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Rethinking how to empower employees in a digital workforce

The pace of technological change means the physical and digital worlds are increasingly blurred. Employees now not only work in a physical workplace – but in a digital one too.

In March 2017, Microsoft partnered with LinkedIn to host sessions in Sydney and Melbourne to discuss this new digital workplace. Titled Rethinking How to Empower Your Employees, I was part of the panel discussion that explored how a digital workplace strategy can help organisations support their employees, and we shared Microsoft’s own journey to empower its employees.

Attendees included human resources (HR) and information technology (IT) professionals from organisations across the commercial and public sectors.

This article shares the things we discussed in the sessions including the different ways fast-paced disruption and technology affect the employee experience. Along with Jay Clem, Bart Bischoff, Jo Grubb and Grace Kerrison from LinkedIn, we spoke about how employers can empower their employees during these changes.

Embrace disruption to foster innovation

Digital technology is not only disrupting industries and business models, it’s disrupting individuals, said Jo Grubb, Global Adoption and Change Management Specialist at Microsoft.

The way individuals work, think, create and collaborate is shifting as they embrace new technology in their personal lives. And they want to bring these technologies and behaviours into their workplace.

For Grubb, the opportunity for innovative transformation lies in businesses embracing this disruption and doing things differently so they can meet the unique needs of employees. Developing a digital workplace strategy will be an essential part of this transformation.

Workplace trends are reshaping the talent landscape

“We are in a war for talent right now,” said Jay Clem, General Manager of HR IT for Microsoft Worldwide. Competition for certain skills is high and individuals have clear criteria for their workplace.

To attract and retain top talent, businesses need to develop a close understanding of the employee they’re looking for and communicate the values they have in common, said Grace Kerrison, Global Clients Director of LinkedIn Asia Pacific.

For example, LinkedIn members with technology-related skills value flexible work arrangements and the ability to make an impact when considering a role. Businesses that communicate that they share these values will be more likely to attract these employees.

Build the culture employees want

“Culture is the new currency,” Clem said. “People want to work somewhere with a sense of value and purpose.” This is consistent in Australia, where professional and leadership development are the most engaged with topics on LinkedIn.

A digital workplace strategy that enables employees to work from home won’t be enough if your workplace culture doesn’t encourage professional development or work–life balance, or isn’t committed to building a sense of shared purpose.

Strong leadership is essential to fulfilling this commitment. “The tone must come from the top,” said Clem.

‘Treat people beautifully’

As organisations race to digitally transform, it’s tempting to get caught up in new technologies. But Bart Bischoff, Director of Productivity and Digital Collaboration Solutions at Microsoft Worldwide, said, “If we focus on just the technology, we will fail people – we won’t be ready for transformation.”

Instead, Clem urged businesses to invest in tools that help them understand and support their employees in a digital workplace.

For example, Microsoft conducts ‘pulse’ surveys regularly to better comprehend employees’ changing needs. It also sends employees a weekly email breaking down how much of their time is spent in meetings. This helps employees adjust their schedule to be more productive.

An effective digital workplace strategy comes down to listening to individuals, said Clem. He would like to see all employers commit to “treating people beautifully”, adopting the advice of Pat Wador, Senior Vice President, Global Talent Organisation, LinkedIn.

Adopt a user-centric approach to digital workplace strategy

Businesses need to integrate this understanding of employees into their wider digital transformation plans. “It is so important to understand the impacts you’ll have on different types of users as a result of the transformation,” said Bischoff.

He identified six steps businesses could take to ensure their strategy prioritises employees:

  1. Vision: Have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Personas: Understand the users who will be involved and affected by the process.
  3. Scenarios: Identify the workflow and processes that will be affected.
  4. Use cases: Align your users’ values and objectives to the digital transformation process.
  5. Classification: Define the terms and taxonomy that will be used for matter management.
  6. Change plan: Understand the changes that will be required in technology, processes and people so you can develop action and communication plans to drive adoption.

“The focus today is very much on the ‘digital’ instead of the ‘transformation’,” Grubb said. “It’s fine to be excited by promising new technologies, but it’s essential to remember that their main purpose is to make life better for users. Digital transformation is about changing business culture in a digital era, and it brings with it many opportunities.”

Microsoft’s efforts to empower employees

Clem and Bischoff shared how Microsoft is transforming its own employee experience. Previously, employees interacted directly with Microsoft exclusively through a SharePoint portal. The portal is one of the most visited sites inside Microsoft, and satisfaction with it was low.

Microsoft’s goal is to dramatically reduce the number of queries by offering more self‑service and assistance from bots and PowerApps. For example, it is building an application that allows employees to check pay, submit claims and perform other tasks all in one place.

Microsoft is also helping customers transform onboarding. The Responsive Career Guide solution uses Office Graph and people analytics to connect new employees with peers and useful resources. The solution ultimately reduces onboarding and training costs, and empowers new employees to be more productive more quickly.

A digital workplace strategy is essential to a business’s ability to attract, retain and empower talent. To find out more, see these digital workplace resources: