What Will the Revolution in Digital Employee Engagement Mean in 2023?

Until now, employee engagement strategies have been described as transformational. Looking ahead to 2023, the description for the future of employee engagement changes to revolutionary due to digital technologies changing how people communicate messages and stay informed. The revolution in digital employee engagement is energized by new generations of workers who bring their digital knowledge and expertise in their personal lives to the workplace, where technology has already influenced job design and transformed the workplace.   

Your leaders need to embrace the principles of digital employee engagement and understand how to turn them into actions capable of building strong employee personal relations, even when employees are a thousand miles away. 

Multi-Prong Employee Engagement via Digital Communication 

In an interesting twist, digital technologies are essential to employee engagement, but in turn, employee engagement is essential to the successful and productive utilization of digital technologies. Implementing state-of-the-art technologies for improved working practices is not enough to make them effective tools for employee engagement. Your leaders must also prepare the workforce to use the digital systems by investing in employee training that reskills, upskills, and reinforces new knowledge. At the same time, your leaders must know how to utilize the technologies while maintaining human-ness. This is the real challenge prompting the revolution in employee engagement. 

The result is a multi-prong approach to strengthening employee engagement and positive employee relations. The year of 2023 employee engagement is about fast-tracking effective two-way and collaborative communication with digital communication systems to streamline operations and make work more meaningful for employees while ensuring employee needs and preferences are anticipated and met.   

One of the advantages of digital communication is that it includes a whole menu of options – email, blogs, websites, live chat, social media, video chat, video conferencing, chatbots, intranet, instant messaging, podcasts, and new technologies on the verge of wider practical implementation in the workplace, like augmented reality and virtual reality. Beyond these communication tools are even more advanced options like anticipatory computing that are in development in which technology systems anticipate users' needs. Digital communication is the core of all other digital systems because it enables collaboration across the organization, instant access to information, and enhanced communication with managers and supervisors. Digital communication is an employee engagement system that contributes to business outcomes. 

The challenge to maximizing digital employee engagement is twofold. First, you must choose the digital options that best fit your workforce. Second, you must integrate the chosen communication options to ensure smooth and effective integration. The digital communication system becomes a component of the overall digital workplace in which digital technologies are used to redesign the workplace for improved productivity, greater collaboration, a higher level of efficiency, and more flexibility and resilience. 

Advantages of Digital Employee Engagement 

According to Gartner research, the future of work predictions say that by or during 2024, 25 percent of employee meetings will employ virtual assistants, and 50 percent of organizations will support employee mental well-being with emotion AI technologies. By 2023, 25 percent of employee interactions with applications will happen via voice.  

The utilization of digital solutions was accelerated during the COVID pandemic, largely due to the need to rapidly shift to a remote workforce. A workforce that is a mixture of in-office and remote workers led to changes in the digital space so that workers could continue to collaborate as if they were still in the same environment. Virtual conferencing, a form of digital communication, is now a common employee engagement process.  

All workers need new skills in the digital workplace, and your leaders need skills development in effectively using digital communication systems to optimize digital employee engagement. Using Deloitte's model for a successful virtual and hybrid workplace combined with IRI Consultant's identified opportunities for digital-driven employee engagement, a digital workplace can maximize the workforce experience in many ways on a productive and human basis.   

