About a year ago, I was the internal enterprise community manager for a high tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can tell you, employee engagement was always on my mind. We had a large population of employees nearing retirement age with an average length of employment around 20-30 years. On top of that, most of our new hires were recent college grads, so we had an influx of millennials and all of the challenges that came with it. I like to think of it as the double-whammy of employee engagement: how to keep the tenured employees stimulated while engaging the millennials in any way possible.

 

There's a lot of blog posts already out in cyberspace that talk about employee engagement. We can learn about it from an academic point of view, we can talk about it theoretically, and we can even put it into a cool infographic. And while I do love a good infographic, I want you to come away from this blog with actionable things that you can try in your communities. Let's start with the low hanging fruit.

 

1. Make existing programs better by bringing them into an online community

Do you already have employee engagement programs in place at your company? You can add dimension and depth (as well as increased employee engagement) to these programs by bringing them into your online community. You can use your community to better support the program's objectives by implementing things like transparent leadership communications, online Q&A, information sharing, and public acknowledgement of goals and rewards.

 

Some employee engagement programs that work well in a community include:

  • Innovation award programs
  • Idea jam sessions
  • Employee recognition programs
  • Employee volunteer programs
  • Group fitness/health challenges

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  Idea jam sessions like this can be conducted easily in an online community

 

One note of caution: if you are looking to increase employee engagement in a community setting, you first need to be sure the right program strategy and resources are in place within the corporate organization. Do this by starting upstream from the community. What exactly does that mean?


It's not enough to have an employee volunteer program, then open a group in the community called "Employee Volunteer Program." That bird is not going to fly. You'll need to make sure you have the right components of a volunteer program already in place such as: team leads for each of your sites, an active group of volunteers from each of your buildings, and ideas for volunteer activities that are both supported by the company and fit the passions of your employees.

 

Then when you create your online communities to support these activities you can add more layers to the employee engagement cake, such as assigning a community manager for the group, recognizing an outstanding employee volunteer each month, supplementing the recognition with pictures from the real-live party you threw for them, and asking their co-volunteers to congratulate them on their work. Do this every month, talk about it in real life and talk about it online and you will have a more engaged employee volunteer program (and more engaged employees as a result).

 

One little trick Jive has used in the layer cake of employee volunteer engagement is giving back to the givers. Within our "JiveGives" group, Jivers raised money for a kitten and puppy Snuggle Express event for the volunteers at our Portland Office which in turn raised enough money to host another Snuggle event at a local school, see The Snuggle Express rolled into Portland thanks to some Jivers!

 

2. Face the facts: Engage with employees how they live.

Admit it. You've been looking the other way as employees started using their mobile devices (like iPads and mobile phones) at work. You may have even denied the fact that you use your own mobile phone to check emails at night. I'm going to hold your hand and look into your eyes when I tell you this, these little devices are a powerful and integral part of the future of work. Another thing you might have noticed more is people are working outside the office (gasp) or even making their own work hours (what?!). The good news is that this digital transformation plays into employee engagement because employers can choose to support these new habits rather than discouraging them.

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These days, we're just as likely to work from a sofa as a desk.

 

At Jive, we are admittedly ahead of the crowd. So I will tell you what I've learned about engaging employees by embracing how they live:

 

  • Figure out how to make your systems work with mobile. THIS. IS. HUGE. Go on and get your IT and Engineering teams fired up because this is a challenge for them. If you are an email work culture, better figure out how employees can receive emails on their mobile devices (I really hope you've gotten that far already). If you have systems that employees need access to after hours, such as Concur for expenses, consider encouraging the use of the mobile apps provided by these companies. Provide clear instructions for your employees on how to use them (if they are not available or obvious already). Make sure your fabulous online community is set up to be mobile friendly. Depending on your version and whether you are on-premise, hosted or cloud, the actual how-to will vary.
  • Give employees a longer leash. 100% transparency here, I take the train to work and often have to leave early to catch a train to pick up my kids from school. Then I often work from home in the afternoons and at night. Do I take conference calls on the train? Oh yeah. Do I hold video calls when my kids are in the next room? Yes I do, regardless of the fact that the kids have been known to video-bomb on occasion. I need my work and my life to be integrated, not separated. And my work gets done when and where I need it.
  • Autonomy is key. Do you tell your employees what to cook for dinner or how to get their kids ready for bed? We assume that you hired competent professionals who are awesome at what they do. Give them the freedom and autonomy to choose how to get it done. It might not be the way you would do it, but guess what? Autonomy is one of the key components of employee engagement. Don't believe me? Watch this cool video by RS Animate and Drive called "The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us." It's one of my favorites mostly because I want to draw this fast. I really do.

