Workplace 2.0: The New Reality

This Throwback Thursday article is from the Fall 2013 issue of The Partner Channel Magazine. Catch the most current issue for more great sales, marketing, and leadership tips!

It’s not about workspaces, hierarchy, benefits, pay, vacation time, promotions, or even titles anymore. The new workplace is different; however, different doesn’t mean deficient. Think about it – the world of work has access to more information 24/7, more diversity, more technology, more college graduates, more flexibility to work virtually, more generations in the workplaces, global span and local depth, broad and viral communication channels like social media, tele-presence workers, green and sustainability expectations (it’s no longer an option in most cases), highly educated customers, shifting healthcare needs and provisions, different buying habits and patterns (for heaven’s sake, more cars are bought on than at the local car dealer), on-demand TV (commercials are a thing of yesterday), on-demand information (who reads the paper…when you want information, you get it, you don’t let someone else determine it), and employees that are just not like they used to be or maybe just have a different way of thinking about their role in your company. With all that opportunity, how does a company successfully drive company performance, exceed customer expectations, and create a satisfied and engaged workforce?

As Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said “Any company trying to compete must figure out a way to engage the mind of every employee.”  Building the Workplace 2.0 by engaging the mind is a start. The next step is engaging the employee’s soul.

With that being said, Gallup Poll recently did a survey on employee engagement and found that a startling 76 percent of the professional workforce is unengaged or actively disengaged (meaning they would take another job as soon as they could)!

But why are so many professionals unengaged? Is it money, benefits, workplace conditions, competing demands? Global research by Towers Watson found that the single highest drive of employee engagement is whether managers are genuinely interested in their employees’ well-being. The research also found that less than 40 percent of employees felt that support. In addition to employee well-being, we can’t ignore how the world of work has changed. It’s confusing. We live in a virtual world, where 70 percent of all work is done from a mobile device. And yet, the CEO of Yahoo banned virtual work teams and mandated that all workers come to a brick-and-mortar office. We have more talent in the workforce than ever – five generations; however, most would consider that a huge obstacle. We have a community of 1 billion Facebook users, yet most employers are banning Facebook at the workplace even though research indicates that companies that allow employees to seamlessly integrate their home and work life have more productive employees.

Daniel Pink, famous author of “The Whole New Mind”, said we no longer live in the information age; we live in “the conceptual age”.  I would argue that we have surpassed that, and we live in an integrated age. We have integrated software, integrated cross-functional teams, integrated vendor and company models, integrated personal and professional lives, etc. So, with the engagement issue, the confusing workplace models, and a new era of integration, how does a company create a competitive advantage by upgrading to Workplace 2.0?! 

Although it may not be a magical solution or an easy solution, it’s a place to start. In a recent survey of college students (conducted by Robertson Company), students (your future employees) indicated they wanted three things:

  • Trust and Respect
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Flexible Work Arrangements

In my estimation, to accomplish trust, respect, teamwork, collaboration, and flexible work arrangements, the place to start is:

  • Engaging their Leadership
  • Bridging the Gap
  • Innovation

If you engage their leadership, they are the latchkey to the culture and the motivation of the workforce. How do you engage your leader? Research would indicate that leadership engagement is a result of involving all levels of leaders in decisions. Do you include your front-line managers in discussions about customers and the strategic direction of the company, or do you just lock your most removed leaders like CEOs and VPs into a corporate meeting room and create reams of PowerPoint presentations indicating what you “should” do?

Do you train your managers? It is always amazing that we will send technical people to weeks and weeks of training on a product for thousands and thousands of dollars, but when we promote them to manager, we just assume they know what they are doing. Your best investment will be working with your front-line managers and making the best leaders in your companies. As research indicates, the relationship with your direct manager determines whether you are engaged and/or have retention issues. All levels of management should be trained; however, the ROI is with your front-line managers – the keepers of your customers and your employees. Often executives will pay top dollar for an executive coach, which is excellent because their impact is so broad; however, why not spend top dollar on getting your top front-line managers a coach. Send them to the best training! Give them the skills to do their job!

The second way you create an engaged workforce is to bridge the gap. Bridge the gap between generations, bridge the gap between personal and professional work life balance, and bridge the gap between technologies. If we can tap the five generations in the workplace and create a respectful, non-blaming, non-stereotyping environment, we may have the most brilliant minds engaged at all levels, where experience meets novice in ways that propel competitive marketplace advantages. Microsoft is talking about “seamless”, and although that word is overused and often said with a sarcastic slant, it is no longer about work-life balance or work-life blur. It is about having a company that has a seamless experience between both because they are almost impossible to separate and almost impossible to manage separately. San Francisco has put Wi-Fi in its parks. More work is done on a cell phone than any other device. Whether we like it or not, it is reality. How can companies create a culture that integrates both without employees feeling like they are “tied” to the company 24/7 or “banned” from using Facebook as a communication tool while working? They can’t.

Lastly, the workplace is indeed different, which calls for unprecedented workplace models. A group of manufacturers and transportation professionals (truck drivers) that I recently spoke to were encouraged to entertain 9-month contracts with their employees in order to reduce burnout and become more attractive than white collar professional jobs. Nine months of work, 12 months compensated. Imagine if teachers were not the only ones who got summers “off”. Also, many teacher contracts have been re-written to indicate that the teachers are contracted for nine months, but not necessarily from August to May. It might be January to August depending on summer school demands. In Fargo, ND, a small business owner recently gave his employees 500 hours to do with whatever they want, in addition to their vacation and PTO. Wow! If research indicates that engagement is directly tied to how much you care about the well-being of your employees, maybe the most revolutionary idea is to “love your employees as much as your profit.”  Imagine a workforce that is a competitive edge because they are all “in it to win it” as much as the CEO because they feel they are as important and as vital to the business.

In the end, people rarely remember what you did, but they always remember how you made them feel. Novel? Maybe or maybe not. Competitive? Definitely.

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