Exclusive: This is what Slack and co really think about the impact of tech on employee engagement
Behind-the-scenes with Slack, Perkbox and PensionBeeLoulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Culture, communication, and problem solving were among the many themes that were raised at a roundtable event discussing how technology is impacting on employee engagement. Managers from leading tech firms including Slack and PensionBee gathered at the event, which was hosted by Perkbox, the employee engagement and wellness service.
TECHNOLOGY IS GOOD FOR PRODUCTIVITY
Jonathan Lister, CTO of PensionBee, said technology solves the problem of communication within the workplace: “The evolution of technology has enabled people to communicate in a more effective manner over longer distances in shorter periods of time, and that’s what a lot of getting business done is really all about.”
Lister recently saw the benefit of getting clients to use online collaboration tool Slack to solve the problems created by solely messaging over email. “Instead of [receiving] a whole load of emails mixed in with everything else, I’m able to see conversation in context – and it’s much better,” he said.
PensionBee saw the use of internal email drop overnight, while its partners and affiliates are now creating shared Slack channels to communicate.
Ben Leeds, director of product at Perkbox insisted that technology empowers collaboration between all levels of an organisation. The benefits of a flat organisational structure were highlighted in Leadership and Culture at Work: The CMI/Glassdoor top 20. In 2017, 11 of the top performing companies identified this way as working as important to their success.
Read more: The CMI/Glassdoor top 20 in 2017
Leeds told the panel that he believes technology is helping to “invert the pyramid” within companies’ hierarchical structures by giving employees greater access to useful data that may have previously only been available to certain people. And employees increasingly have more power in picking the tools that are adopted within the workplace, too. “No longer are tools picked from the top level, they are definitely picked from all levels of business to solve a problem,” he said.
WHAT TECHNOLOGY DOES A BUSINESS NEED?
The power of technology is placing demand on suppliers to create something for people who are used to the experience of Facebook, Netflix and Spotify – “that's the kind of quality of product they demand from all of the tools they use both inside and outside of work,” said Leeds.
DOES TECHNOLOGY STUNT COMMUNICATION?
While the culture of a workplace can be transformed by technology, some say it can be hindered. Rav Dhaliwal, head of customer success EMEA at Slack countered: “I really believe that technology predominantly reflects the culture that is already there.”
If a workplace is opaque or secretive it will be reflected through its technology, he explained. What needs to happen is a change in approach for using the technology to create a more open and transparent culture through leadership. This can “flatten the distance between the board and the coalface,” he suggested. At Slack, founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield has his own channel where anyone in the company can ask him a question. “He may not know the answer to it straightaway but he will get back to you,” Dhaliwal said.
SET TECHNOLOGY BOUNDARIES
However, it is important to set boundaries and expectations among staff about how products are used, too, Nathalie Christmann-Cooper, full stack rails developer at Skills Matter added. “If you're a carer and working from home you might be fitting the hours you work around when you can,” she said. Individuals need to be mindful that using communication tools are not placing pressure on peers to respond to them outside of their chosen working hours.
Above all? “Technology is just about getting that balance struck and making sure everybody is comfortable with what is expected when.”