Laptop, desktop

When people are your key to winning, you must provide the right tools.

We are fed so many statistics these days that they begin to lose their power to surprise or shock. However, during a presentation at the recent Redcentric symposium, I heard one that set me thinking more than most.

According to Steve McKee, solution architect at Cisco, worldwide, 86% of employees are either disengaged (generally lacking motivation) or actively disengaged (unhappy and unproductive) in their work. In the UK alone, this active disengagement is costing around £52 -70 billion a year.

As our economy is now largely centred on service and knowledge-based industries where the calibre of employees is a company’s main asset, this is a serious challenge. For small businesses where success hangs on the individual talents and efforts of a small number of people, it’s a real warning. According to further research, employees who are engaged with their work bring 22% higher profitability, 21% higher productivity and 41% fewer safety incidents.

So how can businesses improve the workplace experience so employees are fully engaged? Aside from offering more salary and status or numerous perks – moves that are often unsustainable in the long run – it’s about eliminating the day-to-day frustrations and helping them do their job in a way that brings out the best of their skills and talents and also fits in with their life commitments.

Cisco is a major champion of the work-life balance and has researched the topic thoroughly to develop its collaboration tools.

Cisco believes that when looking to improve engagement, businesses need to take into account the ‘quad-generational workplace’. With the raising of the retirement age, there are still many baby-boomers playing significant roles and by 2020 they will make up 17% of the workplace. There’s a huge gulf between their values and work preferences and those of digital natives or Generation Z born from 1995 and 2009 and who are just beginning to enter the work environment.

What does this mean in practical terms? First, it suggests the more flexibility workers have to operate anywhere and at any time, the better. There’s nothing new in this, except that until recently only larger corporations could stretch to major, expensive and long-term projects such as implementing Unified Communications (UC) to enable this agility.

Now off-premise alternatives of applications such as UC dramatically cut the costs and the timings involved. Fully-managed cloud-based delivery also reduces risk while assuring the quality of performance and support. This helps put smaller and mid-sized businesses on level pegging with their larger competitors.

Because UC brings the convergence of multiple communications and collaboration technologies – email, SMS, instant messaging and group chat, voice, video calling and conferencing – into a single solution – it will enable each generation with their different working styles to communicate in the way they feel the most comfortable.

For example, baby boomers who still like to talk face-to-face can use video contact when not in the office; Millennials and Generation Z – who might regard an email as archaic as a memo – can message their peers. By 2020 71% of the working population will be either Generation X (born 1964 – 1980) or Millennials (1980 – 1995) – and, because of accelerated technological development, the transition will be more radical than ever before. It’s not all to do with age either – it’s what’s most appropriate for the message and context – and UC provides the alternatives.

But, because it’s just as much about people and engagement as technology, there must be a sound migration strategy – and this is where working with an experienced managed services provider pays off. There are sometimes barriers such as outdated infrastructure and existing, multi-vendor arrangements to unpick and transition.

These can often be overcome by further managed cloud services such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) which reduces the low-value housekeeping work to enable ambitious IT team members to engage in higher value operational or customer-facing projects.

The rewards are such that return on investment can be fast and significant. It’s estimated that the mobile working facilitated by applications such as UC can lead to 40% lower property costs, 50% less furniture and even a 40% reduction in workplace services.

Of course nobody can prescribe an exact formula for engaging a diverse, smart and demanding group of individuals. But employers need to build the right foundations by providing the appropriate operational tools for a shifting workforce. Not only will it help improve engagement now, it will also work well into the future.

By Simon Michie, CIO, Redcentric