Sofia Lambrou
Oct 20, 2017 · 17 min read

Retain talent while activating your digital transformation

© Sasha Katz

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

In order to further grow employees’ abilities and willingness, it is almost inevitable not to mention the key parameter to the well being of any human being; happiness. Happiness is a concept that has long been misunderstood in previous settings of the workplace. Indeed, in previous centuries, the trend tended to bend towards authoritarian management styles, which supposed that employees naturally disliked working and thus needed to be tremendously supervised and controlled in order to attain results (Douglas McGregor, 1960). It would therefore be imaginable that focusing on their happiness would only lead them to work fewer hours and do nothing of value. This vision has nevertheless been challenged since, as well as proven to be wrong in current configurations. The current entrepreneurship trend is a concrete manifestation of its anti-thesis. Employees’ interest in their work needs to be nurtured, in order for them to be fully devoted to it. In this new dynamic, organizations have been engaging in more participative and positive management styles. These styles appear to become more crucial as changes are constantly being asked from workers, and changes strategies delicate to implement. Thus, happiness or employee satisfaction might need to be considered as a strong measurable variable in the quest of maximized productivity.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Tackling meaningfulness and effective leadership

© Mathew Lucas

1) Most of our Economy Relies on People

Not only because it is people that build and nurture it, but also because 76.2% of its wealth relies on third-sector activities (INSEE, 2015), in which any efficient value proposition is indistinguishable from people.

2) Engagement Results in Advocacy

A company which engages itself in its employees’ fulfilment fosters loyalty and naturally encourages its work force to support it and become its best advertisement to potential candidates and clients. As Simon Sinek explains, “The leaders control the circle of safety. To be the leader, you have to belong to our tribe. We have to feel like you serve us, and we would happily serve you” (Simon Sinek: How Extraordinary Leaders Evolve, Inc.com).

3) A Relaxed Employee is More Likely to be Resilient

According to Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielan “Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure” (Harvard Business Review, 2016). As they highlight it, “The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful. Research has found that there is a direct correlation between lack of recovery and increased incidence of health and safety problems. And lack of recovery — whether by disrupting sleep with thoughts of work or having continuous cognitive arousal by watching our phones — is costing our companies $62 billion a year (that’s billion, not million) in lost productivity”.

4) Happiness and productivity are measurably positively correlated

In his book “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn Anchor demonstrated that happiness raises any business outcome: sales by 37%, productivity by 31% and accuracy on tasks by 19% (Langley Group, 2014). According to him, a brain is more efficient when a person feels positive as emotions influence thinking (Fast Company, 2015).

In their book “All in: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results” consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton stress the need for leaders to foster what they call the “E+E+E” (Forbes, 2012). They further explain: “The Es stand for engaged, enabled and energized. Engaged means the employee is attached to the company and willing to put out extra effort. Enabled means that the company environment supports the employee’s productivity and performance, and energized means that the employee feels a sense of well-being and drive”. The authors presented complying empirical evidence showing that companies which scored high on engagement has margins that “were three times higher than companies with low ones” (Forbes, 2012).

HOW CAN IT BE ACHIEVED?

Building on the digital transformation to achieve employee engagement

1) Cultivating Empowerment and Autonomy

According to Liz Wiseman, a linear correlation could be established between the level of challenge provided to employees and their level of satisfaction at their workplace (Harvard Business Review, 2014). This was already established in 2008 in the research performed by Richard M Ryan, Veronika Huta and Edward L. Deci in which autonomy and mastery are defined as the main components of happiness for employees at their workplace (Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, 2008). Therefore, trust and increased freedom could be key parameters in organizations’ everlasting productivity quest. This means that constant control and intrusive monitoring could be constitute bridles in this quest.

