If like me you have been working remotely in the wake of the corona-virus lock-down, it will no doubt have increased your need to connect and collaborate more with your friends and colleagues.
Your work days will probably include lots of team meetings, webinars, wind-down quizzes and virtual pub sessions. Exploitation of tools such as Microsoft Teams or other popular video conferencing software will have likely fuelled this adaptation to your working ways.
Whilst these tools are great for plugging the obvious need to connect and collaborate, I have always felt there is more we could do to do to emulate the physical and co-working collaboration we were so used to before.
Seeking to find a richer experience, some companies have taken it to another level. Looking to other technologies such as Virtual Reality when video calling just does not cut it.
Virtual Reality (VR) has promised for many years to deliver that richer and more connected experience for employees and business to collaborate. However, VR to date has mainly been perceived as a consumer entertainment technology.
With the emergence of better and more usable devices and platforms, using VR for business is becoming ever more serious. Early business use cases are providing the ability to enable a rich consumer experience allowing business to market its products and services in new and exciting ways.
VR is intended to be an immersive experience giving you the ability to experience three dimensional environments in a contained space. Many of the early use cases have focused on training and enablement of employees. However, several innovative vendors such as “The Wild” and “Spatial” are pushing the boundaries further and expanding into providing virtual collaboration and co-working solutions that seek to expand the overall employee experience from our current two dimensional plane to an experience that mirrors some of our real-world collaboration experiences and brings people together no matter where there located.
The Next Computing Platform…
Several industry leaders have stated that VR is the next computing platform. And whilst it’s difficult to predict if this is going to be true, like most disruptive technologies it’s not so much about the technicalities and the platform, it’s more about the use cases. Planning how to use VR to change how we live and do business will determine the true success of VR.
So, if VR is to become the next computing platform what else needs to fall into place? Well like most new technologies hype often exceeds reality, VR is no exception to this rule. Many have touted VR to be big for many years now. But only recently has the technology started to evolve to a point where the expectation starts to meet reality.
Companies such as Facebook and the Oculus product are providing the technology and platforms that allows consumers and business to exploit the potential of VR. However, whilst companies like Facebook have made significant strides in the past few years there are still many mountains to climb. Comparisons to other past/current technologies such as the smartphone will give you a view of how much there is to do and what will make VR a success.
For the Future Look to the Past…
If you can remember what the first smartphone looked like, it was costly, bulky and lacked some killer content and features, and was only used by a handful of early adopters. Fast forward to today and it has become mainstream across the consumer and enterprise, its technologies and capabilities have drastically evolved, putting it firmly into that “I can’t live without this” technology bracket.
Alike the smartphone market, VR will also need to evolve, with development of lighter more powerful devices with improved connectivity and access to engaging content and applications.
If VR is to be the next big platform, then we are likely to be in a world where we no longer look at our smartphones, but rather look into a device to visualise the content in front of our eyes and interact with this device through, voice, visual recognition or hand gestures.
It’s quite hard to imagine that the smartphone as we know it could be significantly diminished in this new future, but then that’s the inevitability of technology it either evolves or dies.
What is evident is that VR is one of the fastest developing technologies of our generation. This is no passing fad. VR promises to deliver our need to learn through experience and touch, rather than through reading and clicking. It’s not quite delivered on the promise that the film “Ready Player One” paints yet, however we’re on the journey and its fast becoming a reality.
Over the last two months many if not all of us have experienced some of the most drastic changes to all our lives and working patterns. We have had to deal with huge shifts and adaptions in where and how we work and, in some cases, if we could work at all.
As we are all starting to embark on getting back to work or adjusting how we work its important we take time to reflect and factor whats happened, and what we need to do for the future to make the “Return to Next Normal” work for both companies and its employees.
React and Respond…
During this period large numbers of IT providers were the early responders as the corona-virus crisis unfolded. Pulling out all the stops to enable companies and their employees to continue to function. New ways of working were quickly implemented to keep us all working.
However not all decisions that were made were based on long term thinking and rationale thought. This does mean some of these decisions will require a review for their longer-term implications.
This enforced event however has given us all an opportunity to experience change at a rate we were unlikely to experience at any other time. Whilst this has no doubt been disruptive, it has provided companies and their employees with a view of what the future might look like for us all.
The Big Reset….
We have had some time now to be able to evaluate and reflect, and get a sense of things that have worked and things that don’t quite work for us. This provides us all with a unique opportunity to hit the reset button on our old ways of working. Now is the time for companies to review their employee workstyles and patterns, evaluate the policies and actions that were taken during the crisis and review their methods and technologies to see what works and what needs to change for the future.
Key to making the return to ‘next normal’ work effectively is to ensure the needs of the employees are considered: –
- How will your employees return to work, what is the next normal for them?
- Will the office work environment be different?
- Will remote work continue? Will it be for selected groups?
- Do you have the right technology for remote workers?
- Is the right network, secure and capable for our employees to work remotely?
- Do we need to consider how we enforce social distancing at work?
None of these questions have obvious answers and for some employees’ and their workstyles this will likely be a divisive moment.
Companies must also not ignore the affect this situation has had on its people both emotionally and physically. Factoring in their health and well-being into this review is paramount.
It’s difficult to predict when we will finally emerge from this crisis and what the future of work may become. But what is certain, is we are quite likely to find ourselves in a world that is significantly different from the one before this crisis. It’s very likely that our employees’ workstyles, patterns and behaviours will have changed, and hopefully for some its permanent.
Adapt and Evolve…
The huge shift in employee work patterns we have experienced needs careful consideration on how we are to adapt and evolve how were going to work in the future. Companies need to start now in re-imaging the future of work, use these lessons learned and take the opportunity to adapt and embrace totally new ways of working.
Gaining the buy-in of your employees will be key to making the return phase and beyond work for all. Companies and leaders should be empathetic and demonstrate an understanding that their employees need to come to terms with this new and changing experience.
Giving them the time to adapt to new ways of working is key. Employees coming back after furlough or a period of remote work may find the physical layout of their workplace changed and their routine adapted. For office workers, returning to a workplace may require a mindset shift for those who’ve adjusted to working remotely. In order to navigate these changes, leaders should make sure employees understand what’s being asked of them and what steps the company is taking to protect them. Companies need to allow employees the chance to voice their views and concerns and be part of the identification of potential problems with their return plans.
Engaging in open trusted communication, is the only way both employees and companies will get through this next phase of the crisis. And hopefully in time provide an opportunity to increase overall employee engagement and boost their productivity.
NOW is the time to work together to get this right, let’s not waste it….
It’s anybody’s guess what the new normal will look like either post lock-down or post corona-virus. The only thing that is certain is that it’s bound to be different from how it was before. The crisis is already pushing the U.K economy into recession and Its certain it will leave a big mark on how consumers live and how they spend their money.
Retailers in the U.K are facing many different challenges. Some are struggling to scale and keep up with the increased demand as they see their sales rise beyond their capacity; some are taking to limiting sales and customer volume; whilst some are seeing sales suddenly drop off a cliff.
These opposing challenges force very different responses, whilst one is looking at reducing costs and outgoings others are trying to deal with technical scaling and logistics issues. Never has there been such opposing issues within either the same companies or sector. You might argue that having a scaling issue is a nice problem to have. However, you must have one eye on the future and consider what you might do with all this extra capacity once things return to some level of normality, can you just turn the taps off, is this going to be the same now and in the future?
Customers are in part creating these opposites by doing things they have never done before, the obvious rise in online shopping has had a large effect on how we shop, however what we are buying and the volume of it has also changed.
There are the predictable shifts of using online grocery shopping during this period, but other more bizarre growths in things like garden furniture for instance due to lock-down, and things like gifting-wrapping services due to the fact we cannot do this easily via traditional methods.
Coping and Adapting…
The focus for many retailers now is drifting towards what do I need to think about or do once were back to some level of normality.
This raises an interesting point on what normal might look like. Whilst is difficult to predict the future, it’s quite likely that retailers will need to consider how this has affected their customers’ shopping patterns. Changes in customer behaviours are not likely to one hundred percent be reversed once our situation changes.
Science indicates that it takes something like two months for a behaviour change to become automatic. Something that is likely to influence us all as the situation continues.
I know from personal experience that my family will be continuing their online grocery shopping post this as they have overcome their initial fears and barriers and now see the upsides on this approach. Predictions are that at least 25% of customers will not return to what they did when we get to new normal.
Being close to your customers and understanding their needs has never been more important and will become paramount to succeeding during the new normal. Providing the services, they need, how they want, with minimal disruption and going the extra mile is likely to retain your customers. Focusing on what kind of experience you want to create for your customers, being personal and knowing what they want, giving an opinion and making it memorable.
Many retailers will also have to ask themselves “Can I operate at sub-scale?”, if not what do I need to do to adapt. Retailers will need to understand what new normal means for them, do I need to increase my prices to factor in reduced volume in customers or work out how I can significantly reduce my operating costs. Likely answer might include a bit of both.
The new normal whatever that is…
Retailers are likely to experience a paradigm shift in customers buying patterns and behaviours post lock-down. New normal is going to look significantly different from old normal. Factoring in that customers are going to be fearful of infection and that significant numbers of customers are likely to have less money to spend due furlough or redundancy. Combined with learning new ways to shop from new channels then any expectation that a return to old normal levels of customer behaviours and levels of business seems very unlikely.
Retailers need to be innovative during this period, “How are you going to be different from anybody else?” Providing customers with a better experience, giving them something they can’t get from either your competitors or online needs to be considered.
If you have a large brick and mortar estate, use it to your advantage, create personal experiences that will encourage your customers to make the effort to visit. Being different and providing services that others don’t is likely to be the factor that keeps one company going vs your competition.
There is also a view that there will be a resurgence of whole localisation of shopping, the traditional high-street if you will. Personally, I’m sure there is place for big outlets and local shopping to co-exist but changes in behaviour driven by the corona-virus to shop more locally and find those local agents could engender a change in our behaviours which will stick and grow in new normal.
As those customers who have adjusted during this period are likely to stick doing what they are doing either for some time or permanently. They will have shifted into other places or channels. This does make it harder to understand what the future state will look like. All we can say is that it won’t be the same as it was.
Given the recent turbulence in Retail it’s difficult to imagine a company that is not looking at strategies and ways to improve on its decline. A big part of these strategies involves looking at ways to improve employee engagement.
Improving employee retention for example is a common topic in this sector, high staff turnover is somewhat expected in retail, and for some companies its considered to be a positive signal. Attrition can help cycle unmotivated, unproductive employees out of companies, and voluntary turnover from more driven employees often results with them finding the company that works for them.
However, some studies and statistics indicate that global turnover in this sector found retail had the second highest turnover rate of all industries at 13%, topping the worldwide average of 10% for turnover. 
Some of these statistics point to possible causes for these high numbers of turnover. A lack of professional development, inability to advance within role and company. Receiving limited to no training are common factors in this sector.
Hard to Reach
First line workers are at the heart of the retail experience but sadly they are often the forgotten employees when it comes to communication and collaboration technology.
They are considered too hard to reach compared to their office counterparts. It is quite common practice not to issue company email addresses for instance, which means they often miss out on important communications that relay key company information and goals.
This is a basic need that helps give meaning and objective to their daily work. It’s quite common for communications of this nature to be given second hand by their management. Who relay this information face-to-face, or via more traditional paper/notice boards. Given that first line workers are typically ignored by these communications, it’s often found that they know very little about what their company stands for and how it might differentiate from its competitors.
When it comes to matters of people management, research and real-world scenarios have shown repeatedly that the companies who rise above the competition are those that place value in employee engagement and consider the overall experience ensuring that all its employees are included.
Retailers need to examine how to best support their front-line workers, they must carefully consider all the factors that drive employee engagement. It’s essential that they feel considered and included. Empower these employees with the right tools that allow them to receive company communications and messaging, let them feel part of the company and connected to all.
The speed and coverage of communication needs to improve. Decisions need to be relayed to the stores immediately with live communication or within minutes with recorded communications. This speed in deployment can be an immense competitive advantage.
The importance of having an employee communication strategy for the modern retail environment really matters. However, it’s also key to get the right medium, the rise of video usage for employee communication cannot be stressed enough. Industry research finds viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text.
Allowing your employees to see key messages from its executives and leaders on what is happening within the company is extremely powerful. They get to hear the passion and commitment first hand. This is the modern employee communications way. It goes a long way toward building your brand and meeting your goals.
It’s hard to point at any single factor for the issues faced by the Retail sector. However a key part of the future puts the first line workers front and center in the competition for consumer spend. The question now is who will best prepare their staff for this challenge. The answer starts with improving your employee experience.
The need for change
We are living in a world where the rate at which technology changes seems to be increasing exponentially. Combine this with a working population drawn from multiple-generations, with differing levels of digital dexterity and varying attitudes to change, and the result is a complex list of requirements that will need to be met when implementing any change.
It’s no wonder that organisations have a tough time getting all these factors to align, ensuring everybody is considered, and whether they have the right technology at the right time?
How organisations deal with these different elements will have a huge effect on how any change will be accepted by such a diverse user base and ultimately how effective your users will be.
Most organisations recognise the importance of user adoption and how it affects their change initiatives. Getting your users to welcome and use the latest software or technology is key to the success of any change project. However many organisations would confess to having limited success in their approaches to making this happen effectively.
Past initiatives have in the majority of cases treated the technology as the most important element of the change, which often resulted in a great solution which then faltered when user adoption levels were low. The user element of the change can often be given little airtime in the project and quite often gets squeezed if timescales or budgets are tight.
Failure to achieve user adoption is typically encountered during the middle or the end of your change life-cycle. The cause of this is likely to be rooted within your organisation or embedded within your original approach. Traditionally organisations have usually only factored in basic training or communications into their change initiatives. Whilst these are valid components, unless they consider the needs of your users they are likely to fall short during their latter execution. Expecting users to embrace your change and align to new working practices requires a significant effort to remove or avoid the change barriers inherent within your organisation.
