Employee engagement is central to the new way of work

Microsoft's Colin Erasmus says successfully navigating the future requires collaboration with employees.

Colin Erasmus, Modern Workplace Business Group Lead at Microsoft South Africa says keeping people connected has been a recurring theme over the past year amidst the shift to an increasingly distributed and digital work environment.

But rather than focusing on the traditional concept of productivity, there is a shift towards the employee experience and helping people be the best they can be.

Employees want to be engaged. They want to collaborate, they want to understand what is going on, and they want to learn and build knowledge capital. However, this must now happen without the social structures of an office environment. By investing in people, and the employee experience, companies can directly impact engagement, retention, customer satisfaction, and profitability. When people thrive, business thrives.

According to Microsoft’s Work Reworked research published at the end of 2020, 88 percent of leaders at large enterprises in South Africa expect they will adopt a more hybrid way of working permanently. It is estimated that people will spend less than half their time (42 percent) outside a traditional office setting. One of the reasons why employees still want to go to the office is to maintain bonds with their colleagues.

Maintaining engagement

We are starting to see more employees returning to the office, albeit in limited volumes. Employee expectations, however, have changed and extreme flexibility will define a post-pandemic workplace.   At Microsoft, we believe that hybrid work is the future. Moving forward, we believe every organisation will need a new operating model for a hybrid environment. The need to maintain employee engagement will be of utmost importance. After all, engaged employees are happier, perform better, and are less likely to leave the organisation.

The employee experience must be cognisant of several essential components that speak to maintaining the wellbeing of individuals at a time where physical contact is not always possible. Now, more than ever, employees want to feel part of a team, but they also want to understand what success looks like in this hybrid environment. Furthermore, they must feel empowered by the technologies and tools available to them while still having scope to grow by upskilling themselves for the requirements of hybrid work. Combining this engagement, learning, and well-being are the cornerstones of this new era organisations are at the cusp of.

Business leaders must understand that this is not about individual technologies, tools, and collaboration. Instead, it entails tying everything together in the employee experience and thinking about individuals holistically.

Beyond the technology

The challenge around increased remote working has not been related to business continuity or productivity. Rather, the issue is around ensuring teams continue feeling tight-knit and connected to the pulse of a company’s culture. In fact, more than a third of South African business leaders admit to struggling with creating a strong and unified team culture as remote work has become more common.

Of course, technology is important. But more than that it is the organisational thinking that must change to better understand the requirements of a hybrid environment, the expectations of employees, and how to integrate this to deliver on a better employee experience. It is very much a case of bringing this experience into the tools employees use daily as part of their work and tying people operations (think human resources) into the entirety of the business.

Culture first

The focus has certainly been one of creating a culture of resilience following the impact of last year, but it must be sustainable. This is where a holistic approach to work is essential. This must account for the absence of a physical presence in a workplace while still creating a sense of culture and connection for employees. It now becomes about empowering the employee to do and be their best. Part of this involves centralising the employee experience and enabling teams to self-organise in ways that solve business challenges in more dynamic ways. By doing so, employees gain autonomy without losing the sense of shared purpose.

This is a journey towards establishing a platform that will become a new enterprise software category in much the same way that the likes of customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning have become. Technology will be the enabler to integrate what was once a fragmented workplace environment into one that deals more effectively with the flow of work. Now the focus is entirely on the daily needs of people at work to help the organisation create a thriving culture with engaged employees.

For more information visit: Employee Experience & Engagement - Microsoft Viva