Furthermore, according to Gallup, 40% of employees who spend more than 90 minutes getting home from work “experienced worry for much of the previous day” and present recurrent neck or back problems (Primary State, 2011). According to the Office for National Statistics, “Holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average, than non-commuters” (The Guardian, 2014). Yet, according to the RATP the average time spent in transportation for most Ile de France located workers is precisely of an average 90 minutes (Metro News, 2014), while according to the INSEE, 1/3 of them work in large corporations — more than 5 000 employees-scaled — (Challenges, 2012). Therefore, the empirical data cited could suggest French large-scale companies’ workers are forced to perform long distance commutes to get to their workplaces, directly affecting their level of anxiety and consequently of satisfaction, ultimately decreasing their level of productivity.

© Oliver Wendel

The Digital View: From Cross-Screening to Full Physical Mobility

According to the Statistic Brain Institute (2015) more than 64% of adults personally own a smart phone and 76% of them think mobile technology is mostly helpful (“Consumer electronics product ownership”, 2015). Moreover, almost 40% of people check their smartphones less than every 30 minutes and 29% of them state that it also is the first and the last thing they look at each day (Statistic Brain Institute, “Consumer electronics product ownership”, 2015).

At a time when working outside of the workplace is increasing and the need for autonomy is ever-present — due to either the nature of the work itself, unforeseen events or the high amount of time spent on transportation — whilst the amount of work asked of employees is skyrocketing, companies need to be able to provide them with tools they are able to use both when and where they need them.

Examples of implementation:

  • Providing the employees with professional mobile laptops and smart mobile devices;
  • Conceiving customized professional mobile applications (ex: Pairing them with their ERPs, enabling the contextualization of data and working on the sensory aspect of applications, like voice recognition);
  • Switching to Cloud storage, making data accessible anytime and anywhere needed;
  • Using The Windows Continuum, which enables to use a smartphone or a tablet as a PC;
  • Offering docking stations for every digital device.

2) Fostering Relatedness

In a study directed by Gallup, researchers have found that close work friendships increase employee satisfaction by 50% and people who create strong bonds with their co-workers are “seven times more likely to engage fully in their work” (Harvard Business Review, 2013). “I’ve been visiting some amazing organizations that seemed to defy all logic, that didn’t have layoffs in the bad economy — a tech company in NYC, a manufacturing company in the Midwest, the Marine Corp. boot camp. I noticed a pattern: Inside all these organizations, the people who work there feel safe. They feel that the person to the left of them and the person to the right would protect them if something happened. We always confront danger every day, in life and in business. When we feel safe, remarkable things start to happen.” (Simon Sinek: How Extraordinary Leaders Evolve, Inc.com).

Communication and collaboration are thus considered as being important at work for more than 89% of knowledge workers (Orange Business Services), and 65% of them declare they should be able to share their information and ideas openly. Elisa Ara Fontaine (Microsoft) confirms this statement by adding, “The thing is we need to evolve our culture to be more open to not judging what people contribute. So, when we show them that the place is safe, then they’ll start contributing. (…) I think the solution can be evolving to more collaborative and less judgmental culture if possible”.

Teambuilding and fostering positive interactions can thus be a driver of employee happiness. This related to a certain sense of common purpose and a resulting need for efficient collaboration towards the set common goal.

© Kostas Papaioannou

The Digital View: Social Media Networks and Strong Digital Communities at the Core of the Workplace

As Elisa Ara Fontaine (Microsoft) suggests, “Social is a new way of creating a sense of belonging. Because we are not meeting in person that much, we need a new way and social is that way“. According to a study (2008) on the psychological impact of social media, digital social networks might have the ability to spread the happiness across the workplace. Indeed, the happiness of one spreads to the others, with the capacity of increasing their level of happiness to 18% and up to three degrees further within a given network (Nicholas A. Christakis & James H. Fowler, “Social Networks and Happiness”, Edge — Harvard University & UC San Diego, 2008).

