CATEGORY

ENGAGEMENT

 

The university experience hangs in the balance with students paying more than ever before to continue their higher education, during a time where they may not even be able to move to the city where their university is based. What effect does it have on the university-student relationship to have such formative years move entirely online? For starters, the pressure is on for educators to provide value and sustain student interest and engagement levels, and to tackle somewhat unexpected challenges.  

Sarah, a lecturer from Newcastle University, says: “the key thing we noticed when we switched to online teaching at the start of lockdown was the lack of engagement online with students, this was surprising considering how they’re typically so comfortable online and on their phones.” She and her colleagues found students reluctant to partake in dialogue and discussions, with few willing to even use instant messaging or chat functions, even more hesitant to turn on their cameras in seminars and tutorials. Overall, during lockdown, they discovered the students were generally uncomfortable fully engaging in sessions. While she originally figured she would be battling IT issues and stuck on imaginative content creation, Sarah has found herself spending more time thinking of how to simply inspire debate and conversation while addressing these new needs, behaviours and confidence levels.  

It strikes a noticeable and perhaps surprising difference between the webinar-mania from the professional world over the last year, compared to the awkwardness of students using the same platforms for learning when technology is arguably their strength.  

In her online classes at the end of the 2019/20 academic year, Sarah tested and found success in readjusting the session format into panel discussions where students could listen in and observe academics and specialists break down and analyse key topics. It’s helped take the pressure off students and prioritised absorbing and understanding the course, over the focus on whether someone has turned their camera on or not. Nevertheless, it still leaves the teams facilitating learning and nurturing students concerned about how to ensure engagement with online content for this coming academic year. Universities have a vital role in fostering curiosity, innovation, and creativity. If students are switching off, we need to understand why. Here is where matching the flexibility and accessibility of technology with a deeper understanding of audiences and their motivations can really help boost the connection in learning.  

Gen Z audiences, for example, are known to expect instant communication and feedback. From friends and parents but also educators too. Is current heightened connectivity also providing increased feedback and understanding of their performance and progress? When Stanford University ran an informal survey on how students felt sharing video during lectures, two-thirds of respondents reported they have been in a situation where they felt uncomfortable having their camera on in class. When asked why, respondents said they were self-conscious about being seen in class, weren’t in private spaces and/or didn’t want to show their current living situations. Lockdown arguably blurred lines between professional, school, and home life for everyone, and we mustn’t forget that university students living situations are often going to reflect where they are emotionally, financially, and personally. So how can we balance professors needing to know their students are ‘present’ and students needing to feel comfortable or like their space hasn’t been invaded?  

Maybe the answers lie in reinventing the environment instead of replicating the traditional. A new learning environment should mean a new look into innovative approaches to spark interest, participation, curiosity and commitment. It can sound scary and resource intensive at first, but it can be something as simple as integration of Twitter threads for bursts of insightful information in a way that relates to the audience to help tap into the concept of microlearning. Particularly vital during a time where distractions are constant and attention spans are significantly shorter, the expectation to learn primarily from reading long blocks of information may soon be a thing of the past. Or, it could be something more captivating to make the learning experience more meaningful for students. Inclusion of game like elements such as immediate feedback, visualised progress and staggered learning across levels (i.e. have you understood X before moving onto Y?), are ways to enhance the online learning experiences. Various studies [Tan and Singh (2017) and Glowacki, Kriukova and Avshenyuk (2018)have been carried out over the years in the field of gamification in higher education by using gamified tools such as Kahoot, with many specifying its effectiveness for learning transfer, boosted motivation and overall engagement.  

Adding gamification or game elements is a great example of how taking advantage of technology can help to boost more meaningful learning in a way that’s fun and novel, yet also insightful and informative for students. Boundaries can be pushed further with other innovative approaches, utilising artificial intelligence aided virtual assistants or virtual, immersive environmentsAll of these approaches represent a look into how the near future of learning in higher education is developing, particularly as younger generations are in constant search of and desire for new and exciting experiences. 

The last few months have opened the public’s eyes to vulnerabilities in the care system more than ever before. Groups and communities have been isolated, while those trying to protect them have had increased pressure and responsibility, with little or no enhanced approaches to help. There is a real need to rebuild care and connection, utilising the tools and innovation we often apply to other sectors of society.

What should the next generation of care look like? Where could we go from here for cross-collaboration between communities and areas of expertise? Can similar approaches and an understanding of users be applied in a preventative way? And how can we innovatively introduce technology in everyday interactions to improve quality of life?

In our virtual lecture with Newcastle University Open Lab, the team walk through a solution focussed on streamlining and reimagining working processes with compassion. We examine the development journey, through the lens of a real care shift, as an example of how technology, UX design, and empathy can come together to create insightful tools that empower users and promote quality care.

The first step of many towards addressing the structural, resourcing, societal and emotive challenges at the heart of an aging population. 

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Persuasive technology is broadly defined as technology that is designed to change attitudes or behaviours of users through persuasion and social influence, but crucially not through coercion. The fundamentals of Behavioural Science are at the heart of persuasive technologies. When unregulated and misappropriated, technology that looks to touch human behaviour can have unintended or even unethical consequences. At its best however, persuasive technology can step in where other strategies fail, able to accompany us on our devices to help prompt us, support us, guide us towards achieving voluntary, positive, and lasting behavioural change which truly benefits us as individuals 

The potential for achieving genuine, lasting change and ability to help populations in need of support has resulted in its exponential growth in the field of digital health in recent years, where its usage is typically classified into 2 types. The first being when it is focused on the promotion and prevention of issues. This approach involves fostering awareness, promoting positive behaviours to maintain good health and habits, as well as reinforcing behaviours to review or detect early. 

The second being when it is focussed on the treatment of diagnosed conditions. This tends to involve improving the understanding and competencies of patients so that they can better manage their condition and follow the prescribed treatment more easily. 

