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Employee Engagement 04 June 2014

New technology: out of control or in balance?

The rise of digital technology is changing the word 'work' from a noun to a verb...

Most businesses are aware of the rise of social media, and how it means that organisations are no longer the true – or only – owners of their brand.  At any time, through their tablet or mobile, customers can comment on your company, your products, your people; and whether that’s good feedback or bad, it will be seen by others in their social sphere and affect the perception people have of your company.

Losing control can be positive

And this makes me think; if pervasive digital technology means we no longer control our own brands, what does this mean for our people? If our staff have laptops which they can carry anywhere, smartphones which means they can access their emails day and night, and have the technology to conduct conference calls from their own home, a coffee shop, or even their car…do we really ‘own’ how our people work? And should we?

In more traditional organisations I speak with, I can sometimes sense a fear of ‘letting go’ or losing control of people. A sense that, if team members don’t share the same physical office space for 40 hours a week, their projects will suffer, along with their working relationships and their feeling of belonging to the organisation. If we let people drift from the typical work environment, will they begin to feel so separate from the organisation that they’ll become unfocused, unproductive, and maybe even look to work elsewhere?

Well – I say, definitely not!

To work - a verb, not a noun

I say, let’s use technological advancements to set us all free – from the notion of the 9am-5pm working week, from sitting in the same seat at the same desk in the same office for years on end, from missing out on our children’s school plays and sports days.  Essentially “work” becomes a verb not a noun (i.e. a place where you have to physically be.)

Why would we equip our people with all of the latest technology, and not encourage them to use it to live their lives and get the job done? As far as I am concerned, if deadlines are met, customers are responded to immediately and we’re all working together well, why would I mind if people work from home, or split the day and work after their kids are in bed, or even respond to some emails from the dentist’s waiting room? (ouch!)

Blending technology with a strong culture

As is often the case the technology is neutral; what is more important is the intent and motivation that an organisation has behind its use.  If we remove the “shackles” of a controlling mindset and focus on how to empower and enable people to be more productive, that’s when we will truly realise the benefits of the technology.

If you have established a strong organisational culture that people feel they are connected to, and understand their part in, I think losing control of your people is a fundamental way to make them feel more engaged, appreciated and that we support their attempt to find the work-life balance that is right for them.

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