Moreover, building strong social media networks can often also translate into facilitating communications with foreign countries, as well as nurturing strong communities, thus resulting in the reinforcement of the company’s corporate culture. It has nevertheless been observed that 63% of companies don’t have a social media policy, whilst 75% of employees access social media at least once a day (Agence des Médias Sociaux). At a time when social media and digital communities are at the centre of social interaction, the building of a strong digital social network appears to be one of companies’ most important stakes when it comes to increasing their employees’ productivity and satisfaction.

Examples of implementation:

  • Corporate telepresence tools enabling e-learning, video-conferencing and technical assistance (ex: WebMex, Skype for enterprises);
  • Project management platforms using visual management (ex: Slack, Basecamp, Trello, etc.);
  • Enabling co-creation through open-source interactive platforms, therefore enabling the creation of synergies between departments and thus both boosting innovation and reducing the margin of error (ex: Intrapreneuring platforms, Autodesk’s Building Information Modeling — BIM — in the construction sector);
  • Owned or outsourced professional social media networks, Virtual “Who’s Whos” and real-time digital chats (ex: Yammer, Jive, Engage, Linkedin; Sametime, etc.);
  • Digital experience programs built to integrate all previously cited features in one single platform designed to match user-experience prerequisites (ex: the IBM Employee experience suite);
  • Visual management and Design Thinking inspired tools, which would replace screenshots by actual drawing of ideas to make them easier to understand by others.

3) Making them Feel “Like at Home”

On average, people will spend more than 90,000 hours at their workplace throughout our lifetime (Happiness at Work, Psychology Today). Such data suggests that their workspace requires a certain level of sense of belonging and well-being.

© Eduard Militaru

The Digital View: Placing the User Experience Hierarchy of Needs at the Very Core of the Workplace

As previously mentioned, nowadays, people, and especially employees, are continuously being overflowed with data. Year by year, this observation gets stronger translating into them feeling overwhelmed with these quantities of information, thus impacting their capacity to stay focused and efficiently processing the given material. Recent studies show that the human being’s average attention span dropped from 12 to 8 seconds from the year 2000 as well as that only 28% of words are actually been red on an average webpage (Statistic Brain Research Institute, “Attention span statistics”, 2015). This makes it crucial for any company to provide its employees with simple and ready-to-use digital working tools.

Moreover, as people get more and more personally well equipped in terms of technology, employees are truly likely to be more demanding of their companies when it comes to their workplace. Indeed, according to the Statistic Brain Institute, 66% of adults own a computer and more than 73% percent of them also own homes wireless Internet (“Consumer electronics product ownership rate”, 2015). It is therefore justifiable that these same people might ask for at least the same level of equipment than their own from their employers.

Stephen Anderson’s User Experience Hierarchy of Needs (2010), Illustration by Ben Jordan

Examples of implementation:

  • Enabling people to personalize their workspace. According to Elisa Ara Fontaine (Country Manager Community Director, Microsoft) “It is a question of retaining the best talent, so it’s a retention strategy or attractive workplace strategy, and it’s optimizing the productivity”. Companies such as Hermès use their sense of aesthetics to make the workspace more pleasant for employees and encourage them to personalize it with their own items.
  • Shifting from UI (User Interface) designers — who focus on visual design — have slowly been replaced by UX designers — who match visual design purposes to the structure, scope and strategy of an interface, in terms of soft-ware designing (ex: Building interfaces through the examination of “users’ journey” and thus proposing cross-tool experiences);
  • Using of state-of-the-art hard-ware and smart objects to match the employees’ high expectations (ex: Replacing old PCs with the latest Macintosh’s for graphic designers, using different types of screens like touch screens, using “sit-to-stand” desks, using customized mousses to match the employees hand anatomy);
  • The “If you can’t beat them, join them approach: The gamification of the workplace (ex: The LiveHelpNow Challenge designed by LifeHelpNow). According to recent studies gamifying the workplace can lead to a 40% increase in employees’ performance (Busines Insider, 2013). Several companies such as Google and other Silicon Valley cultured organizations are known to soften the physical and digital workplace, making it less formal in order for people to feel more relaxed and able to interact in a more positive way.
  • Using natural environments to foster well-being. According to a study developed by University of Melbourne researchers, being in contact with nature increases productivity (Harvard Business Review, 2015). Indeed, the study reported that when being able to look at natural environments concentration levels raise by 6%, while they drop down to 8% when being deprived from it. Environmental psychology has named this phenomenon Biophilia. It is a practise that has proven to be quite efficient, fostering sustainable triggers of productivity, while not given the necessary attention. Surveys report a 13% increase of well-being for individuals with natural elements at their workplace (Human Spaces Institute, 2015). According to this same study Biophilia Design reduces turnover due to departures or sick leaves. Plants for instance are known to filter indoor air, resulting in the reduction of the air pollution. This along with natural outdoor light reduces stress and muffles the noise (Harvard Business Review, 2015).

