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IoIC Live 2017 – Technology in the modern workplace

Last week we enjoyed a great event in the IC calendar – IoIC Live 2017. In a two-part blog series, 44’s Tom Ives takes a closer look at the main themes of the event and shares his highlights, starting with technology…

The opportunity to discuss IC’s role at the heart of an organisation – that was the purpose of the conference, but during the course of the presentations it went much deeper than that. We ended up looking at two main themes that I find fascinating: technology and human behaviour.

The Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) hold the event every year, but this was the first time I’ve attended and certain things stuck with me, starting with the focus on tech…

Embracing tech

The in-house teams at Nationwide and Linklaters, and industry experts Sharon O’dea & Nick Crawford presented exciting existing or emerging technologies that can improve employee engagement. Tools like Facebook’s Workplace and an employee handbook presented by a bot through a chat interface. These were shown to help employees be more productive and organisations become more connected.

Next to the completely new technologies, intranets still have an important role – whether accessed through a laptop, or on-the-go via our mobile phones. The social intranet or ESN (employer social network) is an evolution that has added the peer-to-peer features that made Facebook and WhatsApp so popular. For example, they let employees keep in contact with colleagues who aren’t close to them, personally or physically.

There was a lot of discussion in the room about why some are apps and some are websites, and the truth is both can achieve the same thing. But if you’re looking for a simple way to break it down, I’d think about it like this:

– Mobile apps are best suited to tasks that you need to be signed in for and do a lot. For example, booking holidays, completing virtual courses and messaging others.

– Websites have different strengths. They will work on any mobile device’s web browser, even Windows phones (thanks to common standards like HTML). They can be accessed on a laptop too, as no app install is required. They’re quick and light to load, and easy to create.

Extra features

Harrods understands the value of customer experience more than most companies, so I wasn’t surprised to hear from Niall Ryan Jones that they apply similar logic to their employee experience – his area of expertise. Their future engagement technology aims to give the business a record of each employee’s experience. The principle is the same as customer relationship management (CRM), where a database stores every interaction between brand and customer so that any marketer can analyse what is working, and what isn’t.

And tech isn’t just for the office, it can be used at events too – augmented reality can provide exciting News at Ten-style effects to big company conferences. Although the jury’s out on whether this is always the best course of action. Tech can make boring conferences more exciting, true, but isn’t it more about the personal connection? Having a live speaker is a treat – and we should protect face-to-face events in this digital world. Digital is there to enhance human communication, not to replace it – you just can’t get that same emotional connection if you’re watching someone on a screen.

We’re in the people business

Technology can be wonderful, but if it’s implemented incorrectly or misused, it can also easily become something to criticise. We had a great debate about the problem of overflowing inboxes. This can be easy to berate, but there are many different tricks and tips on how to use technology to manage the problem, some of which I use daily – like Slack for team collaboration and Trello for task management.

The title of the discussion was ‘How do we fix something like having too many emails?’. I found it very interesting that the focus was on the technology used, rather than the behaviour of the people using it. There are people sending the emails, and people receiving them – so the problem isn’t that email in your inbox, it’s the behaviour of the person that put it there.

There are more technology options than ever before, and more appetite for them than ever, but you shouldn’t use them just because you can. Digital tools aren’t shortcuts to get around underlying problems. The focus shouldn’t be on ‘I have too many emails’, it should be ‘Why do I have so many emails?’. It could be a cultural thing in your organisation.

Technology is brilliant, but it needs to add value for our audiences and help us make a positive difference. In IC we’re in the people business, and that needs to be our main focus.

Still wanting more?

The conference didn’t stop here – we also took a deep dive into human nature and understanding the humans behind the tech we use. Read my second blog in the series, coming next week, to find out more.

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