Technology Can Help in the Future (Post-COVID) Workplace
As businesses slowly begin to reopen, we’ll eventually (once a vaccine is in place) get to a post-COVID-19 workplace. But that may not be completely back to normal, as many employees may have to or choose to continue working remotely.
According to the Global Workplace Analytics Work-from-Home Experience Survey in April 2020, 77% of the 3,000 employees interviewed want to continue working from home at least once a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.
So with a workforce that’s working from all ends of the earth and a smaller number in the workplace, the role of technology becomes even more important than it had already become in keeping employees safe and aware — and providing a holistic employee experience.
Real estate is an important aspect of any brick-and-mortar business. Companies want to know how employees are using (or not using) their space. And space costs a lot.
“Your biggest line item on your operating budget is your people and your real estate,” says Cerys Goodall, President and COO of Innerspace. “You want to get as many people into your space as possible and make sure they’re productive and happy, that they’re not walking around for 20 minutes trying to find a meeting room.”
That’s where Innerspace can help. Innerspace is software that measures the number of people in a building via a Wi-Fi signal. “We look for the presence of a laptop or a smartphone, or an asset tag if we’re tracking equipment,” says Goodall. “We’re measuring that signal and extrapolating data to understand how people and things are moving inside a building.”
But while this may seem “Big Brother-ish,” Goodall assures Innerspace doesn’t store any personally identifiable information in its system. “We make sure people’s privacy is protected,” she says. “It’s a passive system; it’s just looking for smartphone signals. We’re not tracking any individual person.”
This kind of data will be useful as businesses begin to reopen and enforce physical distancing measures.
There aren’t rule books or guidelines on what returning to work will look like, she says. Employers can put plans in place, but if there’s no way to measure, it defeats the purpose, she adds. For example, if an employer decides to bring back 10% of its workforce, “what happens if all 10% sit in one area together? How are you going to know?”
And, she adds, if there’s a second phase of the pandemic, this kind of technology is key — especially if there’s an outbreak in your office. If an employee found out she had COVID-19, the software can indicate how many people she had contact with directly and indirectly. Similarly, if employees are working from home and need to go into the office, they can see how many people are already there through a webpage or mobile app. Innerspace also offers digital signage within the building to present the same information.
But the beauty of Innerspace is that it’s passive. “You don’t have to download anything. It’s always on,” she says.
According to Goodall, it’s this passivity that separates this technology from the new contact tracing apps that are emerging. “The challenge will be getting people to download it, adopt it and use it — and we know that’s tricky,” she says.
“If you’re an employer, what you want is a passive system where people don’t have to download one more thing onto their phone,” she says. “You want your organization, as a community, to be participating for this to be effective.”
In the time of racial justice movements, diversity and inclusion are at the fore. And Everyday Inclusion, the new app from Moxie Exchange, can help. “The idea is to put the business of inclusion right in the palm of everybody’s hand, to move this idea of inclusion from feeling programmatic — it’s happening in training and then it’s done — to making it a habit,” says Maureen Berkner Boyt, Founder of Moxie Exchange.
“We know people are addicted to their technology, checking their phones 52 times a day,” says Berkner Boyt, “so why not have one of those times be an inclusion nudge?”
The app is designed for any kind or size of organization, and companies are charged a flat rate based on their size. “A company can be up and running in a matter of hours,” says Berkner Boyt. “There’s some light customization we do, but we don’t get behind your firewall. There are no security issues, and we can’t track back to individual users.”
It’s a safe and secure place to get information when you have a question or you don’t want to ask a team member because you’re embarrassed, she says. “You’re maybe thinking, ‘I should know this.’”
When employees download the app, they select the time and which days of the week they want to get their daily inclusion nudge. “The interesting thing is we’ve had users tell us they might not watch the nudge right then, but it’s a subconscious reminder. That was really a positive unintended consequence.”
According to Berkner Boyt, this app is the first of its kind. “We aren’t specific to one topic. We have [information on] unconscious bias [for example], but that’s only one part of the content.”
Another standout feature is that it’s “designed for every single person in the organization — from the CEO to your newest hire.” A lot of diversity and inclusion training is typically geared toward management, she says. “That’s great, [because] you have to be really intentional at your systems level, but inclusion and belonging are really built with how people treat one another day in and day out.”
The app has an inclusion calendar and a dictionary and language guide (over 35 pages). When COVID hit, Berkner Boyt says they added three or four definitions to the dictionary, including “Chinese flu — Don’t use.” “We just keep adding content that really meets the times.”
It provides practical advice on how to run an inclusive meeting or what to do when you see someone say or do something inappropriate, for example.
There are also inclusion interviews (about two-and-a half to three minutes long) about LGTBQ, race, gender, religion, disability or mental health related issues. “One of our interviews is with a person with a disability talking about what makes them feel included, what they wish people knew, and what they wish people would stop doing.”
Built-in gamification allows employees to share with peers when they’ve earned a badge. “It’s kind of positive peer pressure.”
