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How Virtual Offices Help Boost Employee Engagement, Part 3

NEW YORK—This week we’ve been talking about the emerging employee engagement crisis. Only 63 percent of U.S. workers are fully engaged, according to the latest Towers Watson study. But my contention is that virtual offices can help in some cases to drive employee engagement higher.

The study uses a specific set of questions to measure and classify respondents as to their level of sustainable engagement. Overall, the study showed that:

37% of U.S. workers are highly engaged in a sustainable way.
27% are classified as unsupported, meaning they display traditional engagement, but lack the enablement and/or energy required for sustainable engagement.
13% are detached, meaning they feel enabled and/or energized but are not willing to go the extra mile.
23% are completely disengaged, with less favorable scores for all three aspects of sustainable engagement.

Could allowing employees to telecommute from a virtual office, at least on an occasional basis, help? I believe so.

The study points out that the most significant factors unsupported workers cite relate to how their supervisors support them on the job, their levels of stress and the severity of their workloads. Allowing employees to telecommute from a virtual office could show supervisor support while also lowering stress levels. Although the severity of the workload may not actually decrease, the productivity gains workers see through virtual office technologies could help balance the equation.

"Many companies are still operating in a traditional mode, with processes and programs designed for an era that has effectively disappeared," says Laura Sejen, global practice leader, Rewards, Towers Watson. "Employers need to consider the dramatic changes occurring in the employment relationship, and they need to address the elements creating this situation. The consequences of maintaining the status quo may be more problematic than before, given the level and pace of change."

Virtual offices are not a panacea for employee engagement. But I believe implementing an alternative workplace strategy with various options for flexibility, including virtual offices and mobile work, could help drive up the all-important  sustainable engagement of which Towers Watson speaks.
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How Virtual Offices Help Boost Employee Engagement, Part 2

NEW YORK—Did you know only 63 percent of U.S. workers are fully engaged? Those stats come from the latest Towers Watson study. The study aims to help companies understand and measure what contributes to sustained employee engagement in the workplace today. My theory is that virtual offices can help the cause.

Laura Sejen, global practice leader, Rewards, Towers Watson, says sustainable engagement is an important evolution in the science of workforce behavior—and it's an approach well suited to the unique aspects of the current work environment.

As she explains it, sustainable engagement recognizes that employees need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary effort on the job. I would argue that virtual office technologies that allow employees more work-life balance could be part of that sustainable engagement.

"This is an important wake-up call for U.S. companies if they hope to sustain their growth,” Sejen says. “The companies with high sustainable engagement had operating margins almost three times those of organizations with a largely disengaged workforce. That fact alone creates a compelling case for change."

Sustainable engagement starts with basic engagement, defined as employees' willingness to expend discretionary effort on their job. It also requires enablement—having the tools, resources and support to do their job effectively, as well as energy, through a work environment that actively supports employees' well-being.

I believe that virtual office technologies should be among those tools and resources management leverages to help workers do their jobs effectively and more productively. Allowing employees to work from a virtual office cuts down on commuting times and allows the employee to tailor his schedule to better meet the needs of work and family life through concepts like workshifting.
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How Virtual Offices Help Boost Employee Engagement, Part 1

NEW YORK—Engagement is a major buzzword in today’s world of work, yet 63 percent of U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their work and are, in fact, struggling to cope with work situations that don’t provide enough support. So says a new study from Towers Watson. Could virtual offices help employee engagement?

According to the employee engagement study, employees are finding it difficult to sustain the kind of positive connection to their companies that yields consistent productivity. That, the firm suggests, is the result of almost a decade of pressure to do more with less and respond to the challenges of global competition, ever-evolving technology and the ongoing need for strict cost management.

"When workers are not fully engaged, it leads to greater performance risk for employers. It makes companies more vulnerable to lower productivity, higher inefficiency, weaker customer service, and greater rates of absenteeism and turnover," says Julie Gebauer, managing director, Talent and Rewards, Towers Watson.