Another study shows that contact with nature allows increases such as 15% in terms of creativity, which is a direct innovation booster (HOK, 2015).

“Where Ideas Happen” (Upping Your Elvis, 2015)

This phenomenon can be linked to the positive correlation established by neuroscientists between relaxation — mind wandering — and creativity. Indeed, studies show that the most innovative ideas come when the mind is at rest, rather than when over stimulated, reporting that 44% of people get creative in bed, 30% when walking and 18% when being in nature, while only 6% manage to have ideas during meetings (see illustration 2). Surprisingly, fostering innovation thus might be made through more time spent outside of the office rather than in brainstorming sessions. In the midst of a digital transformation in which people are overwhelmed by the high quantities if data they are daily confronted to, this observation is not to be taken lightly. This contradicts the current workplace configuration and processes of most large-scale companies. This data would suggest the need of breaking certain corporate paradigms, to the profit of new innovation-boosting methods.

WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?

The future is now

Full mobility, autonomy and design thinking self-expression

It is about empowering the people to believe in themselves as well as in the purpose of the organization, while providing them with user-friendly nomad devices and platforms that will allow them to embrace this autonomy.

Several examples of technologies could be cited, such as:

  • Tablets and Smartphones with applications, which would allow access to all of the necessary information (dashboards, e-mails, files, archives, Who’s Whos, etc.);
  • Applications which would allow to send any type of information — such as a files — and express an idea in the most visual and personal way from anywhere and at anytime. The sharing of ideas in such a form could be made possible through a design thinking and lean management inspired application, which would allow them to screenshot, draw, write and animate the contents in the desired way. This would be especially interesting in the context of technical support, which would need to be extremely well adapted to this enhanced mobility;
  • These nomad tools would benefit from user-experience inspired functionalities, which would allow employees to draw the line between their professional and personal lives, while always staying connected (ex: a phone that would ring if the person is the direct recipient to the e-mail, replacing the infobesity created by heavy mailboxes with the lightness and simplicity of visual communication, etc.);
  • Augmented reality would allow employees to get in touch with their co- workers, especially when located in foreign countries, in more personal and direct manner, in order to fluidify communications.

Punctual solo teleworking

As shown by this research and as proven feasible by current and future technologies, teleworking can have genuinely positive outcomes on employees’ productivity and creativity, as long as it isn’t implemented as an absolute method. Therefore an interesting future measure to be considered would be offering the chance to punctually work from home. Various configurations could be imagined according to the organizations’ challenges and prerogatives. A simple example could be the instauration of an optional non-cumulative teleworking day per month. This would allow people to get the chance to organize their work more calmly, as well as to breathe and stimulate their minds outside of the office.

