Making a Life While Making a Living: How to Reboot Work and Unleash the Awesome Power of a Super-engaged Workforce

February 6, 2013 Jason Averbook

When I’m out speaking with customers and colleagues, the topic of conversation often turns to what HR and IT leaders should be focusing on in 2013. All agree that, as my colleague Nick Hamm rightly says in his recent post, 2013 CIO Playbook – 5 Things CIOs Must Do This Year, there is no shortage of buzzwords to distract you from actually making progress and getting things done.

This reminds me that even though HR often focuses on process, and IT sometimes gets caught up in technology, both are still a people business. As HR and IT leaders, we have to remember the main reasons to deploy cloud, mobile and social technologies is to transform relationships with customers, partners and employees. Specifically for employees, the promise is that we can deliver amazing technology that can quite literally improve the quality of life for our employees by offering them anytime, anywhere access to work. However, the very same cloud and mobile technologies that enable this kind of freedom from being chained to one’s desk, can create unrealistic expectations of employee accessibility and all but eliminate the concept of work/life balance.

In short, these technologies can be liberating and drive high levels of employee productivity and engagement, or suffocating and drive high levels of frustration and burnout – the choice is really yours. Of course there are many employees (people) who find it difficult to “unplug,” but I want to focus on the responsibility of HR and IT leaders.

I was at sales conference recently of about 200 people and the presenter asked the audience, by show of hands, to divulge the proximity of their smartphone while in bed. The overwhelming majority either slept with it under their pillow or on the nightstand next to the bed. Everyone had a chuckle after looking around and seeing the sheepish grins on their colleagues’ faces who knew that sleeping with your smartphone is a silly thing to do, but I would guess felt like they were expected to be available should a sales emergency erupt at 3:00AM.

Then the presenter, who was the CEO by the way, said he had made a commitment to his wife to leave his phone downstairs when he went to bed. He didn’t elaborate, but I imagine a “discussion” about the phone being next to the bed (and maybe a slightly more pointed discussion about him answering calls and emails from this locale) had been initiated because work was inappropriately impacting the couple’s personal time.

This doesn’t mean lots of folks don’t love the fact that they can answer emails on their own time/terms, it just demonstrates the imbalance that can occur – and gone unchecked can lead to conflict and often overwhelmed and burned out employees.

The promise of every new technology is that it will usher in new levels of efficiency at work, reducing daily burdens and allowing us to spend more time with our families and pursue our personal passions. We all know this never really happens. The dream of robots milling about while we sip lemonade in a hammock all afternoon isn’t likely to materialize. In fact, as we now know, technology hasn’t lightened our workload at all – if anything, we are busier with more “stuff” than ever before. And like most everything else, the cloud is accelerating and intensifying the time we spend in a digitally connected world.

So, as HR and IT leaders, what should you do to ensure your “people” technology is being used to engage and inspire, not exhaust, the rich talent you have worked so hard to acquire and develop in your company?

Well, the first thing you should do is attend my upcoming live interview/webcast with Maynard Webb. Mr. Webb has written a book entitled, Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship, in which he says the relationship between employer and employee has changed, putting employees more in control than ever before. My guess is Maynard Webb knows a bit about how to use technology to scale employee engagement as a 30-year veteran of the technology industry.

Maynard was the COO of eBay, where he created organizational processes and day-to-day structures that enabled eBay to grow from $140 million in revenue to more than $6 billion in 2006. That doesn’t happen without a fully engaged workforce! Today, he is the chairman (formerly the CEO) of LiveOps, a cloud based call center with a community of 20,000 agents, and a board member at both and Yahoo!. He remains an active leader in the technology and business community, serving as a board member, investor, philanthropist and mentor.

I will be talking with Maynard about how:

  • The Cloud delivers anytime, anywhere access to work (is this good and/or bad for work/life balance?)
  • IT needs to expand its view to think about the workforce experience (put people on same level as technology – experience is everything in a consumer-driven world)
  • HR needs to expand its view to understand what is possible with today’s technology (employees have better technology at home, so expectations are high with regard to access, service delivery, etc.)

Don’t miss your chance to hear legendary Silicon Valley company builder and 30-year veteran of the technology industry share his thoughts on the future of work and what HR and IT leaders need begin doing today to utilize technology to unleash the awesome power of an engaged workforce.

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