How can benefits technology create a more connected workforce?

connected

Need to know:

  • Tailoring and choice help employees get the most out of their benefits and feel truly valued, while organisations can use data analytics to provide the perks that will engage them effectively.
  • Remote, on-site and field workers run the risk of disconnecting from the business, but technology helps bridge this gap by bolstering communications and recreating the positive elements of office life.
  • Leaders can now connect with employees on a regular basis, encouraging increased buy-in and shared goals.

Technology is integral to modern life, whether personal or professional. This is not lost on most employers; according to Aon’s Benefits and trends survey, published in January 2019, 68% of organisations either have introduced or plan to introduce an online or flexible benefits portal.

Beyond providing instant, tailored perks and rewards, benefits technology can also help employers emulate the hyper-connectivity that employees experience outside of the office, using it to boost engagement, productivity and loyalty.

Personalisation and understanding

It is little surprise that, as technology outside the workplace becomes more user-friendly and personalised, tailoring and choice have become benefits buzzwords, and benefits technology is at the centre of the movement towards a more individualised approach to reward.

This brings a reciprocal perk for employers, as using data analytics based on individuals’ decisions, organisations can ensure they introduce benefits and initiatives that are most likely to engage their employees.

John Deacon, head of employee benefits at consultancy and provider Buck, says: “[Employers] are going to be able to get some valuable information and say, ‘actually 25% of the workforce is navigating towards pages to do with debt, maybe we should be providing a vehicle by which they can manage their debt’.”

Many platforms also integrate pulse surveys, allowing for the development of reward and engagement strategies based on real-time information, notes Geraldine Osman, chief marketing officer at benefits platform StaffConnect.

Beyond the desk

While office or desk-based staff may be easier to engage with, field, front-line and on-site staff are more likely to be disconnected.

“History is littered with examples where flexible benefit programmes have been targeted at the management tier, but the workforce tier has been left behind because of the lack of a vehicle to deliver it,” says Deacon. “What technology is enabling employers to do is communicate with their employees through apps or websites, so that all of their workforce can be involved and engaged as a result.”

This has wider ramifications, beyond just allowing non-office staff to have full access to their reward package.

“People on production lines and in logistics-type roles, they don’t necessarily know what’s going on with the [organisation], the [employer’s] vision, overall goals and targets,” says Osman. “They tend to be a little removed from all working towards the same kind of purpose, they are disconnected or disenfranchised.”

Taking advantage of the prevalence of smartphones, for example, allows messages to disperse more easily to all employees.

Joelle Kaufman, chief marketing officer at communications organisation Dynamic Signal, says: “What matters is where the employee, contractor or remote worker actually goes to get their information. That’s where you want that information to be. The smartphone is pervasive, and not harnessing it as part of [an engagement strategy] is kind of oblivious.”

Asynchronous communication

Remote and flexible working widens talent pools, promotes diversity, and allows for a healthy work-life balance. However, the diaspora of employees out of the office comes with its own issues.

Hailley Griffis, head of public relations at Buffer, which itself relies on remote employees across the globe, says: “[With modern tools] it can be very easy to [connect] immediately, but we really try to make sure we make a lot of things asynchronous, so we can include people who are not in our time-zone and they don’t come in and feel like decisions have been made without them.”

Time-delayed communication has drawbacks, however; Griffis notes that brainstorming can be a particular challenge. It is, therefore, still important to make the most of whatever face-to-face time is available.

Human connections

The image of a workspace run entirely by artificial intelligence (AI) and using a system of super hot-desking might sound like the ideal future, but this risks overlooking fundamental needs for permanence and connections with those around them, according to John Williams, head of marketing for property solutions provider Instant Offices.

Social wellbeing is also important for remote employees, even if the connections cannot be made in person.

“In an office [employees] might do birthday cakes, or someone could shout out something exciting for everyone to celebrate,” Griffis explains. “When you want to create this positive work culture, a place where people are happy, there’s this element of celebration and it can get a bit lost in remote work.”

One of the methods Buffer uses to counter this is a ‘water cooler’ channel in team messaging app Slack, as well as a bot called Donut, which pairs staff up for social video calls.

“[In an office] it’s nice to bump into people while making tea,” Griffis notes. “It’s still possible to create those connections [remotely], you just have to be intentional about it.”

Furthermore, virtual reality (VR) can provide the feeling of working together in a real meeting room, while the StaffConnect app allows employees to connect and engage with live events such as town hall meetings by submitting questions.

Choosing the right tool

Every employer will have different needs and goals, but there are some universal factors when choosing platforms. Osman states that an ideal programme will facilitate two-way communications, provide access to other HR systems such as holiday and payroll, and integrate an employee directory.

Kaufmann adds that communications technology must not be employer or platform-centric; when messages are dispersed across diverse forms of media, an employee who prefers text messages is equally as connected as one who logs in to the intranet.

Leadership buy-in

Increasing connectivity ultimately boosts loyalty and buy-in, whether by reaching those less privy to business developments, helping staff make the most of their benefits, or connecting remote workers with one another.

“It is connecting people with a common purpose, with common goals,” says Osman. “[Employees] are constantly aware of the [employer’s] vision and goals on a weekly, daily basis.”

To gain this engagement, leadership must be invested. Benefits technology can help executives who might otherwise seem distant from their staff reach them on a personal and professional level.

“The way [organisations] can show that someone’s important to them is through communication,” says Kaufman. “What we see across our customers is that messages from leadership on topics they care about get the highest engagement of anything.”

Williams concludes: “The use of technology should not just be about an employer monitoring its staff, but about making the working life better. A chance for employees to be able to ask questions and have a dialogue with their employers.”

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