With the right combination of tech and internal communications, you can do a huge amount to actually increase the wellbeing and value a remote employee feels they’re getting from your business.
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses struggle to do this, at least on a continual basis.
Meg Donovan, Chief People Officer at Nexthink, puts it very well: “When people first ran HR departments about 140 years ago it was just about pay and making sure people were not harmed while they were working,” she says. “We’re at a place now where we can help give people what they need to keep them engaged and productive.”
I’ve been writing the ‘siloed-companies-are-on-the-way-out’ story since 1989 and will happily take a poor editor’s money for writing it again today, but seriously, when people said organizations should work together, they meant it.
Leaving the old days behind
It’s been well documented that a business with engaged employees can reap higher profitability, sometimes 10 to 20% higher than those companies with disengaged workers.
But that means making things straightforward and easy.
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“Not so long ago, we used an external SaaS tool to collect salary data and communicate with several stakeholders at Nexthink. We decided to use our own software to gather feedback about the SaaS tool, and to make sure that what we were using provided a good digital experience for our managers,” Meg explains. “Having a partnership with IT (and using Nexthink) is essential to making sure the tools and programs that HR is delivering to the business is done well.”
And this is how business leaders can better enthuse their employees: first you make processes easier, preferably eliminating a few steps, then you make sure they feel involved and listened to.
Meg attributes a lot of the success with the changes she’s put in place to the communication that happens behind it. “I’d say about 95% of the process is down to communication, but obviously our own software plays a huge piece in helping us make that outreach with employees to collect useful feedback.”
Smart tech for unique work problems
It’s about a lot more than just making employees feel good too, it can be about delivering solid benefits both to them and to the organization, as Managed Services Delivery Manager, Ron Werling, explains. “The right IT software can enable a business to unblock disruptions to employees from things like network lags, or slow application load times, but it can also help them to proactively avoid newer remote work issues like unnecessary energy waste or excessive electricity bills.”
It turns out that companies including Nexthink client, Johnson & Johnson, have used this metric to track when employees are leaving their technology unattended but still switched on. By simply intervening with smart push notifications that remind users to turn off their devices, companies can save big and reduce their carbon emissions.
“We haven’t explored the financial metrics around the exact savings because with that many thousands of employees it would be quite a task,” he says, “but J&J has managed to reduce its carbon footprint simply by offering subtle hints to employees about their IT usage and experience.”
His colleague, Ahmed Adham, points to another unique use case:
One client actively uses the software platform to audit and automate their employees’ true hardware needs when working from home. Previously, an employee might have realized they needed a bigger screen or an ergonomic chair and sent an email to someone in facilities management, and often those requests would take weeks to process.
“They are seeing 75-80% response rates from their employee outreach plan since we started working with them, something that their Head of End User Computing told me almost made him drop his coffee the first time he saw the results!”
Email certainly has its place, but there are a lot things that can go wrong, messages might be sent to your spam folder, you save something and then it gets buried under higher priority requests.
Ultimately, this client was receiving complaints from employees for taking too long to answer work setup requests. And the worst part is that many new hires didn’t even know this was an option. “The lack of proactive communication from IT and HR sort of created this weird tension within their employee base. Who receives an extra monitor? Who requests special ergonomic furniture? It was all sort of a mystery there” says Ahmed.
But by automating the process with direct onscreen push notifications and targeted employee surveys based on computing context, the client was able to iron out a process for remote workers. “They are seeing 75-80% response rates from their employee outreach plan since we started working with them, something that their Head of End User Computing told me almost made him drop his coffee the first time he saw the results!”
Where to start with remote employees
So how do companies make all this stuff work?
Ahmed gets back to solid business metrics. “With any technology you need clear milestones,” he says. “They’re set by the client companies but they need to know what ROI they want to see after a few weeks, months, and even years.” He echoes both Meg and Ron in their view that involving as many stakeholders as possible in any changes is vital and that this can only be done efficiently if you have a collaborative team of IT and HR pros, and the right technology to link the two parties.
Take the following example.
Early on in the pandemic, Meg’s team had to ensure their remote employees were fully connected to MS Teams and set up with Yammer. By implementing a robust IT system and explaining why people were expected to participate, Meg pushed automated responses from 55% of the staff to 95% and she attributes this to a well thought out change management plan. Ron, meanwhile, advocates simplifying as many processes as possible. “If someone logs onto an electronic questionnaire expecting five questions and finds 15, they’re going to switch off pretty quickly.”
So, it’s about making efficiencies by all means, and making certain those efficiencies work for people.
The alternative would look like something Meg experienced in a previous company, a situation where “my team and I sometimes had to run around with pieces of paper for people to sign whenever a procedural or financial change was on the way—that type of work practice clearly wouldn’t be sustainable today.”
Thankfully, times have changed but it still requires leaders to step up and devise practical solutions for modern work problems.
Guy Clapperton is a technology and business writer, and the founder of Clapperton Media Associates. He has appeared in the Guardian, Times, Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Independent and the New Statesman.