Guest Blogger

By Faran Johnson, Managing Director at Engage for Success

It was such a pleasure to be chairing a great set of speakers at the 2019 Digital Workplace Directors Forum. Inspired by the opening keynote speakers, Dominic Holmes and Peter Finding from Taylor Vinters giving us real insight into the future of work by looking at their Zebra Project one year on.  Three lessons are learned: first to embrace technology and have a blended workforce (workforce and technology); second to do innovation in an ethical and transparent way; third to have purpose.

Our second speaker was Megan Butler, a PhD student at Leeds University.  Megan gave us a really thought provoking study of how AI is impacting HR and applied learning; by improving the HR service and delivery models and methods. She about chatbots and how to apply AI through automation, cognitive engagement and cognitive insights. And lastly Megan posed an ethics question: How do you ensure ethics as a service with the introduction of AI, and went on to state more critical thinking skills were needed. Some excellent case studies from her work with Siemens, a global telecoms company and EY on how they use AI in their recruitment and engagement work.

The next segment was delivered by Antonia Dietmann and Emma Milton from HM Courts & Tribunals Service who talked about the need to focus on building digital capability around leadership, digital skills and role skills.  Staff lacked confidence in using new technologies and so a new ‘Digital You’ programme was designed to create bite-sized, peer led learning, covering 10 topics over 5 months and then 6 months self-managed learning.  Staff confidence increased by 23% to cope with over 100 new digital products for new citizen services.

James Herbert from Hastee Pay was next up on stage and spoke about the dilemma many workforces face receiving their pay monthly.  He realised those paid monthly were twice as likely to use short term credit as those paid weekly.  And those paid weekly were twice likely to be able to manage their bills.  So he developed a system which integrates with most payroll technology to allow the workforce to ‘drawdown’ weekly on their monthly pay – at zero cost to the employer and a minimal fee to staff users.  This, as well as financial education training for staff and employers is helping organisations such as Gallowglass.

Paul Miller from the Digital Workplace Group shared with us a fascinating set of ten predictions for the future (and so far he has been 80% correct with prior predictions!):

  • Modern advanced intranets remain central to any high grade digital workplace
  • Organisations start to restructure themselves, spurred on through digital innovation
  • Machine learning will be the focus area for organisations rather than general AI
  • Aggregator services rise to help people manage information, tasks, connections and events (auto tagging)
  • External customer success is increasingly seen as grounded on internal digital workplace success (eg 3M, IKEA)
  • The knowledge management renaissance will continue to accelerate, exposing outmoded performance management approaches that reward individuals versus teams (eg Verizon)
  • The mobile workforce is seen as central to work irrespective of where people work physically (eg Accenture)
  • Raising the digital IQ of every person in work is imperative (eg Barclays)
  • An ethical, sustainable and healthy digital workplace becomes a powerful recruitment and retention tool
  • The digital workplace evolves to include partners, contractors, the supply chain and customers

We then heard from Gemma Lee and Ashley McConnell from Konica Minolta who shared their case study of how technology can be a force for good.   The work they do with The Big Issue used augmented reality to allow readers to engage more deeply with the written content and more importantly, with the Big Issue vendors, to emotionally connect with them as human beings and to dispel any social stigma and misconceptions about the vendors.  The same technology is used with staff and has prompted a highly successful ‘internal selfie’ campaign (#techforgood)

Victoria Silverman from Refinitiv (formerly Thomson Reuters) spoke passionately about authenticity will change the digital workplace, give the massive disruption of recent data breaches.  The takeaways were simple.  Put your resources into providing context rather than social connection for users.  Understand who your digital influencers, micro influencers, networks, brokers and connectors are and make sure you have a clear channel strategy which must include communities of practice.

Sharon Olivier from Ashridge Executive Education shared the research sponsored by Engage for Success and Oracle which explored the barriers to engagement in teams.  From typically acknowledged engaged teams, the research unveiled four zones (or shades of grey) of these teams: 32% were disengaged; 21% were contented; 21% were pseudo engaged and 25% were engaged.  The upshot is: don’t believe your staff survey results unless you are prepared to truly understand the underlying issues. Ashridge learned there were three things staff wanted more of – a sense of significance; to feel emotionally supported and stretch, challenge and work they could feel proud of.

After lunch I chaired the panel discussion with some great questions from the audience.  It also gave us some powerful quotes:

  • Power had left the physical workplace – we now need to make it digitally
  • Distributed leadership needs to be the key focus for leaders in the digital workplace
  • Digital capability is the salt – not the main course
  • Groom digital ninjas at the intersection between business, technology and operations

Adrienne Glad shared her case study of how to use technology to drive employee engagement in CDC Group.  She highlighted four challenges she faced: ability to communicate, (which channels to use, the commitment to time and the willingness to do this.   Focusing on language (tone of voice and words), license (empower with permission) and platform (the right tools) she shared how their intranet tools (called Sydney as a nod to the company’s founder) has created a sense of community among the workforce.

Chris Ezekiel from Creative Virtual showcased a rapid set of case studies from DBS Bank, Citibank, PwC, Lloyds Banking Group and the MOD in how they use an ‘orchestration platform’ to integrate social media with internal and external facing technologies.  The key, he found, is that for chatbots to be fully engaged with, personalisation is needed, to make it feel more human.  Conversely, chatbots need to be trained by humans to pick up on sentiment and frustration.

Samantha Rope from Wilson James led a £10m investment for a new HR ERM but they did not understand the digital profile of the workforce.  This led to the creation of personas so they could focus their energies on digital transformation (speed of delivery) and digital maturity (pace of change the business could accept).  In summary, it was need led, not solution led.

Ramkumar Chandrasekaran from Tata Consultancy Services was last to take to the stage and spoke about the Tata story where the CEO, 2 years ago, led a campaign to drive a mind-set that they continue to embed – the machine first delivery model.  Simply put, machines will have the first right of refusal.  Ram’s aim was to ensure this did not impact negatively on recruitment and retention.  Using three chatbots (Okto, Milo and Cara) they connect 15K mentoring relationships per month.  Most HR policy and recruitment process queries are dealt with through Cara freeing up the HR BP’s time and motivation to focus on the more human and behavioural aspects.  The big takeaway from Ram was to foster open collaboration and collective intelligences – to design people networks for maximising the cognitive surplus – in other words, have a hyper connected organisation.

An incredible amount of experience, expertise and enthusiasm was on display from all our speakers. Once again a great conference and fabulous questions form the audience.

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