Keeping Employees Engaged In The Age Of Remote Work

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

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In June, New Zealand’s top HR leaders will converge on the Aotea Centre in Auckland for the 2021 HR Leadership Summit. The event is focused on driving employee engagement in a world of ongoing disruption and new workplace norms. As new technology and Covid-19 dramatically changes the way people work, the risk of staff being left behind has never been higher, and HR leaders know this all too well. Microsoft’s new employee experience platform, Viva, will help alleviate the challenges that the modern workplace presents for HR professionals, by building valuable new functionality on top of the tools organisations already use.

For years, technology has been changing the way we work. Video calling, real-time collaboration and workplace chat have all allowed people to work in new ways over the last decade.

These solutions were nice to have before 2020, but when Covid hit, every workplace was forced to adapt and implement new ways of working, which allowed us to continue as normal when times were anything but. The huge benefits of this accelerated technology adoption are now coming with us as we return to physical workplaces: flexible and remote working is now much easier, for example. While not every disruption will be on the level of a pandemic, organisations are better prepared for change than they have ever been.

This sudden change in the way work happens hasn’t come without challenges, as any HR professional knows. Staff wellbeing continues to be a concern: Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index shows that staff burnout has increased in the past year, and workdays are getting longer, and staff who work remotely reported a lack of separation between work and life.

Even as we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll need to ensure the increased number of staff working remotely are able to do so in a way that is sustainable for their mental wellbeing, and that keeps them engaged.

Accessibility of information has also presented challenges. When staff can’t walk over to another desk to ask for something, and they aren’t in the room together, it’s much harder for them to find what they’re looking for. Some organisations get around this with meticulous cloud storage systems, but even the most organised data system can miss things, particularly when organisations increasingly work across multiple environments.

Addressing these issues will be key to ensuring that modern work is not only as productive as work in a traditional office, but also works well for employees and ensures staff retention. Microsoft’s new employee engagement platform, Viva, can go some way to helping HR professionals manage these issues for their organisations. Viva works on top of existing productivity software, like Teams and Microsoft 365, to add important functionality for employee engagement, particularly in remote settings, and it will help physical workplaces, too.

The four key products within Viva are designed to alleviate headaches created by remote work for HR professionals, applying what we now know, over a year out from lockdown.

Viva Insights provides personalised and actionable insights to individuals, managers, and leaders to ensure that everyone at all levels can thrive. Employees can protect time in their schedule for regular breaks, focused work, and learning, and to strengthen their relationships with colleagues, in a way which is visible only to them. That gives employees increased agency to create defined boundaries for their work-life balance.

Managers and leaders get visibility through Viva Insights of trends at a team and organisation level, alongside recommendations to better balance productivity and wellbeing. All these insights are aggregated and deidentified, so that employees’ privacy is protected, while allowing for workplace leaders to change the work norms for teams that may be struggling. Integrating employee feedback through LinkedIn Glint and data from third-party services like Zoom and Slack will allow managers to quantify the impact of those changes across all their organisation’s work products.

Viva Connections is also designed to help improve employee engagement. Connections provides a personalised gateway to the digital workplace; creating a single location for employees to access internal communications, company resources and participate in communities within Microsoft Teams. Any unnecessary time spent digging through email chains or Teams threads isn’t just unproductive; it’s frustrating for staff who want technology to enable their work, not create barriers. Viva Connections provides a centralised system for those inquiries.

Ongoing learning is a must in the modern workplace: the pace of change means that staff need to be updating their skillbase constantly. Viva Learning allows organisations to consolidate their learning resources in one place. Organisations can pull content from LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn alongside courses from third party providers like Coursera and their own content library. Viva Learning will also offer integration with leading learning management systems like Saba and SAP SuccessFactors.

One of the biggest barriers to productivity in the modern workplace is finding relevant information for the activity at hand. Particularly where organisations make use of multiple third-party services, it can feel impossible to find the exact thing you’re looking for. This is even more difficult when staff work remotely; it often isn’t as easy as walking over to a colleague’s desk and asking them, anymore, especially if your organisation works across multiple offices, or even time zones.

Viva Topics is a major step forward in creating visibility of relevant content, all in one place. Viva Topics allows organisations to create cards on topics or projects, which put relevant people, documents, and other information in the same place, and the cards follow staff in the apps they already use every day. Topics can be created manually, and AI will also generate them automatically. AI will also add additional content to Topics in context. Topics will eliminate unnecessary time spent figuring out where to find a certain document, or who to ask for information about a given project or topic, instead surfacing that information when needed.

Better still, Topics integrates with third party applications, and Microsoft will ship a set of APIs this year which allows Topics to be shown in applications other than Office 365, so organisations that work across multiple environments will be able to make use of Viva Topics everywhere they work.

Getting remote work right is going to be key for organisations to attract and retain talent into the future. Employees expect to be able to work in flexible ways, but it’s important that this is achieved in a way that supports all parties, avoids productivity losses, and keeps employee wellbeing front of mind.

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