The mobile device has become a constant presence in modern life. We never go anywhere without our smartphones. We’re lost without them.
So, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that the cell phone would be a big topic of discussion at the recent Great Places to Work For All 2018 Summit in San Francisco. During his opening keynote address, Michael C. Bush, the CEO of the Great Place to Work, stood in front of a mammoth screen that filled with the image of a smartphone.
“I respect this device,” Bush told the audience. “It has changed the world. … People now are more informed and more intelligent because of it.”
In another session, Hilton executive Matthew Schuyler took out his phone as he echoed the sentiment that “these little things that we carry with us” are changing everything. Schuyler described how the global hotel and resort chain has made policy changes to better incorporate mobile devices into the daily work life of employees.
And later, Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, cautioned that companies need to ensure mobile devices don’t become detrimental to the well-being of employees by making them feel tethered to work, 24-7.
The annual conference highlights, of course, how to make work great – for employees and organizations. The focus is on how top-performing companies share common traits of high-trust cultures characterized by diversity, transparency, communication, and respect. And with sessions centered around how to build that culture, the mobile device received plenty of attention.
That’s because companies are struggling to stay connected with employees in a rapidly changing workplace.
Last year, Gallup found that 43 percent of employees now work in a remote fashion at least sometimes – an increase from 39 percent in 2012. The shift to a more distributed workforce has been profound, and it’s forcing organizations to rethink how they communicate with employees to ensure they’re performing at their best.
“They change the way we live, work, play and interact with each other,” said Schuyler, the CHRO of Hilton. “But we’re all still trying to figure out how best to use these devices.”
For instance, Hilton used to tell employees to keep their smartphones in their lockers while at work, he said. But that left workers feeling cut off from the rest of their day-to-day lives during their shifts.
“You can’t thrive in the workplace when you only bring part of yourself to work,” Schuyler explained.
Hilton changed its guidelines so employees could use their phones at work. But then the company faced a different issue – sensory overload. Their research found that each day employees were checking their smartphones about 150 times. They also were being overwhelmed with email. So, Hilton formed a partnership with Huffington’s company, which has a mission of preventing employee stress and burnout.
“People have become addicted to their phones,” said Huffington, as heads nodded in agreement. “So, you always feel like you’re at work. That’s why we believe it’s important to unplug and recharge. We have to create a healthy relationship with our phone and learn to take back our lives, our time and our attention.”
And like most things in life, the key is finding a balance. Mobile devices increasingly are the way to connect employer and employee. Yet they also need to be used in a way where the “noise” is filtered out so workers can focus on information that’s truly important – and deliver their best effort to the organization.
Companies are wrestling with this at a time when the idea of “workplace” is being redefined.
“Work is wherever you are,” Bush said. “We’re seeing a trend at many companies similar to something Salesforce is doing. They’re building a huge tower in San Francisco without assigned workspaces. It’s taken their headcount at offices down by 30 percent because so many people are working from home. Salesforce is supporting that because this is the future.”
But even as more employees are no longer located at a traditional workplace, Bush said the same principles apply to making a company a truly Great Place to Work. That means looking for ways to schedule teams to be together face-to-face to encourage collaboration. Soliciting feedback. Focusing on career development.
The numbers captured in the Gallup report are only going to grow, he added. So, organizations need to adapt to this new world.
“Companies aren’t yet doing a good job as the workplace becomes more digital, more distributed or whatever you want to call this sea change,” Bush said. “It’s a gap right now. But you need to figure out ways to support employees because the trend is absolutely going in that direction.”