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Getting employee engagement right when ramping in the tech sector

  
illustration of co-workers talking virtually



PEOPLE AND CULTURETECHNOLOGY

Ramping workforces has been the unofficial theme of the tech sector since the start of the pandemic. Surges in e-commerce have been driving tech companies to hire employees at an exponential and unprecedented rate in the modern era. As an example, Amazon recorded 427,300 new employees in the 10 months following January 2020 to manage the sudden surge in demand. Other companies, like grocery and restaurant food delivery platforms also saw significant rises in demand that drove a need to grow their workforces.

Undoubtedly, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on workplace restrictions and a pivot to remote work has been taxing on many organizations as they try to keep up with consumer demand, while ensuring their employees remain safe, healthy and engaged. And, while the world around them continues to be in a state of flux, it has become apparent that employee engagement has never been more critical for these tech companies if they are to succeed in this new normal.

The link between productivity and engagement

A recent article in Harvard Business Review showed engagement and productivity are intrinsically linked. According to the article, “an inspired employee — one who has a profound personal connection to their work and/or their company — is more than twice as productive as a merely satisfied worker. The better an organization is at engaging and inspiring its employees, the better its performance."

Not surprisingly, rapid ramping coupled with the ongoing stressors of the pandemic have had an adverse effect on many organizations' abilities to engage their employees the article continues. “Poor collaboration and inefficient work practices have reduced productive time by 2% to 3% for most organizations."

As such, the key to successfully ramping your workforce is having a strong foundational culture that embraces change and opportunity, and is agile enough to withstand quick growth.

Understanding your values and traditions

Fully remote work and hybrid work are likely to be a lasting workplace dynamic as organizations continue to adapt their operations in a post-COVID-19 world. According to a recent survey of 1,569 executives by Cisco Systems, more than three-quarters of large organizations say they will increase work flexibility.

Promoting employee engagement and good workplace practices in a hybrid or remote work setting requires having a strong grasp of your corporate culture. It becomes even more critical when you're adding new remote employees as they are joining your organization without having fully experienced your workplace dynamic in-person.

Understanding your culture starts with asking core questions like: what are the values and traditions that underpin your culture? How do they contribute to the employee experience in the physical workplace? What role do relationships and collaboration play in your organization?

Getting to the root of these questions will help ensure the heart of your culture gets translated into any online experiences you are designing to engage employees regardless of whether they are working in an office or remotely.

Reactivating your culture while remote

The next step is looking at these attributes and recognizing how they are affected by remote work. That sort of insight can help you reactivate those cultural waypoints.

A tech company with a heavily collaborative culture, for example, is probably already using virtual collaboration tools. But what about virtual team-building, or creating intimate team video chats as new employees are brought on during ramping?

As we've written about before on our blog, there is a strong correlation between the quality of your employee experiences and customer experiences (CX). There is clear evidence to indicate that the better employees feel about their work, the better CX they can deliver.

During a Marketing Week roundtable last September, food delivery platform Just Eat's chief marketing officer, Susan O'Brien, touched on this idea and discussed how her company marries the two in practice. “We've always measured employee satisfaction but at the outset of the pandemic, we did weekly check-ins and surveys," O'Brien told the roundtable. “We've pulled it back to once a month now but it was important that we could respond to what employees were saying around the globe in real-time."

Engaged employees can help ensure your CX isn't impacted negatively while ramping. A recent survey found something as simple as a thoughtful check-in in which a manager asks an employee how they can help them, or shares updates on the state of the business, can make a significant difference in an employee's engagement.

Growing learning opportunities and scaling effectively

A need to ramp typically indicates that a company is pursuing new lines of business and adopting new technologies. And if scaling will require the redeployment of current teams, you'll want to make sure they're confident in their skills. The first step is to inventory your current talent pool. You can use this as an opportunity to engage employees and see where they feel the skill gaps are. In some cases, employees will need to be reskilled or upskilled through continued learning.

Continual learning serves as an excellent opportunity to engage current employees. According to the abovementioned survey, nearly half of respondents (47%) see creating employee development plans and suggesting new learning opportunities as a vital part of leadership support. And 78% say corporate learning and development programs are important in the time of COVID-19.

As such, building a culture of corporate learning and development means being explicit about your employees' right to learn. Set aside development days, develop specific training modules and constantly adapt your remote learning program as needs evolve.

There's also an economic benefit to training existing employees versus recruiting new employees with the requisite skill set. In fact, it can cost six times more to hire than to upskill, notes the white paper "Rethinking the Build vs. Buy Approach to Talent" by advisor and analyst Josh Bersin. As Bersin also notes, hiring out anytime new skills are needed rather than retraining existing staff "may actually exacerbate growing skill — and equity — gaps in high-demand fields."

On top of that, employees really do want to learn. A third of Millennials surveyed for LinkedIn's Fourth Annual Workplace Learning Report said they'd stay longer with a company that offered “more skill-building opportunities." Recognition was also highlighted in the report as an important factor, as employees, particularly those in the Millennial and Gen Z demographics, are more engaged in learning when it's recognized by their employers.

Preparing for the future

Even with COVID-19 immunization plans now underway, many regions around the world continue to have to enact various stages of lockdowns to protect its citizens. Moreover, many consumers may permanently adopt new shopping channels and habits they picked up while in lockdown. These factors are leading to consumers' ongoing reliance on e-commerce and online delivery platforms to perform their everyday tasks.

The brands that will succeed in this new era are those that are ready and able to provide the best CX by prioritizing their company's culture and ensuring they have the right-sized and an engaged workforce to continue to meet their customers' needs.

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