The Future of Work is Now, and its All about Engagement

In the modern workplace, we choose where, when and how we work. As customers, we interact with businesses in our own ways, on our own terms. It’s amazing that, while technology evolves practically every day, we’re still innovating and adapting using our best resource that’s been here the whole time — ourselves. While we sometimes struggle to keep up with the intensity of rapid innovation, we know that it opens huge new opportunities with options and choices in how we work. Technology is breaking down barriers like never before and blurring the lines between our lifestyle and our workstyle. So, how can this new reality be embraced to shape your organization’s culture and grow your business?

The rules of engagement

With the war for talent becoming fiercer than ever, companies must make a concerted effort to build employee engagement into their corporate strategy. In the U.S., disengaged employees outnumber engaged workers 2:1. That lack of employee engagement puts a huge drag on business value and costs companies hundreds of billions of dollars every year. We know that when employees are more connected in an open, collaborative culture, businesses see increased productivity and profitability, as well as a nearly two-thirds reduction in turnover. These organizations are able to get and keep the best talent because they offer the kinds of environments workers want. Very soon, all companies will have to operate in this way — not only to win in their markets, but simply to compete.

To build this type of culture, businesses must engage employees and customers in more meaningful, simple and interactive ways. Much of this can be supported by technology, but people don’t adopt tools just because they work well or are beautifully designed. That’s great, but what really matters is having the right culture and human-centric tools that truly support people’s diverse motivations, thinking and preferred ways to work. The world of work is finally starting to look like the rest of the world — and in this new world, there are three big rules the best companies will live by:

1. Embrace diverse workstyles. Organizations need to address the realities of an increasingly multi-location, multi-generation, multi-workstyle workforce. Giving employees the freedom to work from anywhere at any time is more than a trend — it’s the next big front in the talent wars. Fostering meaningful connections across geographic and even psychological boundaries reduces a lot of friction that can hinder people from achieving their goals. Also, keep in mind that employees expect the technology they use at work to be inviting, engaging and similar to the sites and apps they use in their personal lives. Now more than ever, IT departments are recognizing the value of interactive technology that is focused on people and communities. These more collaborative solutions are meeting today’s needs and delivering real business results.

2. Empower and engage employees. So many companies are sitting on ideas to solve big problems or capture new opportunities, which are buried in too many organizational layers and silos. Startups are known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing the value of company-wide transparency. But now, all types of businesses are realizing that when you make decisions openly and inclusively, it’s a competitive advantage. The best ideas can come from all corners of the company — and now they can rise to the top quickly and openly. Companies that successfully engage people in this way and give them tools to move work forward towards commonly shared goals gain a real competitive advantage. Their employees are more productive, more committed to the company’s mission, and more likely to stick around.

3. Engage customers on their own terms. Organizations that use technology to communicate and collaborate internally will also seek to bring those rich, interactive conversations out their customers. This is super important, because technology and access to information have shifted the balance of power between businesses and their buyers. It’s not just about who you think you are as a company, but who you are in the minds of your customers. It’s no surprise that engaged customers represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth. The best way to engender loyalty is to encourage meaningful conversations so that you can better understand your customers’ challenges and perceptions. With this in mind, online customer engagement communities are a great tool for informing business strategies, extending reach and building brand loyalty. While only 30% of companies have active customer communities today, that number is expected to rise to 80% by 2017.

The power of connection and the future of work

So how do these rules play out in real companies? “Transparency and knowledge sharing are keys to any company’s success,” says Chuck Stephens, the Program Manager for Humana’s Digital Center of Excellence. That transparency helped the insurance provider land coveted spots on both Becker Hospital Review’s 150 Great Places to Work in Healthcare in 2016 and Computerworld’s 2015 Best Places to Work in IT. And we have seen this play out in other industries as well. For example, Costco has been outperforming some of its biggest competition over the past ten years by paying workers more and training them better. These are just two examples of how much leadership and culture matter. It’s so essential for the c-suite to recognize their modern workforce’s expectations and proactively work to align people around the company mission. A good way to start this process is to find a key passion point for employees. Figure out what they think needs to change about your company, and let them work on it with you and own the change.

Thankfully we’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of our technology. That said, shiny new tools alone won’t make a real impact on your business if you don’t focus on the human element. Smart companies are keeping their eyes on a bigger-picture transformation. Technology enables change in critical ways, but it’s the power of people and culture that bring it to life. So, in a way, technology has brought us full circle — back to how we operate as people and embrace our relationships, connections and ideas to accomplish our goals.