  • Personalized and intuitive – work is less complex but more meaningful as low-level tasks are automated; it can deliver personalized content in easy-to-consume formats. 
  • People-focused – enables two-way dialogue and feedback with more rapid leadership resolution of issues and more agile response to changing needs concerning well-being.  
  • Increased sense of belonging for all employees – digital analytics can inform decision-making and connect work to the mission; with continuous improvement based on user feedback from all employees, there is an increase in the sense of belonging. 
  • Fosters well-being – more opportunities to connect to work with leadership using actionable data to foster career growth and well-being 
  • Workforce-centric service – enables providing people-centric, personalized support. 
  • Proactive and intelligent – capable of transitioning experiences from reactive to proactive to predictive in anticipation of worker needs and preferences; provides nudges and recommendations about work. 
  • Team building through larger networks – employees and leaders across the organization can collaborate, network, and form support communities in which knowledge and expertise are shared. 
  • Increased transparency – increased employee engagement through more leadership transparency which boosts morale; a feedback-driven culture promoted through data sharing means people have a much better understanding of how the organization works. 
  • Better employee training – ability to deliver e-Learning training tools to all employees in any location so that no employee is forgotten and productivity during continuous change is maintained 
  • Builds trust - all of the advantages of employee engagement in the digital workplace build trust 
  • Avoid unionizationcreating an environment where unions are simply unnecessary is increasingly challenging in the pro-union 2022 environment; successfully developing digital employee engagement is going to be a key determining factor in 2023 
employee engagement

Employees Living Digital

An example Gartner gives of living digital describes Sandra accepting a job offer and immersing herself in the digital systems. Notice that job performance, collaboration, networking, and training are not compartmentalized. They are integrated.  

  • She feels welcomed and engaged when she accepts the job offer because she has access to an onboarding portal that offers organizational information. She can also complete the new-hire requirements and take a virtual tour before starting work. 
  • She gets nudges to complete tasks on a guided new-hire checklist promptly.  
  • When she has a question about a new HR policy, Sandra chats with a virtual agent on her mobile device and gets a virtual copy of the policy for review. 
  • Arriving at work, Sandra submits a secure wellness check-in. 
  • She reviews the day's work priorities in her reminder app and accesses a work management tool to check on the status of her project team. 
  • Sandra answers emails and updates documents in the collaboration tool. 
  • A virtual assistant prompts her to schedule a meeting with her manager. 
  • Sandra's team holds an afternoon brainstorming session over video that includes a virtual whiteboard, leading to using a crowdsourcing application to engage the rest of the organization in a new project idea.  

Sandra can meet with her manager in person or virtually when she schedules the meeting. She can complete online training modules 24/7, blending work and skills development.  

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Disadvantages of Digital Employee Engagement 

The Gartner study also addressed what humans want from digital interactions. The risk of relying on digital systems for work and communication is that human-ness is put at risk, and gaps in communication are a risk. The research found that employees want digital interactions to not lead to a loss of human-ness. How can a loss of human-ness happen?  

  • Impersonal interactions reduce the employee engagement level. 
  • Potential of less team bonding 
  • The employee's whole self, including ambitions, personal preferences, and needs, may not be recognized because of virtual distancing. 
  • The employee gets "lost in digital space" because of the ability to work from anywhere rather than with coworkers in one location. 
  • Lack of a careful choice of communication channels to reach employee groups leads to employees not being listened to and employee-employer feedback not being incorporated into real, transparent, and trustworthy solutions. 
  • Technologies are implemented to boost productivity and innovation but are not tailored to "me" and lead to disengagement. 
  • Leaders rely too heavily on digital employee engagement and fail to integrate human interactions. 
  • Risk of security breaches in HR systems in which employees provide sensitive information.

Vary your communication channels to reach your employee base

The takeaway is that digital enables communication in-house and remotely, but it does not guarantee effective communication, which means employee engagement is compromised. The ultimate human messaging is the personal conversation, but a widespread workforce makes that impossible. In-person conversations have high value because leaders can fully engage the employee and get the benefit of body language. As more employees go remote or work a hybrid schedule and companies implement digital operational and communication systems, leveraging digital engagement tools is crucial to developing and maintaining employee engagement.  

Listening and demonstrating empathy with employees is more challenging when they are scattered in different locations. How do you choose the most effective digital communication channels? First, you need more than one channel to accommodate the message type, employee needs, and varied employee locations. Your leaders want to share the right content with the right employees in a timely manner through their preferred communication channels and devices. Getting the communication channels right, no matter what revolutionary technologies are implemented is necessary for employee engagement and productivity. 