Its effectiveness has been provenwith recent research stating the use of persuasive technologies (in both types just mentioned) is nearly 100%. This is specifically when the behavioural objectives are related to dental health, diet, sexual health, physical activity, and positive habit building. However, they noted effectiveness is slightly reduced when it’s applied to smoking and substance abuse.

 

Did you know..?
92% of health and wellness apps using persuasive technology yield highly positive results.

 

Achieving Positive ChangeThe Role of Motivational Strategies 

For a long time, behaviours and behavioural change belonged within the realm and study of Psychology. However, in today’s interconnected world, it is now not uncommon for Behavioural Science to be present when designing technological solutions aimed at people. Artificial Intelligence experts, UX designers, product managers, marketeers, software developers, all benefit from being able to gain better insight into behaviours when creating experiences for peopleAs a result, persuasive technology has infiltrated wide range of every day mobile applicationscomputer games, and smartphone functionalities, which you wouldn’t always associate as being supported by Behavioural ScienceAs with all aspects of technology, when used correctly and carefully, with a well thought through strategy, it has the power to enhance everyday life. Some of the applications developed in the digital health space are an excellent example of the positive influence all the different parts working in unison can have. So, what are the different pieces of the puzzle that come to deliver positive change?  

Digital Health apps frequently employ multiple motivational or persuasive strategies. The traditional elements we all recognise from using health related apps are also unsurprisingly the most successful nudges and techniques to build and reinforce behaviours and a solid starting point for persuasive technology according to studiesProgress monitoring, reminders or alert messages, feedback (both visual, textual, or audio) and positive reinforcement all contribute to encourage a patient on their journey. Then through the advancement of new and emerging technologies, simulations and virtual re-enactments of situations are becoming more widely used and opening up more opportunities for persuasive tech, especially to help people get more accustomed to new, unknown or complex behaviours.  

When reviewing the most popular apps, they often had collaborative and cooperative motivational strategies such as social support and knowledge exchange which turn out to be very popular with users, and that helped towards driving adoption and self-awareness. Though intrinsic strategies are most effective for driving meaningful engagementthere is no harm in seasoning solutions with elements that trigger extrinsic motivation (rewards, medals and pointsto generate balanced, sustained participationUltimately, it is important to bear in mind that the success of all these strategies is mediated by the level of personalisation and customisation that they allow. The more they can be adapted to meet the individual’s needs, the better the results. 

 

Putting it into Practice 

Let’s consider an example health application, focussed on helping clinically obese patients make permanent, positive changes. By using persuasive technology, intervention becomes more accessible as it lands into the palm of the user’s hand – allowing for an effective, personalised experience where the individual feels the technology speaks to them, on their terms, in their space. And this personalisation doesn’t need to come at the cost of rigour, for example with the example app, it could be set to run across a duration of 12 months, following a structured but automated program with weekly training sessions. The treatment could be multidisciplinary; touching on diet, physical activity, sleep, psychology, coping with stress and general health to offer a multifaceted look at health and wellbeingThe strategy could set challenges for users to select and take on depending on which ones best suit their preferences, needs and interests. As part of making the content and journey more engaging, challenges or tasks can be grouped (for example, into 50 training sessions) into a variety of formats, such as virtual simulations and trials or social and support groups where you can share your concerns and experience. The follow-up of their progress would be done through immediate and continuous feedback over time. You might be thinking, ‘but what if I don’t remember to go onto the app, or simply don’t have the motivation or desire to do so?’ The app would issue consistently frequent alerts or reminder messages to ensure the treatment is carried out. And for extra motivation, users would receive positive reinforcement comments and also virtual rewards such as points and special badges for their good workGoing that step further and tapping into personalisation, mentioned earlier as a main key to success, each patient throughout the program would also have a personal trainer who would virtually support and guide themThis would significantly help to enhance the main components that make up the programme: self-control, personal trainer communication and feedback, group support and the implementation of a semi-structured intervention adapted to each patient. 

Studies have shown that in comparison to more traditional face-to-face interventions with the same objective, this kind of digital intervention allows 4 times as many patients to be treated for the same cost. With this in mind, not only are these types of apps that are based on persuasive technology beneficial for the end users in terms of preventing and treating health problems, but it can significantly help to improve how things are done across wider organisations and communities as well. Perhaps the inclusion of motivational strategies in persuasive technology represents a glimpse into what the future of digital health could and should look like. And perhaps the future of persuasive technology can learn from positive applications across health and wellbeing to pave the way for more positive experiences at the intersection between people and technology.  

References 

  1. Orji, R. & Moffatt, K. (2018). Persuasive technology for health and wellness: State-of-the-art and emerging trends. Health Informatics Journal, 24(1), 66-91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1460458216650979 
  1. Orji, R., Vassileva, J. & Mandryk, R.L. (2014). Modeling the efficacy of persuasive strategies for different gamer types in serious games for health. User Model User-Adap Inter, 24, 453–498. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11257-014-9149-8 
  1. Väätäinen, S., Soini, E., Arvonen, S., Suojanen, L., & Pietiläinen, K. (2019). Potential direct secondary care cost benefits of HealthyWeightHub – Virtual Hospital 2.0 digital lifestyle intervention. Finnish Journal of EHealth and EWelfare, 11(4), 342–356. doi: https://doi.org/10.23996/fjhw.82457 

 

 

This is part of a series – check out part 1 here 

Schools have long followed the most traditional approach to learning and potentially struggled the most when it came to lockdown learning. With a dramatic range of learning needs, ages and attention spans, examinations, and home situations, it has been hard to deliver lessons with the same consistency and rigour over a screen or via a platform. Helen, a Chemistry teacher from North London, says the COVID-19 lockdown turned her world upside down from one day to the next. 

