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The missing link in technology: Employee engagement

By Melissa Jezior

We know that technology advancements can be a game changer in terms of strengthening an organization’s capabilities, improving the customer experience, or leapfrogging the competition. So it makes sense that corporate leaders are investing heavily in new technologies such as automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to reinvent how work is done and gain a competitive edge. 

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a surge in technology investments, with some estimates as high $15 billion per week during the first wave of the pandemic. But as companies increasingly deploy new technologies, many are missing a major opportunity to get the most out of their investments because of a missing critical factor – employee engagement. 

We know that technology doesn’t stand alone – employees play a critical role in every stage. But new Eagle Hill research finds a significant gap between technology investments and how employees experience them. More specifically, companies aren’t asking employees critical questions before new technologies are deployed. And they aren’t training employees to utilize new technologies.

In a new national survey of U.S. workers, we found that only 22 percent of employees say their company invests in the right technologies to them do their job, while only 23 percent say that technology changes have had a positive impact on their organization. Employees understand that tech advances offer important possibilities. Yet, they say technology investments do not necessarily improve performance. 

The Technology in Workplace Survey 2020 also found that employees are not confident about technology change because they are not getting necessary support from their employers. More than two-thirds of workers said they need more skills to adapt to advancing technology, yet only 19 percent report that their company gives them the right level of support to understand and benefit from new technology solutions. 

The best way to give employees the right support when implementing technology is to ask them what they need. But that isn’t happening. We found that employers are not communicating with employees about technology decisions. Less than two in ten workers are asked for their input on technology decisions. And, eight percent are completely unaware of technology changes in their company. For the outlier companies that do solicit employee feedback, they typically do so after a solution has been purchased. Obviously, a lack of early feedback from the employees who are using the technology solutions undermines the investment in technology. 

There are simple but important actions companies can take to get the most from technology investments:

Understand the real problem at hand. A new technology won’t override outdated business processes, broken cultures or skills gaps.

Test the hypothesis and gain vital insights in the process. Resist the urge to conduct root cause analysis of a business challenge in isolation of the employees doing the work every day.

Understand the human return on investment. The best technology solutions get the most out of humans.

Assess tomorrow’s impacts today. Think strategically about how implementation of a new technology will impact the current and future workforce.

The lesson is clear. Engage your workforce early and often, from selection to deployment of technology solutions. Only then will companies realize the full potential of their investments. 

The Eagle Hill Consulting “Technology in Workplace Survey 2020” was conducted by Ipsos. The survey included polled 1003 respondents on aspects of the impact of technology such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics on their current and future work environment.