office worker, from above
It isn't only customers who want you to understand their context: employees do, too PHOTO: Ruslan Burlaka

In today’s diverse, multi-faceted organizations, workstyles matter, especially when you consider that companies with the highest employee engagement outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share, according to Gallup.

We've always known that people's productivity correlates with business outcomes, but our technologically rich and digitally savvy world now gives us even more insight into why.

Cultivating Lasting Employee Engagement

With employee engagement in companies near all-time lows, the role of digital workplace technology has become more important than ever in enabling people, teams and organizations to work better together to generate strong, sustainable business results.

But with workers burdened by information overload and fragmented business applications, it becomes even more crucial for functions across the business — especially corporate communications and human resources — to come together to implement communications strategies that cultivate lasting engagement.

That means key organizational leaders must interact with employees at just the right moments to drive strategic alignment around key corporate issues and ensure that everyone stays up to speed.

Oh, and did we mention that these digital interactions must be holistic, regardless of where employees are located, what channels or devices they use or their preferred work styles?  But hey, no pressure.

The Challenge of Holistic Interaction

Obviously, achieving this level of holistic interaction is where the challenge lies. Part of the reason is that today’s employees, emboldened by choices in their consumer lives, want similar levels of flexibility in their work lives as well.

In response, enterprise companies now offer an average of 329 apps for workers to choose from. In fact, a 2015 survey by my employer found than 80 percent of workers felt that “the [level of] freedom to try new tools [impacted] their job satisfaction.”

Creating a Supportive Company Culture

Clearly, employees want to call the shots on how they work and not surprisingly, the more senior the employee, the more important that flexibility becomes. Employees want to optimize their performance by integrating all aspects of their work style into a company culture that supports each of their needs and preferences for work.

Creating that supportive company culture requires communicators and HR leaders to understand several key sociological factors that are typical of today’s organizations:

Multi-Everything is Everywhere

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to your organization’s culture anymore — if there ever was. One approach is building communities with purpose, which helps create meaningful connections between diverse workers across physical, geographical and cultural boundaries.

Today’s digital workplace tools can both support and promote these diverse perspectives and preferences. And we know employees expect those workplace tools to be as inviting and engaging as the apps and sites they use in their personal lives. That’s why business solutions that put people at the center of the experience will become the standard approach for companies to get work done.

Count Everyone In

As the futurist Brian David Johnson noted in a speech last year, we are on the verge of a five-generation workforce. “We’ve got people who remember a time before color television sitting next to people who can’t remember a time when there wasn’t an Internet,” he said.

While much has been made of millennials’ impact on the office, other generations are contributing in big ways, too. New research from Dropbox suggests that, contrary to popular stereotypes, workplace veterans are more tech-savvy in some ways than their millennial co-workers. One surprising survey finding was that older workers were “less stressed using technology in the workplace, and better at using multiple devices than their younger peers.”

Give People Work that Matters

While they’re not the only group defining the future of work, millennials seem to be ahead of the curve as a group when it comes to articulating the ‘must-have’ elements of meaningful work. Brian David Johnson’s definition of meaningful work focuses on tasks that allow us to do something larger than ourselves for our teams, our companies and our communities.

When we do this, he says, we transcend the idea of the work itself. Whereas work used to be a place you went or something you did, today's work is integral to who we are. He sees a huge opportunity for organizations to amplify their vision beyond the products and services they provide by engaging millennial workers in the mission of spreading this mindset more broadly throughout their companies.

Forget About Life-Work Balance

The best organizations provide ways for their employees to engage through technologies that allow work to complement, rather than compete with their lifestyles. This work-life blending means that, for many, work is no longer simply a means to an end. It’s part of a larger trend toward finding the balance we are seeking in our daily lives.

In an article he wrote last year, my colleague, David Puglia, highlights the importance of helping people work at their best by letting everyday empowerment strategies and flexible working environments take precedence over strict workplace guidelines. To accomplish that, it’s vital to shift from the idea that flexibility means slacking off at work to an understanding that it’s actually the key to maximizing employee potential.

Smart, Contextual and Simple

Companies need to adopt digital workplace solutions that bring employees together in ways that are smart, contextual and simple. That means that technology should work hard so people can focus on what's important.

This requires a single, overarching collaboration hub that connects ideas, people, content and information — a place where you can find what you need quickly and easily by identifying the people and places that are integral to your work.

The best solutions create end-to-end experiences and bridge communication and productivity across workstyles, devices and locations. Thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies, the more employees interact in this virtual space, the more personalized the experience can become, further enhancing engagement and results.

Employees want to do their best work — they just want to do it in their own ways. With so much at stake, you should probably let them.