In a school, not all teachers are following the exact same schedule, facing the same challenges, addressing the same needs, or even required to deliver materials the same way. So, when we moved to remote learning, those different circumstances suddenly became even more accentuated.” Because the immediacy of the lockdown, Helen and her colleagues faced a scramble to work out how to balance teaching in terms of prioritising age groups in need of more personalised tutoring across MS Teams, and in terms of who had more availability. Sometimes this meant everyone doing less, sometimes it meant people without caring responsibilities taking on more than their share. It was almost unavoidable.” Lesson materials were uploaded and shared, homework was returned, the practicalities of teaching and learning continued, but something she genuinely noticed and felt hard to replicate was the pastoral care – both for students and staff.   

On paper, the move to more online learning could be great. By the day younger generations are increasingly familiar with and adept at technology. There is ample potential for bringing learning to the screen. One study showed learners recall more when using virtual teaching methods than with traditional methods, a comparative study of the same core content but through different mediums, which proved a 76% increase in learning effectiveness. With this in mind, going virtual shouldn’t mean a drop in attainment, but of course the theory is not always the case in reality.  

As we have seen, schools were an area of society that were never going to stay ‘closed’ forever and though reopening has its share of challenges, we wonder how technology could assist in the teaching and learning ecosystem of the future.  

Firstly, teachers and schools would argue there is more to their role than just delivering learning. In the move to screen time learning, the biggest missing piece for them became the complexity in sustaining pastoral care – for students and colleagues alike. Pastoral care can feel juxtaposed online, especially when so much can be noticed by watching students in the classroom, picking up on individual moods and behaviours. A significant part of pastoral care is the support network between teachers and co-workers within schools. Grabbing each other for a quick word in between classes, comparing notes and building a better picture of what works and what doesn’t. Coming out of lockdown, Helen says that she came to really value how everyone managed to sustain that teamwork in order to create more flexibility for each other.     

Could schools take a page from the corporate world’s book and adopt team catch ups, incorporating more teamwork and collaboration into the day? Easier said than done though as teachers are renown for having barely any time in the day already, adding another call or meeting maybe wouldn’t be the best use of their time when they may feel stretched or that their focus is needed for curriculum creativity and innovative ways to capture student’s attention. However, the way to navigate that issue, is to design solutions with the teacher’s needs and schedule in mind. Digital platforms can centralise easy and instant creation and sharing of learning materials, that teachers can then adapt in delivery to the needs of the students. The experience can then be enhanced though, by including elements that will support the teacher’s working day. Features that facilitate immediate feedback, flag good news to the wider team, and enable recognition can provide automated motivation boosts during a day where they may not get an actual thank you for their dedication. Within the same platform, messaging can connect colleagues interested in or working on similar areas to improve collaboration or provide functionalities that enable teachers to ‘raise their hand’ for an offline conversation about a concern they may have regarding work, materials or safeguarding. By using personalised, digital solutions a fragmented day becomes streamline.

Asking for help or getting recognition could be sped up for instantaneous responses, and all the effort needed to “connect the dots” becomes less labour intensive, so teachers could then spend less time on frantic creative content creation, and more time on the personalised, pastoral care that technology can’t exactly step in and help with. Innovation doesn’t need to result in overhaul, but we won’t necessarily enhance the learning experience by just moving materials online or creating video content for classrooms. Real change comes by understanding your audience, and identifying where connections can be made, where they struggle, and how to enable small improvements for huge steps forward. A bit like every great teacher we’ve ever known.   

Approaches to learning and development (L&D) are constantly evolving in keeping with evolving tools and expectations. Although before the events of this year, educators and knowledge professionals arguably, at least felt more able to control, influence and grow with the changes. 94% of L&D professionals have recently reported they have had to change their L&D strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and another 59% thought their organisation’s adoption of digital learning was immature given the developments. L&D have had some advantages in their court for a while; technological tools and platforms opened up doors for sharing information immediately and internationally, for creating more dynamic materials, and for creating different paths for learners to follow that suit their own personal approaches and needs.

But L&D spans a huge area and depending on your focus you’ll no doubt be facing a myriad of different yet equally complex challenges today. Perhaps the biggest shared one though, being how to engage your audience. An audience who you now predominantly have to access via a screen. The pressure is on to keep materials relevant and interesting yet easy to digest, that learners can take away with them and apply in their everyday lives once they shut their laptops.

For a while, people responsible for L&D have needed to get even more creative in how they reach their audiences, who are becoming even more overwhelmed, distracted, and unfulfilled in their relationship with learning. Gen Z smartphone users unlock their devices on average 79 times a day. Office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes. Only 26% of employees strongly agree they learn or do something interesting each day. But, actually, it would be wrong to regard these as hinderances to the learning process. Gen Z may be untethered and online, but they are also an incredibly passionate and aware generation. Office workers may be short on time, but bite sized learning is proven to lead to 20% better knowledge retention. The circumstances of the last few months, although initially a shock, could now be the call to action for schools, organisations, and companies to enhance their offering – whether for the remote student, remote employee or apprentice – in order to appeal to what the modern learner is looking to attain from the experience. We are all looking at opportunities to react in order to pull audiences back in, nurture commitment to courses, and improve learning transfer rates.

Join us over the next few weeks as we take a closer look at the current state of education, learning and development, understanding recent experiences and assessing new approaches across 3 distinct areas: classroom based learning, higher education, and workplace development.

 

 

The Future of Work has been a hot topic for a number of years. Emerging technologies, emerging generations of employees, changing values and routines have all influenced futurist’s predictions for how the world of work will look come 2025, 2030, or 2050. Then, the circumstances of the last few months have brought a whole new set of possibilities and implications. All sectors face challenges as they respond and recover from the consequences of COVID-19. The future, let alone the future of work or the workplace, is now perhaps feeling a little undefined. It is not the first time, however, that an unforeseen force has shifted the course of economic development. The very essence of looking to the future is that it will always feel somewhat unknown, unpredictable. A leap into new challenges, hurdles, and opportunities.

