15th July 2021
Civica’s Kirsty Fowler explores the challenges of employee engagement in the future workplace and how smart data is the answer.
There’s no doubt that the typical world of office working has changed for good post COVID-19. For everyone tired of the daily commute or demands to be in the workplace five days a week, the shift towards home working made necessary by the pandemic has brought in a level of flexibility and choice not seen before.
From a better work-life balance to the choice of where and when we work, for some of us it’s been a breath of fresh air. From my own experience, while it’s been hard to adapt to full remote working, I’ve certainly enjoyed the benefits of not sitting in my car for over 15 hours a week travelling around the UK for meetings which can be completed remotely. But I’ve also had to use this ‘spare’ time wisely, a balance between answering a few more emails, but also walking the dog a little bit longer each day.
Keeping people on board
But one key factor which we ignore at our peril is employee engagement. With the majority of people working remotely for a prolonged period, how do we keep the culture of organisations alive? And what happens to collaboration, career ambitions and retaining the best people? A recent survey by Aviva found that 47% of employees were less career-focused because of the pandemic, with half of people saying the boundary between work and home had become increasingly blurred.
These are the big issues which came out in our own recent research of HR professionals. The findings showed how the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the HR function and shifted priorities. HR leaders gave their views on how they’d coped with the challenges of the past 18 months and how tech has helped them overcome these issues.
Mirroring the post COVID-19 workplace as a whole, HR teams had to deal with both the transition to home working themselves, while doing so for the entire workforce, ensuring employees were set up correctly and able to establish a healthy work-life balance. In fact, 82% of survey respondents cited managing teams remotely as the biggest challenge they’d faced over the past 12 months, while 63% saw changing working practices as the biggest challenge to come.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. One of the most striking stats was that 84% of respondents cited mental health and wellbeing issues as having a major impact on the workforce. So it’s no surprise that more companies (22%) plan to invest in occupational health technologies, such as wellbeing apps and services in the near future.
Joined up data in the cloud
This smart HR technology can bring real benefits. Better use of data within organisations can benefit employee engagement and mental wellbeing – for example through time management software to see who is consistently working overtime and encouraging individuals to adopt a better work-life balance. Data insights can also help us understand current resource better and analyse employee engagement across the business, such as any issues with onboarding or spikes in attrition.
The benefits of moving to the cloud are also plain to see. The cloud not only allowed employees to switch to homeworking with relative ease, but also offered extra resilience by providing a secure platform for organisations to move their data and assets onto. By moving HR systems, such as recruitment, payroll and time management software to the cloud, IT specialists no longer had to be on site to manage protected, personal data housed in on-site servers, increasing flexibility in the workforce.
Mobile apps allow two-way communication and for employees to perform simple tasks such as booking leave and submitting expenses, while online training and onboarding modules can help with welcoming people into your organisation when face-to-face meetings may not be possible. Employees are no longer solely focussed on upwards career paths, with many wanting to grow and develop their career through taking on new opportunities or learning new skills. This is where online learning hubs can help people interact and up-skill in a digital world.
To some extent, COVID-19 has ripped up the rule book. Our workplace has shifted irreversibly and, as society at large begins to open up further this summer, the future direction of travel really sits in the hands of the employee. Attracting and retaining the best people through improved engagement will need a flexible approach in future. Technology – and what we do with it – will become even more crucial. This digital-first approach will both boost engagement and help teams manage business operations more effectively, with a forward-thinking culture based on data-driven decisions.
Kirsty Fowler is Managing Director, HR and Payroll at Civica.
Read the latest report, Empowering the workforce: HR technology in a blended working world, here.