Changing the way we work

Don’t let ‘social distancing’ ruin staff engagement

A mantra of mine over recent weeks to our staff is that we don’t need social distancing. Yes, of course we need ‘physical’ distancing to fight the global pandemic. But actually, we also need ‘social’ engagement, more than ever. Many people are feeling disconnected.

I’ve had many people ask me what I think post COVID-19 will look like in terms of the Modern Workplace. Will it change where we work from? The way we work?

Like so many of you, our business has continued and evolved during this period. Rather than sticking their heads in the sand, our team has thrived and met the challenge of working from home – most for the first time – by smashing their normal KPIs and exceeding customer SLAs. We are working hard to ensure staff are still engaged but we know there is more that we need to do to improve our own staff engagement in the new ‘norm’ of the Modern Workplace.

COVID-19 is changing the way we work. In many ways this is a good thing. Working from home saves commuting time, reduces the overall carbon footprint, and sees many of us connect better with our families. Many have discovered that there’s solitary work – thinking, writing and planning, or even processing emails; and there is social work which is meetings, presentations, training, brainstorming and more importantly, the informal but valuable corridor conversations. The solitary work can be done more effectively from home, but social work is more of a challenge.

So the future of work will consist of a mixture of ‘in office’, ‘at home’ and ‘on the go’ work which will offer greater flexibility, reduced real estate costs and more effective working if we can perform work in the best location, e.g. solitary work at home.

As we transition to a new way of working or ‘the Modern Workplace’, it is likely that many employees will seek to work 1 to 2 days a week from home, ongoing. A leading analyst predicts that “20-25% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021” *. Given the ongoing ‘physical’ isolation, it is critical for organisations to manage and improve staff engagement, as this is a primary driver of productivity and ultimately, profitability.

“Employees that feel connected are 20-25% more productive”*

“And companies with high staff engagement scores experience a 25% increase in profit”*

Unfortunately in many organisations, staff engagement is not seen as a business priority and is not measured, or results are poor. Yet while highly engaged employees deliver 20-25% greater productivity*, only 12% of employees are very highly engaged. This represents a huge risk – or opportunity – as we move to a ‘post COVID’ way of working.

To turn these insights into action, it is important to understand that one of the key drivers of staff engagement is communication.

Generally businesses do a good job with customer facing communication – delivering the right message, at the right time, and the right place. It’s called Marketing. And huge advances in AI powered cloud content management systems can power communication along the entire service journey. Sadly, staff communications is often relegated to an afterthought, or is managed by junior staff.

My advice is to treat your staff as you would an external or customer audience: have a plan, define your key messages and the behaviour you want to influence, set measurable objectives along with a measurement plan, understand the service journey and touch points where you should communicate better, identify or set up the required communication channels, and agree on a process for creating and curating the content that will support your objectives.

What does the future workplace look like in terms of technology?

Firstly, with more team members working remotely or virtually there will be need for less space, less desks but more meeting rooms. Importantly more space can be shared – car parks, lockers, desks, meeting rooms and resources such as huddle boards. But communications challenges will emerge. Already we find in organisations that have created advanced activity based working spaces, staff complain that they can’t find the space they want at the time they want. Yet, ironically when utilisation is measured it is often reported at only circa 40%. To improve employee productivity and space utilisation, leading organisations are setting up ‘smart spaces’ which are measured and monitored, providing staff with a 3D visualisation of their building or floor. This allows staff to see and book the collaborative workspace that best suits their needs. Space booking, wayfinding and Visitor Management will be a key part of the Modern Workplace.

As we move increasingly back into the office to work, meetings will almost always involve external parties, either at home or different offices. Properly set up meeting rooms with presentation technology and collaboration tools such as MS Teams, Cisco WebEx, Zoom and Google Meet are a must – our new normal. But wouldn’t it be a dream if the tech actually worked smoothly? Research highlights that the average meeting of 7 people takes 7 minutes to start. That means huge productivity losses, and frustration. Increasingly you will see staff communications as a service with tight SLAs just as we deliver for customer communications.

Digital Signage or Workplace Communications today is smarter and is an effective staff communication tool, particularly where organisations are split across multiple sites, as most workers now are. It brings the organisation together through common messaging while also allowing messaging to be tailored for particular sites and teams. As for customer communications, a powerful omnichannel cloud based CMS delivers the right message at the right time, anytime, anywhere. Delivering your message to fixed displays where there is dwell time in the kitchen or lift lobby, to the desktop screen saver when working from home, the mobile device when you’re on the go, or on the big screen at a town hall event. Increasingly AI powered, enabled with the intelligent IoT edge, tailored messaging is becoming more effective in delivering business objectives. Enhancing a two way conversation and encouraging positive behaviours – this is what we call digital engagement.

We are at an exciting inflection point. – Change and opportunity. Consider the way we work has changed forever. Know that a highly engaged team delivers better outcomes for your business. Look to see how communications technologies and services have evolved to drive employee engagement, productivity, and asset utilisation. Exciting times. Cheers to ‘social engagement’.

Keen to hear your thoughts?


Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics (GWA)

McKinsey Global Institute

2019 Deloitte Human Capital Trends: From Employee Experience to Human Experience McKinsey. Referenced in