In some ways, Employee Engagement is an equally undefined topic for many. It means different things, to different people, but we define it as the resulting outcome from an emotional or psychological attachment between employees, their work and their organisation. Crucially to the definition, this relationship is genuinely reciprocal – employees commit and contribute, organisations support and enable their employees. There are various ideas that suggest how Employee Engagement will be nurtured in the future. Often, they focus on an organisation’s offering or benefits; flexible working policies, limitless holidays, personal coaching, wellness, the list could go on.
All are valid and worth consideration, but we would argue that Engagement of the future will need to be:

  • Technology Driven: technology today can provide limitless possibilities for reaching and engaging broad, varied audiences
  • Employee-centric: empowering employees to want to perform to the best of their abilities as it makes them feel good, and fuels business success
  • Meaningful: new software alone won’t cut it in an age of constant change, distraction, innovation and for a workforce with evolving needs and expectations. Real engagement comes from personalised, relevant and science-based approaches.

In the present, businesses are revaluating strategies, priorities and objectives in the face of an immediate uncertainty. One remedy to navigate these times and prepare for the future are solutions and approaches that encourage people to go the extra mile, achieve greater productivity, develops brand ambassadors, and deliver even better customer experiences. And that requires genuine, sustainable engagement to bring out the best in your people and business.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

Before COVID-19 there were concerns around the rise of automation, echoing every significant jump in technology’s capabilities since the Industrial Revolution. And we may arguably always have that love-hate relationship with technology. The same addiction to our mobile devices, is what has helped us stay in touch with our loved ones during lockdown. The flexibility and immediacy of our digital tools and software is what has meant collaboration and communication haven’t suffered too much while remote working was enforced. For many it hasn’t been that simple of course, but the point is that technology is an enabler, it helps empower our individual creativity, curiosity and contribution.

But it is just that – a vehicle, a channel, a platform, for us to work upon and improve. If we look back on the last 100 years, what we have learnt is that behind every new technology or engineering break through are the humans driving that change. We may have been ‘afraid’ of automation or AI (or maybe better said, the change they would bring to jobs and markets) and how they would come to replace people, but we must remember that these developments are for us to adopt and apply in a way that enhances the world around us. We will still need the innovators, the operators, the fixers and creatives to support, maintain, understand, and optimise whatever the latest trend is. Technology isn’t the sole solution nor is it the end of the journey. It is what we can utilise to address everyday problems – and to create solutions to human problems, you cannot remove the human element.

Understand People, Unleash Potential

Future of Work predictions often talk about how people will be doing their work (e.g. conference calls via VR headset) or where (from the beach), but we would argue that why they will work is equally important.

Gallup report (State of the Global Workforce, 2017)

According to the Gallup report (State of the Global Workforce, 2017), two thirds of the global workforces (67%) are not engaged at work, which means they are putting in time but little discretionary effort. Why does this matter? That lack of engagement (employee has turned up but is tuned out) results in a significant productivity gap that is estimated to be worth billions of pounds.

How often do organisations claim that their people are their biggest asset? Businesses must learn to understand, empathise and respond to employee needs and drives if they want to close that costly productivity gap. Companies with high empathy scores generate 50% more earnings, and over 70% of employees would consider leaving their current company if it displayed less empathy. Each generation that reaches the workforce (and simultaneously the marketplace as consumers) arrives with its own expectations and values, formed by its experiences and the experiences of the previous generation. New generations and needs do not translate as people wanting it all, and not wanting to work. When revaluating priorities, people are looking to organise their life in a way that enables them to work to their best abilities, enjoy time with their family and friends to the best of their abilities, stay healthy to the best of their abilities and so on. Organisations need to understand what employees need from work, identify and explain what they as a business need to achieve for success, and make the subsequent experiences manageable, efficient and memorable to encourage commitment, participation, productivity for more profitability. Here, businesses have a prime opportunity to provide solutions that enable the fulfilment of their people, and that tap into and support their needs and motivations, to unlock that engagement gap.

Empathise, Enable, Engage

So what does the road to the Future of Work, Future of Engagement actually look like? How do we get there? As we’ve discussed, it won’t necessarily lead to everyone working from home, or everyone’s job being replaced by AI, but technology can have a powerful role to play in providing a platform for change.

Engaging Experiences: A lot of the time organisations know they want to enhance Employee Engagement in their workplace, but don’t know how or where to begin. Often the bigger picture can be improved by identifying themes or smaller areas to impact through change. Tools that help break down tasks and reward for each goal achieved seem simple but actually go a long way towards building up self-esteem and highlighting the value of an employee’s role. Applications that identify daily goals, recognise achievements, energise participants throughout, can show how on an individual scale and as part of a team they contribute towards driving the organisation towards its goals.

For example, immersive, ongoing experiences that require teamwork or reinforce and embed corporate values can help bring intangible aspirations to life for all to relate to and work towards representing. Employees can learn to identify desired behaviours and identify how they can embody them in their daily tasks or interactions.

RAMP: Intrinsic motivation (a drive from within, rather than external rewards) is where genuine, sustainable engagement comes from. Businesses need to better understand what motivates their people, and respond accordingly, with processes and approaches that apply this insight. The RAMP model is based on Self Determination Theory, and is what we often follow to look at challenges through different lenses, and to empathise with different user groups. RAMP and stands for Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Relatedness taps into our innate desire to be connected to others, Autonomy, the need to have choice and freedom. Mastery is a need to improve, feel progress and achievement. Purpose can be described as the “reason” we do things. The changes and enhancements you make to processes, practices and culture, flow and contribute towards boosting employee motivation across these areas, as seen in the diagram above.

For example, consider the challenges around “returning to the office” post Covid-19. Ideation platforms can help employees voice solutions themselves and help them feel their concerns are considered. Onboarding systems with virtual tours of updated office or workspace that employees can interact with can begin re-introducing employees remotely, removing the element of “surprise” or confusion ahead of arriving, meaning people will feel equipped and ready for what they’ll be walking into. Both can be practices for the future, not just COVID-19.

Where do we go now?

Looking back again at the recent effects of COVID-19, the number one thing people have missed during different stages of isolation and lockdown is human interaction. This alone suggests we won’t be moving to a tech bubble. Remote employees have commented on how they’ve missed the spontaneous collaborative moments that come from being in the office, or the socialisation aspects that are hard to replicate purely on Zoom or Teams. Even though many have proven how remote working works, the workplace of the future will still include social and in person elements.