Punctual team co-working workshops

As previously demonstrated, co-working spaces foster valuable dynamics such as the sense of community, openness and collaboration. Thus, organizations could benefit of such dynamics through the organization of punctual team co- working workshops, in a similar manner Visa and The Chicago Tribune have been starting to do. Teams could be invited to use co-working spaces in the process of steering a specific project. The space would be chosen accordingly to the project’s specifics (innovation, creativity, quietness, contact with nature, networking, being closer to foreign collaborators by choosing a space located in their city or country, etc.). The team could make this decision jointly with their manager and the organization of the setting could be entrusted to one of the team members (a different one each time), in order to foster empowerment and encourage teambuilding. In this dynamic, new services could be provided by co- working spaces to these teams, such as targeted coaches, innovation, teambuilding or lean management experts, in order to offer the teams with external views and constructive feedbacks on their working practices. Such a service could be included by the paid fee for the use of the space in the form of a package. Such workshops could even include targeted other teams or members of other departments of the company, in order to create synergies between disciplines and create a stronger bonding within the organization. Once again, many different timeframe configurations could be imagined, according to the company’s criteria. One example would be to see them as more proactive forms of seminars which would occur once a year, according to the needs of new projects, on limited periods of time such as one to three months.

After these workshops, the teams could be invited to share the experience with their co workers in the form of a conference or an interactive e-learning video, aimed to make the company aware of new practices, new talents and new visions.

Such a practice could result in the mutualisation and thus reduction of operational costs, as the employees wouldn’t physically be in the company’s offices.

Integrating innovation thinking inside the company’s culture

Even though designs thinking researchers and lean professionals have struggled to make their way inside companies, recent events suggest they might play a key role in companies’ change management strategies. Therefore, the next step would be to fully integrate those principles within the company’s corporate culture and constantly encourage self-expression, creativity and an ultimate natural dare in terms of breaking paradigms. This requires fully participative management styles, which will allow people to feel part of the changes and leave their unique imprint in the company’s development. According to Howard Gardner, as well as to numerous Harvard Business Review articles, the valuation of diversity, as well as of concepts such as uniqueness and multiple intelligence could be a key to cracking the complex code of change. In such a configuration, efficient managers and leaders become coaches who guide their co-workers in their own professional development. Such a dynamic would accustom people to step out of their comfort zone and thus be more able to accept and address change.

Building smart and flexible offices

As previously mentioned, one of the possible future expectations resides in the collaboration and even the merging of a diverse range of professions, to the profit of enhanced new visions. In this configuration, workplace buildings could be built as a result of the collaboration between architects, IT developers, UX designers, psychologists and neuroscientists. The common aim would be to serve concepts such as flexibility, sustainability and innovation in an environment where digital and physical space are merged for a maximized experience and efficiency. The walls would be adapted to design thinking methods allowing key note drawings, in order to avoid missing ideas; the spaces would be organized in themes (silent zone, relaxing zone, innovation zone, standing zone, sitting zone, etc.), which would have the ability to be changeable and adaptable to the needs of people and their projects; the furniture would be a nomad one and so will be the digital devices which would have been chosen to match the spaces’ configuration; nature would constitute a key component in various forms, according to the possibilities of the location; for the purposes of certain companies, the buildings could even been fragmented in different locations and adapted to them, and people could choose their location according to the distance from their homes, in order to minimize the consequences of long commuting. Many ideas can, are being and will be developed. The key to their feasibility resides in the capacity of differentiating a true constraint or need from a paradigm or a simple arte fact.

If combined with previously cited teleworking initiatives such as punctual team co-working space workshops, organizations could even imagine mutualizing structural costs. Indeed, if the use of co-working spaces proves to be efficient and is punctually implemented by companies, a rotation could be established between the teams in the physical spaces of their buildings, allowing them to own either smaller spaces, either enriched ones, as the saved funds could serve to finance new innovative ideas which seemed unfeasible before.

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Change, along with increased efficiency starts with employees. What if you turned the threats that they perceive into opportunities meant for their own satisfaction?

Bolk

Paris-based Product Design studio formed of passionate independent workers.

Sofia Lambrou

Written by

Product Designer & Manager. Merging Analytical Thinking and Creative Approaches to build the products & services of tomorrow ☄

Bolk

Bolk

Paris-based Product Design studio formed of passionate independent workers.

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