Recognising the effect and importance of user adoption on your change initiative is just the first step on the journey. Identifying your user or organisation’s barriers is a key element to realising your investments and delivering successful change. Do this by making your users feel part of the process, ask them what they need and how they like to be communicated to, involve them along the way and build the project and outcomes with them in mind.
Build a strategy
The secret to driving successful adoption is to have a strategy for it. Recognise that the views and perspectives of your users are essential to this. Incorporating their needs and challenges will ensure you get the outcome you designed. Remembering that your desired outcome will only be a success if you change your users’ behaviours. Do this by ensuring your adoption strategy considers how it will create meaningful and engaging content that is relevant and beneficial for your users. Assuming your users will see the benefits and make the leap by themselves is a sure path to failure. Put yourself in their shoes, consider how this will look from their perspective. How would you like to be informed and what would make you change your behaviour and adopt this new tool/process or practice?
Execute it well
You now have an adoption strategy that considers the right messages, content and benefits aligned to your business and its users. Whilst a great strategy is essential, poor execution can often devalue or comprise your well thought out principles. Make sure you have a plan to execute your strategy, consider how you will make it happen. Ensure your stakeholders and user champions are engaged, build relevant and engaging content. Treat it like a marketing campaign and build interest and awareness of your impending change. Ensure you have training and communications that not only inform your users as to what is coming but also brings to life what it means to them. Ask the questions: ‘How does this work for me?’; ‘Why do I need this?’ and ‘How does this benefit me?’
Getting your users engaged and embedded in your change programmes; and building relevant and engaging user adoption content that underpins your strategy will go a long way to making IT work for its users and delivering the value you desire.
Neil Cant is Solution Leader for End User Services & Digital Workplace at Computacenter.
Elements of Employee Experience
Ask anybody what Employee Experience is and you’re likely to get a different perspective nearly every time. Most organisations would probably be able to explain what they expect or want from Employee Experience, improved levels of employee engagement, enthusiasm, identity and involvement. However how do you relate that to what your employees need?
Employee experience can’t be defined as a single thing or entity. It’s an amalgamation of your employees’ encounters with your organisation over a period of time. The experience of an employee will differ from day to day. Some days they might have an extended commute to an office for a meeting and have to experience long traffic delays. Other times they will be working from a home office. But it could equally be working on a corporate device that is still running Windows 7 and legacy Office products and be heavily locked down, restricting their ability to work with both customers and colleagues.
Given the diversity of experiences your employees can encounter, you may consider this to be just too difficult to overcome. How can we change this? Whilst the strive to have a perfect experience for all your employees could be a step too far, most organisations can make significant headway to improve its employee satisfaction by considering some of the basic elements that make up its user experience.
It is important to understand the major elements at play and their effect on the employee experience; these are: Culture, Technology and Workspace.
These elements define how your employees interact and behave within an organisation and impact their overall experience of their workplace. Considering how these elements need to evolve is key to improving the employee experience
Embracing Employee Experience (EX)
Employee Experience is becoming the watchword for organisations seeking to improve their employee engagement. It borrows concepts and approaches from the customer experience mind-set and applies them to its own employees. This approach seeks to improve employee touch points, from attracting talent and on-boarding through to how the employee performs their job and how they get rewarded.
This all makes sense, and if organisations had the ability to start again I’m sure many would incorporate all of the best practices available to get the best employee experience. But most organisations have considerable debt to consider in this area and cannot always justify the call to action to improve all aspects of its employee’s experience. However be warned this is not a get out of jail free card, organisations will ultimately suffer in the long term if employee experience does not evolve.
Achieving a better employee experience starts with “Understanding”. Knowing what your current situation is and what your employees are thinking, gaining insights into how they work is an essential step to improving their experience. Identifying the areas of your business you would like to address, for instance: is your employee retention rate to high? Are your employee satisfaction scores to low?
In order to address EX organisations should consider a three step approach:
- ENGAGE with your employees and gain real world perspectives and data on how they are operating across the key EX dimensions. What is working for them and what is not? Listen to your employee’s views, gain insights and valued feedback.
- EMPOWER your employees by involving them in the solutions, apply an employee centric approach to the thinking. What works best for them? What experience would drive the right behaviours? Acknowledge any issues and work together on solutions to address them.
- ENRICH their experiences and increase their sense of meaning and belonging by working together to evolve the organisations culture, technology and working spaces by acting on the joint ideas and improvement initiatives.
These three steps should allow you to start to bridge the gap between what the actual employee experience is and what it needs to be. Now is the time to start this journey and engage with your employees and work together to empower them to drive the right experiences that will ultimately enrich their working lives.