The one thing that will be consistent is that people will still be a major part of it, regardless of the economic landscape or advances in technology. The Future of Work may still be unwritten, but one certainty is that people will still be at the heart of it. People are not replaceable, and AI alone cannot power a business. The motivation, collaboration and creativity of people will. If people are organisations biggest asset, we need to ensure that they are made to feel like that if companies want to emerge from these uncertain times in a much stronger position.

Building Tools, Tasks, Teams and Trust

For many of us, recent events have challenged our concept of collaboration, connectivity and life in general. Remote teams have been forced to juggle integrating work and personal needs, while organisations have had to respond to a chain of complicated business conditions and challenges. The future seems to offer no clarity. A key question on the minds of employers now is how can they continue to keep a workforce engaged in times of such uncertainty. Any organisation’s greatest asset, engaged employees feel empowered and inspired to perform to the best of their abilities, deliver excellent customer experiences and achieve organisational goals.

At a time when many organisations are having to quickly re-evaluate strategies, resources and culture as well as develop new policies and approaches; there is an opportunity to creatively enable employee engagement.

Our latest webinar explores how we can build participation, motivation and commitment in a workforce with evolving perspectives, needs and values. The team look at how elements of game thinking and motivational theory can be used to maintain and increase engagement, and how this can then be embedded in HR best practices in order to make a real difference in the workplace when people may feel disconnected, disrupted, unfulfilled, and uncertain of the future.

 

A fresh chance to Go Green?

 

Over these past few months, we have all had time to think and reflect on the way we live our lives. Covid-19 has led to the realisation that globalisation has its consequences, and the way the pandemic has forced many of us to pause our routines has brought some issues into focus. “Essential” has a new meaning; be that an essential worker or an essential item. All those habits we thought were impossible to change or superficial needs we fulfilled all too easily have been adapted or completely turned on their heads. With all the extra time, people have taken up hobbies and crafts that enable sustainability or resourcefulness – DIY around the house, upcycling furniture or clothing, sewing masks, growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables. While we are ready to embrace a return to normality, whatever that may look like now, how much of what we have learned or adopted from the past few months will stay with us? Are we at a turning point for attitudes and values across society?

Throughout the different stages of the pandemic businesses across the world have also had to revaluate the way they operate, many requiring significant changes. Now that many of us are gradually returning to offices, organisations are having to redesign company policies, practises, and approaches. In some circumstances, entire offices themselves. If office life and employee well-being are undergoing review and evolving, it feels like an ideal opportunity to turn the page and maybe start afresh in other areas too.

We have seen social media relishing news of reduced emissions, the reappearance of wildlife in urban areas and showing off newfound resourceful hobbies, so could businesses now treat this as a much-needed nudge? The support is there for companies to take on the opportunity to integrate more sustainable practices into corporate culture and drive much needed collaboration, participation, and commitment towards a better environment, on an individual level and as a community.

Employers often implement staff wellbeing schemes, operational process improvements and other forms of workplace development to enhance health and safety. Why not also take an opportunity to review the environmental impact of their organisations and their sustainable footprint? Why not set yourself a corporate sustainability challenge? From small daily actions to broader company-wide schemes, we can all help to reduce the current environmental impact and work together for a greener and healthier future.

Getting started: Commitment, Motivation, and Productivity

One of the biggest psychological hurdles companies find themselves struggling to overcome is the concept that they are detached from environmental issues. Executive leadership teams often feel recycling efforts do not exactly concern them; it feels like a giant effort and they have little to gain especially when it is behind closed doors. Recycling or sustainable living is either a trendy statement to make, or something for after working hours. However, there are significant benefits to be found when committed to correctly – supporting and developing a better connection with local communities, motivating your employees towards a common cause and boosting morale, providing opportunities to reduce costs, and improving brand image and reputation.

Ideally, to move towards this ‘fresh start’ companies should move from good commitments to excellent, embedded behaviours as can be seen in the diagram below. We want to move away from environmental commitment being a chore to genuine, altered ECO behaviours. But how do we get from good to excellent? Commitment, motivation, productivity.

Moving the dial on behaviour change

Getting People Behind the Movement 

Becoming a proactive eco-friendly company will benefit overall business productivity by improving employee morale, satisfaction, and comfort, as well as their capacity to process knowledge and information. Research reveals that businesses can benefit from a 50% reduction in employee turnover when employees are engaged in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. The Deloitte Millennial Survey from 2019 shows how it can also aid attracting and recruiting talent from emerging generations, who “show deeper loyalty to employers who boldly tackle the issues that resonate with them the most, such as protecting the environment,” alongside their number one concern being climate change and protecting the environment. Additionally, sustainable practices have been shown to create a positive impact on the actual working environment itself. Biophilic design is a great example of this. Improved natural lighting, use of natural materials, acoustic comfort and optimisation of spaces with a human focus are amongst different elements of this. These types of adjustments have been shown to result in productivity increases of 8%, 13% increase in levels of wellbeing, heightened creativity, and reduced absenteeism.

Educating staff on the ‘whys’ and ‘how’s’ of being sustainable and the importance of protecting the environment should be a fun and engaging activity and become a core value of a business. Ultimately, it is individual employee actions that will add up to change. Employees are often named “a business’ greatest asset”; in any scenario where employees are depended on to deliver and embody behaviours, whether delivering excellent customer service or driving a business towards its objectives, it is vital they are engaged and committed to what they are doing. It is important to move away from the idea of it being an extra task for them to fulfil as well as their actual role. To genuinely engage the individuals and teams within the organisation, it is important to remember that not one size fits all. Different people are motivated by different things, and this needs to be considered when thinking about how you can improve behaviours in your workplace.

However you personalise it, an eco-friendly focussed solution could take into account your employees’ motivations and profiles, would work towards getting everyone on board, supporting your company’s commitment to going green, and can improve organisational results and progress towards making an impact.

