Technology has advanced further and faster than anybody could have imagined over the last few years. Whereas ten or twenty years ago the majority of people were using more sophisticated IT in the workplace than at home, this trend has now reversed, with office technology often lagging behind in terms of the gadgets and tools available to help employees do their jobs.
That’s not to say we aren’t making progress, with more and more ‘consumer’ style technologies now making their way to the office; from tablets and smartphones to social networking and instant messaging.
According to ADP’s latest Workforce View 2014/15, two thirds (66%) of employees now have a mobile phone, smartphone or tablet supplied by their employer - up from 48% last year - while nearly three quarters of employees have seen their role or career change as a result of technology in the last 12 months.
But what does this mean for employee engagement?
For many workers the influence of technology is positive, with 31 per cent of employees surveyed expressing that they can now perform their role more effortlessly. It has also facilitated more flexible ways of working, a factor ranked by a third (30%) of workers as the most important for keeping them motivated in their job.
On the other hand, the growing impact of technology can be unsettling, with one in ten (11%) workers saying technology makes their role more challenging – up from just three per cent last year. It also presents issues in terms of work-life balance with 28 per cent of those questioned feeling that the lines between work and personal life are becoming blurred (up from 16 per cent last year).
From a people management perspective, new technologies have provided a multitude of new ways for HR to communicate and engage with the workforce, not to mention new ways to gather feedback and track progress of engagement strategies and other initiatives.
Two thirds (67%) of HR Directors say technology has changed the way they communicate with the workforce, according to our research, with 20 per cent saying it enables better collaboration, 16% saying it allows more communication to occur and a further 15% say it increases two-way communication with employees.
But while it is fantastic to see such enthusiasm for new innovations and the benefits they can bring, HR must also be mindful of the potential downsides and ensuring all employees are onboard with the rapid changes occurring in how they do their jobs.
It is easy to get excited about a new app or widget that promises to transform our working lives but it’s important to embrace innovation, while also towing the line in terms of ensuring: 1) that all that the tools are genuinely beneficial for the business, and 2) that we bring employees along with us, being mindful to support the less tech-savvy employees in the workforce.
At the core of the issue is remembering that technology can’t replace the factors that are truly important for employee engagement, whether it’s praise and recognition, inspirational leadership or career development. These must remain the focus, and technology can only support and facilitate them. So when you’re considering new technologies in the year to come, stay focused on what will really make a difference to your employees – and make sure it does.