The communication channels must reach in-facility, remote, deskless, and field employees. The channels must also promote workforce collaboration, information sharing, and two-way feedback between your leaders and employees. Some important things were learned during the COVID pandemic. For example, Forbes reported that some employee surveys indicated a week of virtual meetings left 38 percent of employees feeling exhausted, and 40 percent of employees surveyed experienced mental exhaustion from video calls while working remotely.  

You need to vary your communication channels and your communication channel use and consider the type of messages. The future of employee engagement hinges on building a strong communication strategy that considers content, channels, and employee audiences.   

The revolution in digital employee engagement in 2023 is the increasing use of technologies like Artificial Intelligence and virtual assistants to keep employees informed, connected, and engaged. You need to stay on top of the new technologies because your employees expect them as part of their employee experience as much as they are becoming part of their personal experience. The fundamental nature of work is changing due to technology, and your workforce expects four things:  

  • Jobs adapted to new technologies. 
  • Provisions for employee retraining and upskilling so each worker fully understands their job responsibilities and has the right capabilities. 
  • Technologies blended with personal interactions whenever possible. 
  • Technologies leveraged for building human connections while promoting organizational opportunities for personal and career growth. 

Meet these expectations, and deeper employee engagement is possible. The difference in 2023 compared to prior years is that employees better understand what they expect from employers and technology and are empowered.  

There are more opportunities for meaningful work as low-level tasks are automated. Continuous employee training is embedded in organizational operations. Leaders can rely on more data-driven decision-making. Employees across a flatter organization are more collaborative. There is better feedback, more transparency, and more opportunities. 

digital employee engagement

Use differentiated messaging for Digital Employee Engagement 

One of the greatest advantages of employee engagement in the digital environment is that messaging can be differentiated. For example, important messages, like a change in top leadership, has a major impact on the organization and the workforce, so issuing a stark message on the intranet is more likely to cause harm to employee engagement than it is to inform. However, a positive change in benefits could be posted on the intranet on a benefits website. Consider the communication channels that are the best fit for the workers and stakeholder consumption. An employee app can deliver information and offer feedback opportunities, while video chats can help leaders stay connected to field workers. Collaboration communication tools can connect any worker. Some conversations need to take place face-to-face, whether one-on-one or in a group meeting. Have a way to differentiate high-priority communications, so they get employee attention.  

Case Study Demonstrating the True Tech-Based Employee Experience Transformation 

The LeapHR 2022 conference was future-focused on Human Resources in Healthcare. One of the most striking points of the conference was the need to embrace digital tools and systems to attract new generation workers to the healthcare profession. HR professionals are using technology to continuously transform the employee experience no matter where the employee is.   

Jeff Donnay with ServiceNow and a presenter at LeapHR 2022 helps organizations improve workflows through streamlining the employee HR experience. At Spectrum Health, his team effort enabled "doctors, nurses and support staff to spend less time with HR and IT and more time with patients." The project replaced multiple disconnected legacy technologies with a single, consolidated ERP platform called Workday that is integrated with ServiceNow's IT and HR Service Management Systems.   

The new generations of workers want work to be valuable, efficient, and productive, and utilizing technology to streamline HR is a digital strategy for enhancing the employee experience. The project was implemented in phases and included a single 'front door' portal for information services, mobile access, and self-service opportunities. One ecosystem gives all staff access to IT and HR services with data and analytics, providing leaders with insights and information about continual service improvements.    

Adding Human-ness to Digital Employee Engagement 

In the future of digital employee engagement, IT and HR and organizational leaders work together to create a positive employee experience throughout the employee journey. There is such a thing as "bad technology," which usually refers to piecemeal approaches. Employers can't deploy digital systems just because they meet operational needs. In the future, they must also meet employee needs, especially if they want to stay union-free. Your leaders and employees may have been engaging digitally to some degree already. Still, future digital employee engagement must be based on a coordinated, technology-integrated system managed by leaders skilled in maximizing utilization of technology without losing human-ness.  

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.