearing up the mess afterward. This may not be suitable for all levels of applications, but it’s definitely something to think about and experiment with.

  • Gamify your work

Can we make work fun while making it more productive? With the options we have on the user interface, so many more things are possible. After the “black and green” and “blue (SAP)” screens, it’s time we rethink how we interact with our users. Within our own company, much of our impact stems from assigning the right person for the right task at the right time. To ensure that we have the right competence and prevent friction, one of our consultants suggested placing Google Maps on top of our system for showing open requests. Now, rather than being randomly assigned, consultants can proactively search for new assignments that fit their competence. This offers several advantages:

  • A positive impact on our carbon footprint, since people generally want to work closer to home
  • Higher retention, since people have more control over their careers
  • More profitability, since assignments can be filled faster.

Another example I always semi-joke about (I actually still really want it) is an “Angry-Bird” workflow approval system. Rather than going through a hideous screen with too many steps to approve certain expenses, I want a screen where I can shoot an expense request in either the “approve” or the “return to sender” bucket. Can you imagine how often I would open my workflow app? This may be a silly example, but I’ll bet you can think of many applications that could be easier, more accessible, and more fun.

3. Create meaning with and through your company

Earlier, I referred to connecting the passion with the position. More often than not, employees’ passions have to do with doing good for the world. We often refer to Google’s approach which lets people spend 20% of their time on a project of their choice. The fun part is that your company can probably have more impact on the world with this than with your regular products or services. You, undoubtedly, have competencies which, if released for the good, people will take the extra leap to create something impactful that perhaps you can even use for either your sustainability impact, marketing, or even top line. As an example, we recently held a Carbon hackathon to leverage our peoples’ insights into how we can reduce our carbon footprint. Using our technology tools, consultants collaborated globally to come up with ideas that we are now trying to implement. In another example, a colleague brought a non-profit organization to an innovation challenge, and today we are helping them build an app to make their work in Africa easier, with more complete real-time information gathering.

For all three items, technology can help increase efficiency, crush barriers, and tap into the intelligence of the entire organization. More importantly, however, it can make people feel that they matter; that their contributions count because this is the one common need we all have – the Connected Employee Experience.

So with that, I hope you will take some time during the holiday season to think about what you need in order to organize in your company so that your employees will return from holiday and connect, voluntarily again!