How the Pandemic Changed Our Perspective on Employee Engagement

“It’s 2021 outside of work. What year does it feel like inside of work?” Rallyware interviewed serial entrepreneur, global keynote speaker, industry analyst, and co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, Jason Averbook. Averbook questions why the world of business wasn’t ready for the impact of Covid-19. So let’s dive in to explore the reasons behind the low employee engagement that some companies are seeing today.

We should not have been surprised by the ‘new normal’

“The place we ended up in is the place we were always going to end up. It was just a case of how we got there.”

Averbook recalls the concerns over Y2K when businesses around the world feared the Millennium Bug would cause havoc as, for the first time, we moved into a new century so heavily reliant on technology. It didn’t take long before the realization set in that the world hadn’t changed overnight. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief and returned to ‘normal’.

This, according to Averbook, was a failure on the part of business leaders. The early days of the new millennium, he says, led to talk of “workplace 2020” – a concept of what the world of work would look like in 2020. The things he describes; remote working; employees separated; use of global talent; augmented intelligence; are not a far cry from the way that 2020 actually panned out. But Averbook questions why, when we had 20 years to plan for this way of working, we were so ill-prepared when it arrived? He describes the response globally as one of “lift and shift” in which people were simply placed in a different location and expected to continue their job as if nothing had really changed. And this is one of the biggest barriers to employee engagement. Employees always told what to do and where to go but never asked for feedback or to share ideas.

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The importance of data in employee training and engagement

“Data is sexy…If I don’t have data I can’t do anything else.”

Throughout his working life, Averbook has been recognized as someone who cares about employees and the humanity of the workforce. He sees the true value in understanding how employees feel and what drives them. 

The key to success in “the now normal”, he says, is to achieve the right balance between “efficiency and effectiveness”. And this can be achieved through a combination of machine and human resources. According to Averbook, there was a tendency across businesses to collect data and store data but without putting it to use. He likens the world of work to the human body and describes the three core components of business success to “hands, heads and hearts”. Machines are the hands but the most crucial organ – the heart – is the people you employ. But do they know how vital they are to the business?

Employee engagement is the future of work

“Let’s stop checking up on people and start checking in on people.”

Many employees are skeptical about “performance data”. They see it as something used to police them and to beat them with. Do we need to ask why that is the case? If they saw performance data contributing to employee upskilling and reskilling, would they feel the same? Data is the foundation of business decisions and is reflected in KPIs, ROI, and bottom-line profit. It cannot be ignored in the workplace. But Averbook believes the pendulum has swung too far one way and that by placing too much emphasis on the data itself rather than how it can be used for employee training and engagement, businesses have taken their eye off the ball.

“We need to shift from collecting data to thinking about how we use data.”

Averbook sees the enforced disruption of 2020 as an opportunity to totally rethink the workplace. He doesn’t see a “return to normal” but a new way of thinking – “the now normal”. In his opinion, to talk about returning to normality is to repeat the mistakes of 2000 and get left behind again. He talks about the “now of work” and how adapting is more important than returning to old practices which, in many cases, are outdated and continue only because we have always done them.

“If we lose the ability to unlearn and learn, we fall behind.”

Averbook cites the example of his mother who, at 80 years of age, has embraced Zoom and adapted to life in 2020. He wants to see that attitude become part of what companies do and what employees expect.

“How often do I ask my employees if they’re engaged?”

One of the long-standing traditions in the workplace is the annual performance review. Averbook asks what can be done with “once a year data” and compares the theory of an annual review with something that most of us do on a daily basis – carrying out an internet search. He explains how the technology in his device uses data to return an instant result and how we then use that information to make informed decisions. That same technology is available to businesses but all too often is ignored. The future of work must be using real time data to develop and engage talent.

B2ME in the workplace

“Outside of work, we’re way ahead.”

The “now of work” is about embracing real-time data to support business goals. It’s about using machines to obtain data which can be used to create personalized support and training for employees to help them feel valued and engaged. It is about recognizing how human-machine resources can work in synergy. Does Averbook foresee a time when machines completely replace humans? No. But he does envisage a workplace in which machines complete repeatable tasks efficiently and supply accurate, relevant performance data which is used to improve employee engagement, create a better customer experience and drive improved ROI.

“You’ve got to build a connection to get people connected.”

This is the part where machines cannot compete with humans. Even AI technology doesn’t achieve what Averbook describes as the “emotional aftertaste” you get from a meeting or even just a water cooler moment with a colleague. What AI does do is use algorithms to help inform decisions. This “emotional aftertaste” is the personal touch that creates business and personal relationships. It’s what he calls the B2ME and evolved from B2B and B2C. B2ME focuses on nurturing existing talent. Upskilling and reskilling employees to adapt to a changing world, Averbook says, is the only way to maintain confidence and competence in the workforce.

“1 in 5 people now meet their spouse or partner through algorithms.”

One of the fun insights we learned from Jason was how algorithms have been fully accepted into the world outside work. It is perfectly acceptable for people to meet via dating apps which essentially use maths and data to match people. Applying the same method to matching specific learning needs to staff based on performance data and the “now normal” could see a huge upturn in employee engagement, customer experience, and bottom-line profit.

Find out how Rallyware helps you boost productivity and ROI with tailored workforce upskilling and reskilling. Book a demo today.