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Agency Operations

Leveraging technology to enhance cross-generational workplace engagement

Allyson Brunette  Workplace Consultant

· 5 minute read

Allyson Brunette  Workplace Consultant

· 5 minute read

How can government agencies and other public sector organizations best utilize the latest technology to encourage learning and development and promote workplace engagement?

As the public sector continues to seek to attract and retain its workforce, contemporary technology offers opportunities to support more productive and engaged teams in many government agencies.

Modernized learning & development

For example, learning & development (L&D) is a crucial part of the engagement process, which should have agency leaders asking what L&D looks like in their organization? Is it something rolled out during employee on-boarding and revisited once annually for compliance? Or is it something more comprehensive and on-going?

Organizations need to shift their perspective from seeing L&D as a sunken cost of employee on-boarding to seeing it as an investment in employee retention. When L&D is administered in a contemporary format at the correct frequency, employees respond with higher engagement and productivity levels. Research indicates that offering training once every 3-6 months is a sweet spot and that employees overwhelmingly prefer training to be delivered in an online self-paced format.

Employees rated opportunities to learn and grow as the #1 driver of great workplace culture (up from its position at #9 in 2019), according to a 2022 workplace learning report from LinkedIn.

In fact, employees across all ages are engaged by L&D, but for different reasons. Employees under the age of 35 see L&D as valuable for internal mobility or for reaching their future career aspirations; whereas employees over the age of 50 see L&D as valuable to staying up to date in the field. Employees aren’t seeking strictly work-related training either — professional and life skills training are desired, including leadership, mental health and well-being, and even self-management training.

Managers can enhance employee experience in receiving training by understanding their employees’ unique learning styles, offering personalized and flexible self-paced training, and working one-on-one with employees as a coach or mentor.

Moreover, up-skilling or re-skilling current employees to fill organizational vacancies among government agencies has never been more relevant given the tight labor market. Indeed, 51% of organizations said they prefer to manage skills gaps by retraining their existing employees, compared to 32% of organizations that manage these gaps through outside hiring, according to a 2022 report on learning and development trends. In some instances, this might mean hiring a new employee who meets the baseline hard and soft skills for the role, but who may need some additional skills training as a part of the on-boarding process.

Creating “smart” work environments

The deployment of smart home technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow rapidly. From wearable tech to voice-activated speakers, Bluetooth home security cameras to smart heating and cooling systems, many Americans’ home environments feature more smart technology than their office environment.

Yet, that may be changing just as rapidly. IoT holds a functional opportunity to increase employee comfort and thereby productivity in the workplace. Smart offices use IoT to provide more comfortable (and healthy) working conditions (temperature, lighting, air purification systems) as well as more ergonomic working conditions (smart furniture, adjustable desks or workstations).

Beyond physical comforts, smart scheduling tools and room sensors can measure meeting room usage and report on organizational trends in meeting frequency, attendance, and the need for volume or size of communal spaces. Sustainability and cost-saving measures can be realized through IoT by tracking usage of high-energy appliances such as printers or coffeemakers, and then turning them off automatically during low-usage times.

IoT & asynchronous collaboration

Fully remote work or hybrid work have become engrained aspects of workplace culture for many organizations post-pandemic, and the ability to work in a hybrid format is an expectation with younger generations entering the workforce. Further, data shows that productivity is often higher for remote employees, but they can struggle to connect with team members or may feel isolated from colleagues. Teams need the equipment to collaborate effectively both in-person and remotely to drive employee engagement.

Asynchronous collaboration allows for team members to work on projects or assignments in real time, but not necessarily at the same time. While virtual meetings experienced a major uptick during the pandemic, longer work hours and less productivity also grew apace. To combat this, asynchronous collaborations seeks to replace some go-to workplace tools that encourage hyper-responsiveness (like email or instant messaging), with tools that actively discourage hyper-responsiveness (like shared project files, project management task assignment tools, project chat boards). This has been found to actually increase employee engagement and provide an important opportunity for team member autonomy.

Managers are likely to find that fostering a culture that reinforces an attitude that it’s okay to not be online all day and instead encourages the use of asynchronous tools will see a reduction in workplace stress and burnout.

Selling the value of technology

Implementing more technology in the workplace can be a double-edged sword, of course. The EY Work Reimagined survey of public sector employees indicated that 63% of government employees “believe extensive or moderate changes are needed to enhance [their] workplace digital tools and technologies in the future.” However, many feel that there can be hesitancy around how and why technology is being implemented. Is technology being used as a corporate surveillance tool by measuring keystrokes or ensuring an employee has not left their workstation?

Multiple generations of public service employees (and not just younger workers) may see corporate surveillance as having no tangible benefit for their work. The key for agency leaders is to reposition their agencies’ use of technology from being used strictly punitively to using technology to create more engaging and productive workplace environments and then sharing that benefit directly with employees.

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