Firstly, environmental awareness and activism are arguably no longer a ‘fringe’ issue. Companies should strive to do better and go beyond the age-old office posters reminding employees to put empty cans in the recycling bin. But how?

  1. Create a sense of belonging: The sense of belonging and being connected to other people is very underrated. When you feel that you are part of something and create relationships, that is much stronger than any extrinsic reward, like a badge or a free coffee for every pro-eco action executed. Encourage employees to work together towards goals as it will help people feel less ‘on the spot’ to begin with, and it will also go towards reinforcing a sense of collaborating as a community for a better shared environment. Begin with an open ideation phase, in a space where everyone feels invited, involved and comfortable discussing opinions and targets. Utilise communication tools to share round updates on team progress or newsletters that provide insight on office efficiency as well as advice and nudges.
  2. Recognise the individual: Team spirit is hugely positive for driving participation and results, but individuals also need to feel in control of their own behaviours and goals. Getting everyone involved means taking different needs into account, in order to create solutions and objectives everyone will want to adopt. Some people might prefer to be told more information about recycling, others may prefer utilising office QR codes that they can scan with their smartphones on their own accord to receive more information about recycling and the company’s different initiatives, ask questions in an interactive FAQ, or vote for office based sustainable initiatives such as what causes should they support or what the weekly sustainable focus should be. Allow space for people to contribute in a way they feel able to. For example, you cannot expect everyone to stop coming to work by car, as it simply will not be feasible for everyone. Instead look at allowing for individual success within any strategy as well. Give alternatives and options for people to work towards, such as recycling, bringing in their own mugs and reusable water bottles. If empowered, people will see it less as a burden or chore and more a conscious decision they are able and willing to take responsibility for. Being able to take direct action that will result in real change plays a major part in helping people feel self-determined.
  3. Create a sense of purpose: The advantage of integrating eco-friendly objectives into the workplace is that they already have a strong sense of purpose behind them. There is a global awareness, a breadth of materials and education available, plenty of activism to draw inspiration from and reinforce the sense of purpose – improving the environment for all our collective and individual benefit. We have already mentioned how sustainability is often split into two groups – those who are already fully committed and driven towards change, and those who know they could do more but maybe feel it is out of their reach. Sustainability has the benefit of a prominent, powerful, all-encompassing objective behind it – create a better world for us all and future generations. Don’t focus on solutions that just draw attention to the issue, focus on drawing attention and correlation to people’s simple contributions. For example, this week in the office we correctly recycled 1kg of plastic bottles and cups which are a major contributor to litter in local ponds and rivers. Last year 100 ducklings got stuck inside plastic bottles – thanks to your work recycling, this number will be less this year!
  4. Recognise progress: When employees get a glimpse of what eco-friendly actions can achieve, on a personal and collective level, this motivates them to develop more ideas and shift attitudes. Over time this will result in successful social and environmental benefits, together with economic returns for the company if their sustainable strategy becomes an effective reality. Quite simply, people feel good when other people see and acknowledge their hard work. Promoting innovative initiatives that have come from employees is a great step towards improving how you recognise positive behaviours and measure the journey you’ve taken so far towards a positive future. To encourage these behaviours to continue in the long term, progress should be recognised and, in some cases, rewarded. This does not necessarily mean a pay rise for the person who recycles the most plastic in the office. It could be a workplace incentivisation scheme where employees receive points redeemable for votes towards charitable causes, following the example of supermarket token schemes. . Or it could be a technology-based solution that recognises individual contributions towards a more sustainable workplace, tracks individual and team actions and progress, collects ideas and suggestions on future improvements, and integrates game design to drive more collective involvement and engagement.

 

Eco-Marketing

Sustainable and meaningful marketing is extremely important for a business as part of their objective to deliver the overarching message to consumers and clients, reinforcing their commitment with actions and words. As things currently stand, many sustainable marketing schemes involve substantial financial investment, however in the long-term companies can see a greater return on said investment, saving on costs as well as improving office efficiency overall.  For instance, installing solar panels in your office can significantly reduce your taxes by more than 30% of the installation cost and would cut your energy bills in half. However, the key advantage to eco-marketing is the impact on brand image, and the connection you make with people by directly addressing what they tend to seek nowadays: environmental and ethical solutions.  Ikea is often a great example in this space, by innovating the products they provide while also matching with public gesture, such as their anti-plastic initiative where they launched two large boats into the River Thames to clean up and remove any plastic waste. The plastic collected was then used to build a sculpture later displayed at their Greenwich sustainable store.

“The recent UN Climate Action Summit and simultaneous Global Climate Strikes, found that the importance and perception of sustainability among consumers is increasing. The research confirmed 37% of consumers are seeking out and willing to pay up to 5% more for environmentally friendly products and are actively changing their shopping behaviour to do so” – Environment and Energy Leader, 2019

When finding your feet in eco-marketing, all it takes is to just start by stepping back from tried and tested traditional methods and asking the question ‘is this sustainable’? If for instance, we use the example of a conference or fair, many businesses will use this opportunity to give out free products to visitors as part of engaging in the social-networking experience and selling the company’s vision. However, as generational values and priorities evolve and individuals become even more aware of the current ‘sustainability challenge’, it is important to ensure that the products being offered are in line with eco-friendliness. Shifting from promoting a branded plastic bottle to an aluminium bottle would be a great simple change and make an impressive contribution towards reducing waste and unsustainable products. For example, the cosmetics company “Lush use small black plastic pots as packaging which, once used, can be returned to the shop as part of their in-house closed loop recycling scheme. In exchange they give clients a free mask for every empty pot they return. This initiative creates a direct contact between the customers and the businesses’ environmental values, plus both parties are contributing to reduce plastic landfill waste.

