By Francis Li
According to a recent Gallup survey, 54 percent of North American employees do not feel engaged at work. The major contributors to engagement are pretty obvious: compensation and benefits, immediate co-worker and reporting relationships, and employee recognition among them. However, there are several ‘soft’ factors that many employers don’t realize have a big impact, too.
These factors – such as work-life balance, a flexible work week, and simply being given the tools and technology to feel productive and able to do their best work – can make a huge difference in employees' overall job satisfaction.
The integration of mobile devices and cloud apps into our work and personal lives creates enormous potential in this regard. We can collaborate better and more efficiently. We can manage our workloads better and seamlessly work from any device and anywhere. But cloud has also given rise to the notion that employees are always accessible, always on – blurring the lines of what constitutes a work day and tipping the scales of work-life balance. Certainly, we’ve all heard stories that support this idea, but – as is often the case when talking technology – it’s really the managers establishing poor work practices that are to blame and not the technology itself.
In fact, a recent study from Softchoice found a positive correlation between the use of cloud applications—think Box, Evernote, and Office 365—and employee engagement. The more apps a person used for work, the more likely they were to report having an optimal work-life balance, being more productive, and having higher levels of satisfaction with their current employer.
The study finds 74 percent of employees who use apps for work say they are happy in their jobs compared to just 19 percent of employees who don’t use apps at all. Similarly, 75 percent of employees who use up to five apps to do their jobs say they have an optimal work-life balance (that rises to 85 percent among workers who use six or more apps), compared to 59 percent of employees who don’t use apps at all.
This isn’t to say that the cloud is somehow the magic solution to employee engagement challenges. However, cloud technology does enable employees to work more on their terms – how they want, when they want and where they want – than ever before. That kind of autonomy and its impact on work-life balance, productivity and collaboration does have a tangible impact on engagement.
As I mentioned, however, the key to leveraging the cloud to benefit your employees and your business is more about managing people, not the technology itself. Businesses looking to leverage cloud to keep employees focused and satisfied in their work should follow three important guidelines.
1. Take the vending machine approach
Employees always prefer to be given a choice. Selecting which cloud apps to use for work is no different. Our study finds that employees who get to choose their own apps for work are twice as likely to be happy as employees who don’t. However, giving employees unrestricted access to any app they choose increases the risk of security breaches and data loss that can hurt the company.
Instead, consider the vending machine approach. Your IT department stocks a secure environment with application options that are safe for employee consumption. IT provides as many varieties as possible in various categories (productivity, storage, collaboration, etc.), and leave the ultimate choice to the employee.
2. Comfort is key
Our study finds that employees who use the same apps for work and personal use are also twice as likely to be happy in their work as those that don’t. Most of us have our own smartphones and apps we like to use to manage tasks and to-dos outside the office. It’s natural for employees to want to use the same apps to enhance their professional lives, too.
When you’re stocking the cloud ‘vending machine’ it’s important to consider including apps that employees are already familiar with. If there a popular consumer app employees favor, but doesn’t meet enterprise standards for security, it’s important to provide reasonable alternatives that will be intuitive for employees to use.
3. Communicate benefits and best practices
The most important step is the least technical. Organizations must communicate the risks of using non-sanctioned cloud apps for work but, more importantly, also communicate the benefits of using the apps from the approved list (vending machine), and how they integrate seamlessly into their workloads and make their jobs easier. Open and frequent communication mitigates the risk of employees going rogue and working in the cloud beyond the reach or knowledge of IT.
Just as important as promoting good cloud choices is promoting good cloud behavior. Having access to work anywhere and anytime, doesn’t mean employees should also be accessible anywhere and anytime. People managers need to set expectations as to when it’s appropriate (if at all) to contact colleagues outside of the company’s typical office hours and when it’s expected for them to work remotely. Once the ground rules have been established, employees also need to learn when to “unplug” from the office, too.
Employee engagement is essential for an effectively-run business. Employers who keep their workers happy enjoy the best productivity levels and highest quality results. Introducing cloud technology solutions in the workplace is one great way to keep productivity levels high, but it’s important to understand that the process of implementing these technologies correctly is just as important as the technology itself.
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Francis Li is vice president of information technology at Softchoice. He manages the internal IT strategy for Softchoice while supporting all Internal IT functions which include infrastructure, enterprise systems development, eCommerce, business intelligence and CRM.