What role does HCM technology play in helping employers develop a team culture? We asked several industry leaders who spend their time thinking about different aspects of company dynamics to join us in a discussion that, we hope, puts culture and technology in context. They are:
- Amy Ihlen, senior director, product management, ADP Next Gen HCM Talent.
- Anne Fulton, CEO, Fuel50.
- Shane Metcalf, chief culture officer, 15Five.
The discussion was moderated by HCM Technology Report Editor Mark Feffer.
We think about culture as being people-focused, but technology’s involved, as well. How does tech factor into creating a team-oriented culture?
Amy Ihlen: Technology can and should support a culture of teamwork by keeping people connected through agile team structures. These structures should include all types of workers, for example, direct hires, temporary, gig or replacement workers, contractors or freelancers. For leaders, this accelerates visibility to their teams’ results and uncovers where they have skills gaps that need to be filled.
People work on multiple teams. This is how work gets done. Technology is an enabler of helping team members coordinate their work and understand common goals, but more importantly it can provide a means to understand a person’s strengths and work style. This helps keep team members connected and on a path of growth and success.
Anne Fulton: Technology can be a critical part of enabling culture in organizations, particularly during this era where remote working is the norm. So employee-centric technologies enable employees to connect with opportunities, mentors, projects, stretch assignments and a future career journey in a way that might have once happened over the watercooler or around the coffee machine.
So now we need to create transparency around opportunities for everyone across the organization in a fair and inclusive way, so that everyone can see opportunities, not just a few elites. We need technology to support that.
Shane Metcalf: interactions are facilitated by technology, whether it’s a video call, chatting on Slack or even picking up the phone. The question now is, how do we build a human-connection tech stack to meet as many of the social and collaborative needs of our people as possible, while not overdoing it and spending our entire lives behind a screen?
How should one approach deciding what technology’s needed to help teams work together effectively?
Amy Ihlen: Human Resources and IT need to partner on a cohesive strategy for defining how technology will move their business forward and help people thrive in their organization. HR initiatives impact everyone, and often technology can make or break the outcomes.
So, align technology investments with the way teams work in your organization. Just like we’re adapting to new ways of working together that are flexible and agile, so should our technology. Our teams have quickly adopted video conferencing, online visual collaboration tools, virtual classrooms and appointments. Ask yourself whether your organization is moving toward talent networks or more gig work. There may be an expectation to use consumer-grade technology and tools. Talk to your workforce, find out what they want.
Finally, you should consider not only today’s needs but look ahead to the future where you’ll want to plug in new and innovative applications. Invest in solutions that can adapt to different data models and are open to third-party integrations.
Anne Fulton: Ask your people what kind of technology they want or what gaps there are in their communication and understanding across the business. From that, build your requirements list and find the best-fit technology.
Shane Metcalf: Think about what you’re trying to accomplish in terms of business and culture. You need systems to help create feedback loops for performance and engagement, you need platforms for more informal connection to recreate the human bonds that used to happen at the water cooler, and you also need technology to help people take a break from technology. For instance, my favorite tech-retro innovation in this new world is taking a regular phone call and going for a walk versus a zoom meeting. Think about what your business and culture objectives are, then work backwards from there.
How can employers be sure to keep technology in the right perspective? Isn’t there a danger of believing “technology is the solution?”
Amy Ihlen: The workforce is continuing to blend personal and professional lives at a pace that presents a challenge for many organizations. However, many organizations think they’re focusing on people’s needs when they introduce new technology though the sentiment of the worker is quite different. Too often there’s not a clear understanding of how people use technology to do their best work.
Employees want greater input before technology decisions are made. They want a voice in the evaluation of devices, apps and how these can help them be most effective. Technology can’t replace the need to ensure teams are clicking and taking advantage of each other’s strengths in a way the inspires collaboration and allows for diverse ways of thinking.
Anne Fulton: True technology should never be the sole answer. We believe in enablement (the tech piece) plus education, socialization and education and communication of solutions for your people.
We also believe in enabling leaders to have better conversations with their team, so giving them visibility to their team’s skills, talents, values, aspirations and learning gaps. That, along with prompt coaching questions, ensures employees are supported in their work contributions to maximise their talent and potential.
Shane Metcalf: Technology is only one half of the coin. The human is the other half, and that can’t be overlooked. Technology should be used in service of our humanity: uplifting it, sharing it, maximizing it versus obscuring and diminishing it.
If you’ve seen the Social Dilemma, you know technology has gotten a bad rap. But it has the power to bring us together. In the workplace, there are technology-enabled manager tools that help leaders connect to their people in different ways.
We use technology to ask non-work-related questions and give people the chance to provide their thoughts and opinions on work stuff or anything else that’s on their mind. When we connect to the hearts and minds of our people, everyone is more likely to do the best work of their lives and feel connected to the team while we’re doing it. It’s up to leaders to bring the human warmth to that video meeting and set an example of using technology to make deeper connections.
What’s the first step managers should take as they consider the technology aspect of encouraging and supporting teamwork?
Amy Ihlen: The first step is to evaluate two critical areas that are proven to cultivate teamwork. First, find out what team members want in technology solutions to help them do their best work. Then determine what can help you as a manager to stay connected to your teams so you know what’s important and what’s not.
Managers also need to think about how work should get done, both now and in the future. Work is done in teams. Having a technology solution that’s designed around teams, not hierarchies, with a focus on attributes of team members and goals is the future of work.
Today’s workforce expects the technology they use for work to function just like the technology they use in everyday life. Much like we collaborate on social platforms for groups that appeal to us, employees expect to have similar team platforms to use at work where they are active members or for teams that appeal to them. Managers who demonstrate the importance of using these platforms to create a culture of teamwork and connection.
Anne Fulton: Understanding the career drivers and talents and skills of each team member and then targeting a conversation to match growth opportunities to those individual wants and needs is the key.
Shane Metcalf: Have fun with it! Celebrate the location freedom that remote work enables. Go for “team walks” with your people around the neighborhood using video calls. Spend 30 minutes on Zoom with the company playing authentic, relating games and talking about your life stories and dreams.
In-person collaboration makes it more likely that these kinds of moments of shared humanity will happen organically. With technology-enabled culture, we need to be more deliberate about creating culture so we can prevent it from falling through the cracks and being purely transactional.