A key element in enhancing the sustainability of a company’s marketing is through experiences rather than an item. Instead of producing informational leaflets and forms a good alternative would be to set up scannable QR codes that could invite people to a portal where they can interact with your company. Or an app where you can collect points based on eco-friendly shopping habits and receive information about sustainability and recycling – a great valuable and memorable experience that will more likely engage customers and make them brand ambassadors.

 A third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. – ​Unilever International Study 2016.

It is becoming easier and actually more imperative for companies to use sustainability as a way of engaging with their customers. By working with dynamic marketing skills, you can attract the large numbers of people already invested in making a change, increase awareness within your existing customer base, leading to a completely fresh way to interact and communicate across your outreach schemes. Let your customers and clients know what you are doing, through social media and newsletters and they will come to see your communications as helpful and valuable, rather than exhausting or pestering. Concepts such as eco-friendly product giveaways, waste pick-up collection weekends or online sustainability courses could really make a difference. Make the most of modern technology and also be open to customer input on what they believe is important or their main interests. This could be done on social platforms by including a survey – an interactive, engaging, and relevant way of getting a customer’s attention and commitment.

Acknowledging sustainable behaviours and becoming an eco-friendly business will bring rewards and results. Engaging with sustainable marketing and customer experience will be the ripple effect to boosting a company’s morale, productivity, efficiency and overall client and employee satisfaction. Furthermore, introducing new sustainable measures in the workplace could be the catalyst that helps encourage actions to go beyond the office and into everyone’s homes and social circles, expanding “green” mindsets and creating positive, sustainable habits.  We often talk about wanting to be the change in the world, but there is no reason we should feel the pressure of doing it alone. By designing exciting solutions that will support companies or communities in getting started, once hearts and minds are won over, the rest will then quickly follow and crucially, be maintained. It all comes down to improving understanding to break down the myth that it will be more complicated than current approaches, and developing easy, achievable habits with alternative initiatives and behaviours. As we all look to making new starts and return to normality, we should bring with us and grasp onto opportunities to collaboratively work towards a better, greener future, as individuals, as communities, and as organisations.

 


This post was researched and prepared by Patricia Wiggett Canalda, University of Manchester, during her work experience with Motivait 

 


Human Crises Require Empathetic Responses

 

Brands know that sustaining and reinforcing relationships with employees and customers becomes more important than ever during downturns, crises, or just general uncertainty. Traditionally, recovery ‘crisis mode’ has been perceived as chaotic and all-hands-on-deck, with employees put under an increased amount of stress to deliver more results than ever. Unsurprisingly, customers are often put off by this. Quick responses are important, of course, especially when so many organisations have spent years streamlining processes to prioritise efficiency and immediacy. But, there’s danger in only responding for the sake of it.

Looking at current circumstances, 70% of European based executives in a recent study stated that the current coronavirus pandemic was accelerating the pace of their digital transformation. Equipping people with technology to remain productive and utilising effective communication channels are important elements, but are they enough on their own? These investments in technology will mean nothing if people aren’t at the heart of your strategy. Technology is only the delivery; a vital and valuable part of the experience but just that, a part. It is people who we want to connect to, build relationships with, and learn from their motivations, reactions, and needs. During times of uncertainty, values and perceptions become affected through individual, personal experiences – so it’s only right that brand responses should correspond. Human crises require human solutions and responses. It could be time to flip our thinking on digital transformation and focus in on how it can deliver better connection, empathy, and engagement.

Care + Concern = Connection

Care and connection for what another person feels and experiences, can be defined as empathy. It is a term that’s crept up significantly over the years, but do we really understand why empathy is important? Inheriting this behaviour is important in order to connect emotionally with customers and understand what they are looking for from you as a brand. Over 80% of 150 CEOs stated that they recognise it as a key to success. 72% state that the current state of empathy in the workplace needs to evolve, a 17% increase from the previous year. Somewhat reflective of the growing trend amongst many influential leaders we see publicly broadcasting their commitment to conveying and displaying empathy.

To be effective, it must be authentic and something that becomes a core component of organisational culture, not just a buzz word to integrate into messaging with no real action behind it. Genuine empathy helps us to stop, listen, interpret, and understand the environment we’re operating in. And through genuine understanding and appreciation, or care and concern, customer trust is gained.

When looking at the primary factors that led customers to feel trust for brands against the backdrop of COVID-19, not taking advantage of a crisis to maximise their own profits (authenticity) and caring for both their employees and customers (empathy) came out as the top 3 responses.

Consider March of this year, where due to the uncertainty that people started to feel at the beginning of the pandemic, their psychological and physical needs became a serious priority that was reflected in their shopping experience. Examples of empathetic response to this change, a number of large supermarkets offered private early morning opening hours for older or more vulnerable customers as a way to protect them but also enable their continued shopping experience.  This a great example of how businesses can display empathy for what their customers are going through. Instead of focussing solely on profit maximisation and reaching out with obtrusive or irrelevant marketing, reaching out with support or better still, facilitation and encouragement of human connection despite low-touch contexts, is a gesture that no one is soon going to forget.

It is important to note, you can strike a balance between a profitable strategy and empathic responses, it’s not just black or white, there’s an in between where you can work on attaining financial stability, while still being people focussed.

A lot of businesses see charity as the answer to dealing with the consequences that have arisen in the current situation and the main way to reconnect with customers. Despite this temptation to jump straight towards charitable donations – is it the right motivation? Dealing with uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean giving everything you’ve got to fight towards charitable causes. These supermarkets for example, are still making huge profits during this time, but have been able to do so in a people-centric way by putting people and their customers at the centre of their strategy.

In the same way it’s important for companies to empathise with what their customers are going through, it’s also important to find ways for customers to understand and empathise with what you’re going through. This can be achieved through authenticity and transparency, especially with what is truly going on with your business during turbulent times. Take Airbnb for example, part of an industry that saw performance and profits plummet as a result of worldwide lockdowns. Despite the mass of uncertainties in the travel industry, CEO Brian Chesky sent out a humanised, public message that succinctly defined their situation and outlined their steps moving forward and various support measures that were in place. This authenticity and transparency is a clear example of how, despite uncertainty, being honest with your employees and customers about what is truly going on, but what you’re doing to handle the situation, can help gain empathy in return for the empathy that you provide.