"Without attention and interventions aimed at improving on-the-job support for employees and creating a sense of attachment to the organization, this trend could worsen—and directly affect business outcomes. Companies have known for years that employee engagement is important to business performance. We're now seeing—in part because of the tough business climate—that engagement is quite fragile and will not be sustained over time without careful attention to very specific elements in the work environment."

Could alternative workplace strategies, like telecommuting from a virtual office, drive greater employee engagement? I believe it could in some companies. Allowing employees to telecommute from a virtual office empowers them to take a measure of control over their own destiny and may spark that missing positive connection the Towers Perrin study mentioned. Allowing employees to work from a virtual office displays trust. Employees who feel trusted are more likely to trust the organization and therefore engage at higher levels.
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Londoners Could Turn to Virtual Offices During Olympics

LONDON—London employers may be seeing a higher-than-usual number of requests for leave in the weeks before the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

According to research from the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP), 14 percent of workers plan to take time off to attend the Games. Could virtual offices stem the tide of holiday requests? Some companies seem to think so.

CIPP’s findings also revealed that some companies are offering flexible working options during the Olympics. Virtual offices fit into flexible work strategies that are appropriate during this global event.

According to the CIPP, 10.3 percent of workers said their employer is allowing flexible working to attend the Games. The same number said that their employer is permitting flexible working so that staff can watch the Games on television and 11.5 percent of employees said their organization is granting flexible leave to volunteer at the Games.

What’s more, 13 percent of employers are allowing workers to catch up on lost hours at the beginning or end of the day or during weekends for attending, watching or volunteering for the Olympics. Allowing employees to work at home from a virtual office could also help HR departments overcome at least part of the challenge.

“Attending the Olympics is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people. It is not surprising to discover that so many Brits will be taking time off to watch the Games in their home country. It is also good to hear that employers are showing their support for the Olympics by offering flexible working arrangements so that can staff can attend, watch or volunteer at the Games,” says Lindsay Melvin, CEO of the CIPP.

“That being said, it is important that businesses still run smoothly during this time and part of that is ensuring that employee absences are managed appropriately. Payroll and HR departments will have to be more organized than usual and make sure that there are contingency strategies in place in case a number of their staff members are not working their regular hours.”
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Three Signs Your Virtual Offices are Strategic

CHICAGO—I recently read an article in Fast Company magazine called “3 Signs Flexible Work is Strategic—and Not Just Window Dressing.” Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., did a great job offering those three signs.

As I read the article, I thought to myself, “This could just as easily apply to virtual offices.” Yost pointed to research that shows the majority of employers offer some type of informal, day-to-day and formal work flexibility. The question, she says, is how to use flexible work strategically. We could ask the same question about virtual offices.

One sign Yost points to as a way to tell if your flexible work strategy is strategic or just random is this: When a business challenge or opportunity appears, managers naturally ask themselves, "How can we address this by being more flexible in how, when and where work is done?"

Great question, she offers some interesting examples you should check out, but for our virtual office purposes my advice is this: put your virtual office infrastructure in place now; accommodate the mobile workforce now. When an opportunity or challenge arises, you can just flip the usage switch according to your needs.

Yost’s second sign is: The organization consistently connects the dots between all of the tactical, siloed applications of work flexibility. I’d ask you to think about this: as you explore how to embrace alternative workplace strategies—fully explore it before you make investments in new leases or technologies. You want your virtual office strategy to complement your bricks-and-mortar strategy.

Finally, Yost’s third sign is: Employees understand how to capture the day-to-day flexibility they may have to manage their everyday work+life fit. Yost’s point is that workers know how to transition through various stages in life and career, whether it’s sick parents or sick kids or education or relocation. Virtual offices can certainly help that cause.

So, think about it, are you using virtual offices strategically or are is your virtual office strategy just window dressing?
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