3. Erase the line between leaders and employees.

Do your employees know the details of the company's annual strategy? Do they feel comfortable chatting with the vice president they meet in the hallway? It's highly likely that there is an invisible (but very real) line between your company's employees and its leaders. At one company I worked at, one executive made a point of looking away whenever he passed employees in the hallway. This is the worst sort of disconnect. How can we engage employees when our executives are actively disconnected from them?

 

Connecting execs to employees can be a pretty big challenge. After all, company leaders tend to be the busiest people around. The last thing they have time for is kissing babies and shaking hands. I would argue that just like in politics, company leaders would do well to get out among the people and do more baby kissing.

 

So what does this look like? At Jive, we encourage, inspire and assist our executives in regular personal blog posts. They write about what is important for the company, for employees, and for themselves in a personal voice. They encourage employee comments and feedback. We take these blog posts and pull them into a news feed specifically for leadership content which is featured on our Jive internal community home page News feed.

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Executive communications via megaphone are ineffective. Try blogging instead!

 

Do you have leaders that refuse to blog? Convince them to participate in an Ask-Me-Anything session. It can start as a yearly event or even quarterly if they are up for it. Develop a list of questions in advance and allow people to post questions in a community group dedicated to the event or if the event is WebEx, have participants send the questions in chat. Provide notes and follow-up conversations in your community group.

 

4. Keep it real and make it personal. Feel something.

Your attitude, especially the attitude you take to work, can either build or erode employee engagement. On top of that, every interaction you have with another employee as a chance to increase engagement. Make each conversation you have online authentic and strive to be positive.

 

How can you be more authentic at work? Tell your story. If you have a community (and the blogs are enabled for your site), you have the power of blogging in your hands. Don't waste it. Write a blog about your experiences on the job. Write about a team outing, write about your weekend activities (as long as it's appropriate for your community and work culture). Take the risk and put yourself out there.

 

At the last company I worked for, we launched Jive as pilot with a very limited number of people. We set very few rules. What happened was a beautiful thing. We had people blogging and meeting online. Collaborating on ideas and chatting about work. People met across time zones and geographies in a way that is impossible in a real life setting. We started to feel something about going to work. And isn't feeling something a huge part of employee engagement?

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Telling your story connects you to others on a human level, making it easier to get work done.

 

Within Jive, employees are encouraged to blog. We are asked to post a blog after our first week of work and are actively encouraged to keep them coming. We've had people share some incredibly personal life details in their blogs. And while it doesn't directly tie to the company's bottom line, feeling connected personally to my coworkers, even the ones I've never met in person, is a powerful thing.

 

5. Finally, never underestimate the power of fun.

Having fun is a natural part of life. Think of the times in your life when you felt the most fully alive (or engaged in the experience) and I bet that you were experiencing the phenomena known as FUN. Fun can be a tricky dance partner, however, especially when you attempt to bring her to work. And like rainbows and unicorns, fun can be an intangible thing for some organizations. Granted, it feels like Jive is on the "more fun" end of the spectrum with our endless beers on tap and a gigantic stuffed ape in the office, so I realize this might be a little hard to pin down for some.

 

My advice on this one, look to the natural cheerleaders in your company. Ask their advice. Fun for your company might be an annual cubicle decorating contest for the holidays, or dressing up on Halloween. Fun might be getting everyone together for a Bike-to-Work day or having a summer BBQ up on the roof of your building. Figure out how fun works for your employees and make it happen.

 

Bringing fun online with Jive.

I think it's important to know what's possible even if it would be impossible at your office. Everyone needs stretch goals, right? Besides the beer, the amazing free snacks, the cocktail hours and cupcake parties, the way Jive has fun the most is in our online community. Employees have started some really hilarious groups, with stellar examples such as "Let Me Photoshop that for You" and "A Group Where We Post Nothing but Kittens." And admit it, at 3:30 in the afternoon, would you rather have another cup of stale coffee or this waiting for you in your community's activity feed?

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I'd take a playful kitten over coffee any day of the week.

 

Take a deep breath and repeat after me, fun is good. That didn't hurt much at all, did it?

 

To sum it up, employee engagement comes back to one key focal point: people. Bringing people together, removing barriers between people, encouraging honest and open communication, and having fun! Each of these factors increases employee engagement. And using your online community for these things can put more power behind your engagement efforts.

 

So tell me, how do you use your online community to bolster employee engagement? Send me screen captures of your kitten groups today!

 

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Check out our new white paper called "Every Screen is a Desk: Engaging Employees in a Work-Anywhere Era"



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And if you're a fan of slideshare, check out: Employee Engagement in the Work-Anywhere Era