The Customer Experience

“New behaviours, needs & responses”

As we’ve said; with new uncertainties, come new realities, expectations, and priorities. It is important to be aware of these in order to respond and evolve as a business. So, first step? Empathise to innovate. Inspired by Design Thinking, it’s a simple approach that often helps teams who aren’t traditionally close to customers bring together what is desirable for the target audience with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. And it can be applied in a range of settings to foster a more appealing customer experience. Whether by personalising brand messaging and communication, redesigning products and services to be more intuitive or accessible, or moving into new spaces you wouldn’t have associated with beforehand in order to adapt to customer’s new needs and priorities, rather than the brand’s.

For instance, the coronavirus pandemic has seen fashion retailers such as Mango disassociate with being solely about fashion and reach out to customers covering additional topics such as music, writing, and journalism, with the essence of becoming more about lifestyle. The message or association becomes “we are with you” rather than “look what you can buy from us”. Innovators in health and fitness have also done a great job of this, moving away from being just a retailer, and offering new experiences for their customers. Numerous leading personal fitness brands have partnered with Samsung to launch new premium health and wellness apps to provide high quality, exclusive content for users. This is a great example of how providing something exclusive for your customers, can help to build a greater connection. Gymshark is another great example. They have been paying personal trainers, who would have been struggling with gyms closed, to host live workouts via the company’s Facebook page – helping to combat the issue of loneliness and isolation whilst simultaneously creating a togetherness aspect of the brand’s community, despite the uncertain circumstances they find themselves in. The common denominator in all of this? The personal touch, or human element. Just because your audiences have become remote, does not mean you can’t still access them. Use tech to help humanise your brand, rather than just adopting technology on its own – it will end up feeling cold to the people you are trying to reach and connect with.

It might not be necessary to find new things to do, but maybe even just new ways of doing things. Perhaps a period of uncertainty is the perfect opportunity to digitalise certain physical store experiences. It can be easy to get stuck in the mindset of ‘investing in online presence is overhyped’ or ‘I don’t want to endure the costs of operating online’ but take Primark, for example, who due to their lack of online channel has caused them to lose out on £650m in revenue a month while their stores were closed. This is reflective of the pill that many have to swallow, as the retail sector especially is rapidly moving to a space where an omnichannel strategy is simply essential not only to remain competitive but also towards future proofing the business.

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Customer Service

“Engaged employees to support customer success”

With a lot of potential uncertainties of their own, customers need exceptional customer service and support. But who is behind the online help desk? Who is on the other end of the phone helping to troubleshoot? AI may have become popular for customer support, but actually it is really brand teams and employees on the front line, and results will be ineffective if they lack motivation, productivity, and loyalty. Brands cannot lose sight of this or neglect to invest in understanding and engaging their workforce. One disgruntled employee can taint brand image just as much as an angry customer online review – if not more.

Engaged employees who feel that their voice is heard, are nearly 5 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. With this in mind it’s fair to say that in terms of having care, concern, and empathy with your customers – the same should go for your employees first.

Companies are quick to implement gimmicks in accordance with trends with the goal of connecting with staff. Whether digital, such as creating a Facebook Workplace news feed, or non-digital such as hotdesking, green spaces in the office, help-yourself-kitchens, or Taco Tuesdays. But these are just a temporary fix. When facing a stripped back future where a lot of these engagement “adrenaline shots” are being removed, what will actually help towards continuously engaging and committing the people you need to connect with and count on?

Let’s think about a generic example to hopefully get you thinking of how this could apply to you and your circumstances. Say company X recognises they need to engage employees in order to provide great customer experience in light of new needs or priorities. Management decide to integrate a new real time communication tool, to help boost morale and productivity in the company, with the hope that more ability to communicate will provide better customer service. Employees understand the features and functionalities, but they don’t really know how they can best use it to suit their business needs. They already had ways of communicating – what does this new tool add aside from potentially more threads to keep track of?

This is likely a common occurrence, going back to the point about implementing gimmicks in accordance with trends. It may seem like a great idea to implement some new technology to solve problems, but focus can’t be lost on the people who will be using it. Why not think about how to creatively use the tools you have in place to bring people together. Instead of using a company ‘wall’ to post updates and stopping there, or a programme to capture hourly log ins to prove that employees are at their desk, find digital solutions that encourage brainstorms, idea sharing and collaboration. It is known that these collaborative, inclusive environments foster innovation, a key for navigating and surviving uncertain backdrops. Making your employees feel you have invested in them, rather than the technology, is a powerful motivator. Go back to Empathy First and as a first step in your problem solving learn more about what your employees need and want, what will make a process more streamline or their daily tasks more efficient, and how technology can enable that in order to deliver customer success.

Even if there’s just one key takeaway, let it be that human crises require empathetic responses.

For genuine impact in problem solving, empathetic responses need to be more than just a catchy leadership trait. Putting people at the heart of your strategy and operations and not just in your marketing and communications is key. This people centric outlook will help to harvest a more appealing customer experience and a more engaged workforce with the motivation and capability to put care and concern into their customer service, and this will help to recover and reconnect.

 

Balancing Business Needs & Employee Priorities

What lies ahead? Businesses are having to quickly re-evaluate strategies, objectives, resources and culture as well as develop new policies and approaches. However, what people have recently experienced will also have affected their own values, needs, beliefs and priorities. As a result, there will be a new round of challenges to face in supporting and sustaining an engaged, committed, and productive workforce in what will undoubtedly be difficult business conditions. Check out our session where we discuss how these very human challenges call for empathetic solutions.

In this webinar our team walk through a practical framework for addressing common issues and build a structure to help your business evolve – however and whatever that may look like. What lies ahead is an opportunity to make a real difference by reassessing and improving approaches in the workplace, focussing on people to achieve business success against an uncertain backdrop.

 

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