Happy New Year 20142 digital trends that will challenge how organisations’ manage relationships with their people in 2014 and beyond

Times they are a-changing, and the way we live our lives is, in some ways, dramatically different to just 5 years ago. To give an example, following the recent storms, and the loss of electricity, amongst the hardships people complained of was the loss of wifi. I, of course, acknowledge the point that Kirsty Alsop and others make, that losing your wifi or fridge freezer is nothing compared the hardships suffered by those who lived through the Blitz, or in today’s world, by Jordanian refugees.  The fact is, we live in a digital age, and, in my view, there are 2 emerging trends that will challenge organisations in 2014 and beyond.  How organisations’ respond to these challenges could significantly affect the level of commitment and engagement they are likely to promote amongst their workforce.

The 2 trends, I predict will challenge organisations in 2014 and beyond are:

  1.  Online retailing
  2. Social Media

Online retailing

Online retailing has dramatically changed the way we shop in the UK.  On Cyber Monday, 2013, VISA estimated that £450 million would be spent, with some 7.7 million transactions taking place, up 16 per cent on 2012, making December 2 the busiest day of the year for e-commerce. John Lewis expected 80,000 orders and Amazon 3.5 million.

Experian estimated that between 24 December and 26 December, some 45 million hours was spent shopping online. They predicted that Internet sales were worth £540m on Boxing Day.

By the end of December 2013, it was estimated that, the first time ever, there will have been three billion visits to retail websites in the UK in a single month.

It is naive to think none of this shopping will take place in work’s time.  The challenge we face, is to manage this new shopping trend, so it doesn’t spiral out of control.  While at the same time allowing internet access that is flexible enough to reflect the patterns of our current lifestyle.  It is possible, technologically, if not procedurally, to eradicate on-line shopping in the workplace.  However, the smart organisation will recognise, that such controls are unlikely to build commitment and engagement amongst its workforce. The challenge is to have internet access policies and procedures that prevent workplace “surfing” getting out of control, while avoiding the “own goal” of having a control system that prevents access to online services at the cost of disengaging and disempowering the workforce.

Social Media

Facebook and LinkedIn are now an intrinsic part of our daily lives.  Most of us, our bosses, colleagues and our staff, have some presence on social media.  Social media has the potential to reach a very wide audience very quickly. This is reflected in the growth of employers using social media for recruitment. According to a recent survey by XpertHR 46% of employers use social media to recruit candidates.  All organisations want to enjoy the benefits of engaging with their customers, staff and other stakeholders that social media offers.  However, the reputational and commercial damage of poor publicity via social networks cannot be underestimated. Organisations’ need clear policies when managing staff interactions with social media.  This is important, not just as a point of reference if disciplinary action is required, but to reflect that fact that social media is an essential part of most modern organisations’ public profiles.  Every employee has the capacity to influence the public perception of their employer by how they engage with social media. However, there is a danger that the “baby can go out with the bathwater”.  How can an organisation generate engagement, commitment and innovation when its default position is to introduce controls rather than to generate commitment?

Furthermore, the landscape of social media is changing. According to recent research Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried amongst 16- to 18-year-olds in the UK.  Children and teenagers are increasingly communicating through newer contenders such as Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat  and WhatsApp. In 5 – 10 years’ time a new cohort of employees wont engage with Facebook or Linkedin, but through Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and WhatsApp. The growth of these media will make it harder for organisations to monitor and control employee communications and interactions via social media.

There is now a group of hyper-connected, always-on employees who wind up spending time on work related activities outside of their work day commitments, thanks to the rise of mobile communications and smartphones.  They bring their work with them everywhere. They may check out Facebook or book a ticket for a gig in the afternoon, but may be working on a presentation or bid at 11.00pm at night.

Consequently trying to restrict and control what and how employees’ communicate  via social media, rather than persuade and convince them of appropriate standards of behaviour, might be unproductive in the short term, and impossible in the long term.

The fact is that we are increasingly living our lives on the web. We are buying clothes, booking holidays, transferring funds, sharing our family photos, “liking” a recent restaurant, or to “letting off steam” about  colleagues, bosses or difficult customers.  This new way of life has the potential to eat in to employees’ works time, and to create negative publicity for the employer.  The temptation may be to eradicate it as a risk by creating firewalls and introducing controls and punitive rules.  However, the real challenge is to manage it in way that stops it being a major drain on organisational resources, reduces it potential for reputational and commercial risk, while enhancing its capacity to empower and engage staff.