An office worker pushing away the walls of a maze.
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At the end of last year, the Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, showed that 85 percent of employees are not engaged at work. The economic consequences of this global situation are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity, the report concludes. Of those workers, 18 percent are actively disengaged in their work and workplace, while 67 percent are "not engaged." This latter group may not necessarily be the worst performers, but they do make up the majority of the workforce.

UK-based human capital specialist Aon Hewitt defines engagement as the level of an employee's psychological investment in their organization. Many forward-thinking organizations are looking to technology as one of the potential solutions to improving employee engagement, such as the intelligent cloud.

Every year, Aon Hewitt measures employee engagement for more than 1,000 organizations around the globe. The responses come from organizations with as few as 100 employees to the most complex organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees. More than 60 industries are represented in the study. 

So, how can organizations best leverage technology via the intelligent cloud to empower employees to work to their full potential and boost workplace collaboration? After canvassing several companies on their response to disengagement and problems with collaboration, we uncover seven trends that are creating problems.

Related Article: The Future of Work: Enterprise Productivity Experts' Trends for 2018

1. The Wrong People

Cleveland-based Jonathan Poston, SEO director at the Tombras Group, identified a few specific problems that are creating engagement and collaboration problems. Those who operate remotely in a digital space often have to over-communicate to make sure work is flowing well. Having someone in this space that doesn't know how to stay on top of things, be on time for meetings, or followups can create a major collaboration obstacle. Of course, training helps, but much of what it takes to be successful in such a position is a high degree of self-motivation.

2. Substandard Project Management Systems

If the system of collaboration is low quality or misused, then naturally communication will suffer. Even the best cross-enterprise communication networks, like Slack, can be challenging if used for more than informal chat because messages can slip downstream. The same goes with email. Email is no way to manage projects. Also, those not trained on how to properly use a messaging system can create unnecessary obstacles.

Related Article: 8 Tips for Effectively Managing Remote Workers 

3. Fear Of Working In Teams

For Andrew Selepak, a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, one of the principal problems is a fear of working in teams. Many people, he said, prefer working alone with minimal oversight or collaboration. But this is rarely possible, the reality is that employees not only have to work with others, but often must do it at a distance using different technologies to hold meetings and interact with the team.

The best way to overcome apprehension about working in teams is for the teams to work on something they are passionate about. It seems obvious, but when people are working toward a goal they believe in, they are more willing to collaborate and work together to achieve that goal because it is too important for one person alone. Willing collaboration can also be achieved because a company’s leadership has made it clear how important the project is and helps the team realize the significance of their work. When employees realize the value of their work and its importance to impact change, they are generally more willing to push aside the difficulties of getting work done through collaboration, because they are more focused on success through any means necessary.  

4. Connecting Dispersed Teams

Employees increasingly value the flexibility of when and where they work. A flexible workforce has business benefits too, like increased business agility, decreased sickness, lower staff turnover and improved scheduling for peak periods to name but a few, according to Jon Foulkes, Microsoft business manager at UK-based IT infrastructure provider Softcat.

However, connecting, sharing and engaging becomes increasingly difficult across dispersed locations. Fragmented and outdated technology makes working remotely frustrating for everyone. Investing in staff and providing the right technology to support a successful flexible working strategy is crucial. A collaborative cloud suite provides a seamless working environment, allowing people to meet, co-author, create and find content quickly and easily. Underpinning successful modern flexible working is the true path to employee connectedness. Collaboration devices also have an important role to play in connecting dispersed teams with state-of-the-art communication capabilities, accelerating decision-making without losing the human element.

5. Turning Insights Into Actions

Foulkes argues that as organizations must cope with huge amounts of data being produced by every application, service and device used by employees. The challenge now is how best to transform data into intelligent insight that organizations can use to identify and improve technology or processes which hamper employee engagement. Artificial intelligence (AI) is back in vogue due to the sheer compute power that the public cloud presents. Coupled with modern applications, AI is opening new possibilities, empowering organizations to tackle huge data sets quickly and cost-effectively.

Workplace productivity dashboards can also give employees a clearer picture of productivity based on calendars, emails, documents, Skype and other information gleaned from usage data. This data can then highlight any efficiency bottlenecks and allow business processes to be streamlined.

6. Tackling Security Challenges

With a large proportion of the global workforce now working remotely, organizations need to support employee mobility such as increased workforce flexibility and collaboration. This cultural change will need to be matched by an equally modern approach to security and risk management. Intelligent cloud platforms can use machine learning to provide risk-based conditional access related to the user, location (geo-location or IP address), device and application with a single sign-on, avoiding any unnecessary disruption.

7. Too Many Tools

Steve Pritchard, a human resources consultant for UK-based Healing Holidays, said that a big problem with collaboration in a digital workplace is the over-reliance on tools, which can become a real distraction. Collaborative tools like instant messenger services and interactive timelines can force workers to think they need to reply to every message every 30 seconds or fill out progress sheets as soon as a fraction of a task is complete. These tools do have definite benefits, but they also hinder the progress of the actual work because they demand a great deal of your attention and time for admin duties.

Setting guidelines for collaborators, such as asking team members to fill out task sheets at the end of the day and mark emails that need to be replied to immediately as “urgent,” are great ways of cutting down the distraction. This means collaborators can focus on the task in hand, without constantly having to divert their attention to the administrator tools.

Finally, digital workplaces have the power to bring distributed workforces together in a single virtual portal. These centralized digital hubs give employees instant access to crucial operational tools like payroll and scheduling, as well as countless communication channels to help employee correspondence and workflows run more efficiently.

Collaboration, however, is key. With instant communication and easier collaboration among colleagues — across different teams and from different regions of the world — employees can find more importance and value in their work. This type of communication also breaks down silos and encourages information-sharing and innovation.