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Embrace the new workforce

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A happy employee is a productive employee. So we decided a few months/years ago to give our sales teams something that would make them happy. We turned our break room into a modern Silicon Valley enclave, complete with foosball tables and a barista. Really nice stuff and the staff were very keen for it.
If only I had known better, writes Chris Buchanan, Dell director: end user computing for Africa.
To give you an alternative perspective, let me ask a question. Where is the world’s largest cemetery? You may hazard a few guesses, but would any of them be Facebook? Everyday, 10,000 of the social media giant’s users die. That’s incredible – and unheard of. It challenges our perception of the world around us.
But do we bring these new perceptions into our organisations? Not nearly often enough. We still treat workplaces with the same thinking as we always did. And yet the workers of today have very different expectations.
I’m a customer experience guy, with a love for technology. I enjoy it when humans are uplifted and can do more for themselves, especially with the right tech on their side. But I continue to be amazed how the small things, such as the aesthetics of a device, can excite an employee – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What employees really want
Dell recently completed a multi-year study with Intel and the Institute For Future Technology. The results were astounding. Here’s a sample: 32 percent of graduates today will turn down a job if they don’t feel the tech they are provided with will enable them to do the job properly.
Not foosball tables or baristas (though I must add our staff are very happy with those additions).
The study revealed a clear link between an employee’s ownership of their career and the means of how they expand that career. While employees like good coffee, more than 60 percent of them would prefer improvements on their desks than nice amenities.
This is where the technology comes in. This is an opportunity for IT managers everywhere.
Here’s another question: if you can improve someone’s desk, what would you add? There are many good ideas, but what about headphones? Absurd! Everyone has headphones! Except they don’t – the study shows that many employees see a good pair of headphones as the perfect cure for a busy and noisy office environment. It helps keep them focused.
The same for dual monitors. A second monitor can boost employee productivity by 19 percent. Combine that over a week and it’s nearly an entire day’s extra productivity.

Small things matter most
One of my ongoing challenges in an organisation is the way IT treats employees. We technologists give lip service to the fact that we should be treating our employees as customers. When someone arrives, they might get the device they need only three days later, and then they get the model based on management levels. Little consideration goes into what people are going to do and how they will be productive.
Humans are becoming digital conductors. You don’t think about electricity anymore – it’s just there and you switch it on. That’s the way modern workers look at technology — it’s expected.
The effect goes beyond gadgets on desks. How long does it take to sign up a new employee? They would normally have loads of paperwork to process, which means they are not hitting the ground running. Yet it is certain their CV was sent in an electronic format. If your IT systems could capture that information digitally, it would preempt their paperwork and get them started faster. Everyone will thank you for that one.
Employee journeys are becoming as important as customer journeys. You want to retain good talent and enable them to excel. You don’t really have a choice, because they expect this. The good news is that you already have the power to make those changes, providing you understand the workforce.

Empower the personas
There are five general personas in most companies: Desk-centric workers who spend half their time as a desk, corridor warriors who spend half their time in meetings, the on-the-go pro who travels a lot, remote employees who work from home, and specialised employees who operate in special environments such as remote audits of sites.
These are not carved in stone, but they give a general idea of who works for the business and what they need. Meeting those needs in practical and often simple technological ways helps keep them productive and motivated.
To tap this momentum, you need to step out of traditional thinking. Get rid of your sacred cows: a nice break room is not as important as multiple monitors or reliable remote access. Change your mindset and then query the digital readiness of your organisation. Get it to the cutting edge.
Study your workforce’s digital maturity levels and engage with HR – they know better than everyone which personas are inside your walls. Finally, create employee resource groups to give feedback. Employees are not meant to be only seen and not heard. If they have your ear, they can help you see the future.
I don’t regret our new break room. In fact, it’s pretty great. But back then I thought you had to go big to impress your workforce. That’s a sacred cow, the old way of thinking. Many small gestures are better than a few big ones. People remember the small touches that technology can deliver.