Within the app, there’s a built-in inclusion post-survey of straightforward, feelings-based questions. Through a dashboard, organizations can see by role and by location how their employees are feeling and whether they’re feeling included. “And it’s emoji based,” says Berkner Boyt. “I don’t know what a ‘5’ feels like, but I know what a happy smiley green face emoji is versus a very sad red face.”
This can help companies to stay ahead of retention issues — even lawsuits, she says.
Berkner Boyt says although there is a wider racial justice movement throughout the world, there was already a mandate coming from both customers and employees asking about what they’re doing to be inclusive.
In addition, “traditional training was already on the way out. And now we can’t gather people in a room — and probably won’t be able to for long periods of time. So these little inclusion nudges are really the future of learning.”
Internal Tech Trends
It used to be that you climbed the “career ladder,” and then there was talk of moving across the “career lattice.” But now, says Helen Peng, Vice-President, Global Talent and Acquisition at Sun Life, “there are so many conversations around career experiences.”
Career experiences — or professional development — are one part of employee engagement. According to a survey by Randstad and Ipsos Public Affairs, more than one-quarter (28%) of employees said “investing in employees’ careers through training, professional development, or continuing education” was one of the most effective engagement tools.
That’s what Sun Life has done. Through one of the new features in its HR system, Workday, the insurance giant launched Opportunity Marketplace earlier this year. The functionality allows employees to see posted gigs (short-term assignments within the company) and apply.
Managers post small short-term assignments and, if an employee’s skills match, they complete the short-term task in addition to their regular jobs. “It’s only 10% of their work,” says Peng. “They can do it beside their full-time job. This way, they can get access to more opportunities and also try out something they haven’t experienced before. We want them to have this opportunity to broaden their career horizon.”
Currently, the HR and Communications departments have Opportunity Marketplace, but Sun Life plans to roll it out across the whole organization by the end of this year. In the first week of the launch, there were more than 20 gigs posted, and more than half are filled within that week.
Feedback has been great, says Peng. One employee said, “I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to learn something new, get the exposure to other teams, work beyond my typical day, and find new places to put my existing skills to work.”
“This really creates a platform for our employees and our hiring managers to break the silos, to connect with one another, and to get visibility of the skills and interests of our employees,” says Peng. “Even my own EA [executive assistant] is doing two extra gigs.”
Peng says these experiences are really the key for the future of work. “We’re looking at the skills employees have and the skills they need to acquire in the marketplace.
Opportunity Marketplace really enables employees to showcase their skills, increase their exposure and visibility, and give them opportunities to see beyond job postings and to perfect critical components of a stream of work,” she says.
“I often share with my team, you don’t work for me, you work for your CV,” she says. “All the experiences, the skills you acquire, the knowledge, are going to be on your CV — and no one will take that away from you.”
We all have trouble focusing from time to time, but just how much time is a company losing when its employees are unproductive and unfocused?
Udemy’s 2018 Workplace Distraction Report indicated that chatty coworkers (80%) and office noise (70%) were the top two distractors for employees in the workplace. But what about distractions when you work from home? Think talkative roommate or spouse, demanding children — or those dust bunnies multiplying under the sofa.
While FlexJobs’ 7th Annual Super Survey indicates that 65% of respondents said they’d be more productive working from home than working in the office, can employees truly be focused? Perhaps these apps can help.
What is it: The Forest app helps you to avoid your cellphone so you can stay focused on your work. The app is devised in a creative way: whenever you want to focus on work, plant a virtual seed in the app. As long as you don’t play with your phone (or leave the app), the seed will grow and develop into a virtual tree. And, you can compete with coworkers to see who can leave their phone alone the longest.
Why use it: Our phones have become an extension of our hands. According to staffing firm OfficeTeam, employees waste 56 minutes per day using their cellphone for non-work activities —that’s 17 minutes more than managers estimated their reports spend on their phones.
Cool fact: You can sponsor the planting of a real tree throughout the world through its team partner, Trees for the Future. This organization helps to “improve the livelihoods of impoverished farmers by revitalizing degraded lands.”
Available for: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Chrome, Firefox
What is it: Focusmate provides employees with a live accountability partner during a scheduled 50-minute uninterrupted work time. It ensures you show up and stay focused.
How it works: Once you set up your account, choose a time to schedule your block of work and select a workmate (or Focusmate can assign one for you). Be at your computer at the scheduled time (with video and audio on) to meet your work partner. Greet your accountability partner, explain what you’re working on and then get down to work. When the 50 minutes are up, share what you achieved and sign off.
Why use it: Research has shown that accountability to someone can help you complete a task. According to an American Society of Training and Development study on accountability, you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone.
Cool fact: According to Focusmate’s most recent survey, 95.5% of users reported a substantial increase in productivity.
Available for: Desktop (Chrome is strongly recommended) and Mobile – Android (Chrome); iOS, iPhone, iPad (Safari)
Cost: Free (for three one-hour sessions per week); $5/month (for unlimited number of sessions)[/restrict]