Woman holding up a sign that says employee engagement with many arrows pointing in many directions
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The qualities needed to lead a digital enterprise have been well documented. How to ensure worker engagement with digital transformation initiatives and the digital workplace is less clear. Although all the people we contacted working in digital enterprises stressed the importance of tool and providing digital tools that workers use both in the workplace and outside of the workplace.

However, tools are not enough, according to Andrew Larkin, director of learning at San Francisco-based Cloud Academy. He points out that digital transformation requires both operational change and a new approach towards how you provide and use technology. “Cloud is not a 'learn-once' technology, which is why continued training is so crucial to the digital workplace. When companies implement comprehensive training, they see increases [in] employee engagement. Learning is most successful when employees have guidance, but are also personally motivated to engage,” he said.

Change Required

Peter Hirst, associate dean of executive education at Mass.-based MIT Sloan School of Management, said that the most important thing to keep in mind when implementing a digital workplace is that this is a change project which will, by definition, require change in behavior of the human beings who work in and with your organization. There are many different theories and practices of change management. He advises business leaders to pick one that suits the culture of their organization and implement it thoughtfully, being willing to learn and adapt as you go. "...recognize that the digital workplace is a journey, not a destination. In fact, you will never get there. The kind of change we are talking about here is continuous change, not a step function, one-time, project or initiative," said Hirst.

Remember that there will likely be a diversity of experience and comfort with technology and change. The cautious and skeptical are as useful and important as the early adopters — they can help you avoid costly mistakes along the way. “If you want people to be engaged with the change, then engage them in the change. This is consistent with a fundamental principle of Design Thinking — an approach to developing products, processes and services that emphasizes the importance of understanding the customers or users who will buy or use it,” he said.

Related Article: 9 Employee Engagement Survey Questions to Ask

Bring End-Users Into The Project

Leaders need to consult would-be users when implementing these kinds of changes, discover their needs and pain points, engage them in benchmarking, inventing and selecting potential solutions, while all the time being cautious not to jump to a solution too soon in the process.

Hirst suggests that enterprise leaders use experiments and pilots to explore and learn. Be willing to adapt and improve and discover the way to great solutions, he added. 

Leaders should also borrow ruthlessly from the experience of others, according to Hirst, but focus and be willing to invest in inventing systems and solutions that are unique to their situation, that create competitive differentiation for their employee digital user experience. It is also important, he said, to be realistic about the claims and expectations about the benefits of the digital workplace for your organizations. “Let actual users experience and discover the value for themselves. This is will help create demand (pull) from users/customers versus pushing technology on them,” he said.

The Tools Must Work

Even still, for a worker to engage within the digital workplace the "tech has to work", said Richard Shaw, owner of UK-based Logbookloanhq. If, for example, the worker can't login or keeps getting logged out or the system runs slow or the invoices keep disappearing or the software is just ill-prepared for the job, then workers won't use the digital workplace and if they must will do so with no end of complaints.  “On the other hand, a digital workplace that adds value, that makes their job easier and saves time will be praised and recommend by all workers,” he said.

There are a whole bunch of tools that encourage worker engagement — many of which we have looked at in the past — but one that keeps popping up is video technology, used as a communication tool across the enterprise.  Aurangzeb Khan, co-founder and CEO of AI-enabled camera technology provider Altia Systems pointed out that high end video technology in the workplace is a critical component that enables better collaboration, leading to a more engaged workforce. The traditional conference call is on the decline, as video allows participants to communicate with non-verbals, which are key to relaying any message appropriately. “This is particularly crucial for remote workers, as it has been proven time and time again that remote employees feel left out and less engaged,” he said.” Ramping up your video technology will help solve this issue, he says, as the extra face time will help foster a feeling of connectivity and inclusion.

Related Article: Why Improving Employee Engagement Should Be Your Priority

Painting The Big Picture

Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Newark, Del.-based Mettl, an HR technology company and talent measurement firm, says that the principle driver of worker engagement is showing them the big picture of what the organization is trying to achieve. The role an employee plays in its realization is crucial. Continuous visibility is one of the factors that makes or breaks a digital workplace. When employees realize they are an integral part of creating something meaningful; they engage or else lose interest quickly in seconds. “Maintaining transparency in the day-to-day activities with regular updates about who is working on what can drive the optimum level of employee engagement,” he said. “There has to be clearly defined objectives for a period and a roadmap every employee can follow, if you are to keep them on track and fully engaged.”

If miscommunication creeps in or an employee loses sight of the bigger picture, it’s going to derail employee engagement. If you track their progress and celebrate the small victories with appreciation and rewards; it’s going to keep them happy and engaged for long. Once employees feel that they are working under collaboration and aren’t alone, engagement will never be a problem.

Remote Workers and the Gig Economy

Kapoor argued that we are inching towards a gig-economy and Workplace by Facebook sets the perfect example of how you can engage a digital workforce without having a brick and mortar premises. You can have a similar platform where you can set your own digital workplace. Whether it’s assigning tasks, tracking progress or celebrating the small runs; the platform can be a deal breaker for maintaining a happy digital workplace. 

A critical factor, he says, is to be “active” on the forum, so employees never get the impression that they are not a part of a meaningful work culture, that might cause them to become disengaged. Create posts for events, have an active feed for ongoing activities, have dedicated groups to strike up meaningful conversations and simply keep the place alive. “To keep our team happy and engaged, we are always on the lookout for digital solutions that make life easier, said Airto Zamorano founder and CEO of Denver-based Numana SEO/Numana Medical.  "The ongoing objective is to seek out solutions that save time and create greater efficiencies that ultimately allow us to do more without piling on more hours.

“The key to make this work is that we listen and respond to feedback from our team, and we give them the tools and support they need to succeed,” he said. “By listening to our team, considering their needs, and providing them with a highly optimized internal structure, we are able to work more profitably while keeping everyone happy and fully engaged.”