4 ways to unlock productivity, retention and revenue growth

As talent markets remain in flux and employers continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic‘s impact, human connection at work is suffering and, perhaps surprisingly, those working on-site are feeling the least connected.

That’s according to new global research from Accenture, From Always Connected to Omni-Connected, which finds that only one in six employees feel “highly connected” at work. The survey of 5,000 workers across skill levels, as well as 1,100 C-level executives, explored the ways people connect with one another at work.

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That one-in-six finding is a concern for HR leaders as they navigate return-to-office decisions, in particular, as close to half (42%) of on-site workers say they feel “not connected,” according to the survey, compared with 36% of hybrid workers and 22% of fully remote workers. According to the findings, while in-person time is vital, physical proximity that lacks leadership support, flexibility, technology or sense of purpose doesn’t necessarily translate into people feeling deeper connections to their work and to each other.

According to the report, so-called “omni-connected experiences,” which help workers feel connected and included regardless of their physical work location, are the best way to foster a true culture of connection. And among employees who receive such experiences, over 90% say they can be productive anywhere.

Ellyn Shook, chief leadership officer and CHRO, Accenture

The fact that only one in six people feel highly connected—in a human sense—at work, along with on-site workers being least connected, really challenges the notion of how culture thrives: [It’s] not in spaces and places, but through human relationships,” says Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer for Accenture and HRE‘s 2020 HR Executive of the Year.

According to Accenture, several organizations are leveraging omni-connected experiences to create a culture of connection and community. A few examples include:

  • Leading food company Land O’ Lakes makes innovative mental health resources available to anyone, anywhere. In addition to resources for handling critical issues, they provide special services for parents and caregivers.
  • Athletics company Nike is taking a site-specific approach in which people will collaborate, create and learn together based on the needs of the business and location they’re in—e.g., in some locations people will work remotely up to two days each week and be together for the other three.
  • American Express introduced Amex Flex to become more efficient and agile, allow workers to gain greater flexibility to manage their professional and personal lives, and level the playing field for colleagues across levels and locations.
  • Networking company Cisco prioritized building a “conscious culture” by establishing trust so when the pandemic hit, 87% of Cisco’s employees already viewed the organization as a healthy workplace. Cisco’s employees were equipped to continue working throughout the pandemic, with the C-suite holding regular check-ins to listen to employees’ concerns and simultaneously tackling racial inequity issues internally. These initiatives are valued as it has held the #1 spot on Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work for” two years in a row.

“Leaders are focused on accessing, creating and retaining top talent and are realizing that this is an opportunity to reassess their cultures and ways of working,” says Christie Smith, Accenture’s Global Lead, Talent and Organization/Human Potential.

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Smith explains that by creating an environment where the focus is on connection, communication and fostering trust, leaders are signaling that their people’s time and talent are respected and valued, which the research shows pays dividends in both revenue and productivity.

The survey found, for instance, that employers whose people receive omni-connected experiences can realize a 7.4% annual revenue growth premium. Omni-connection also builds trust, with 29% of omni-connected workers saying they feel more likely to experience a deeper level of trust in their organization. Additionally, being omni-connected accounts for 59% of an employee’s intention to stay in their job.

Through leveraging technology, Shook says, Accenture has reinvented the role of the traditional office to offer a digital workplace for its people around the world.

“Whether working from home, in an Accenture office, at a client site, on the go or in virtual reality, Accenture can offer a frictionless work experience, tailored to individual needs at a specific moment in time,” she says.

The Accenture report identifies four key actions that employers can take to foster and create omni-connected experiences:

  • Instill modern leadership: Lead by listening first and following commitment with action. When people feel safe to speak up, they should be met with empathy, compassion and respect. By communicating regularly and transparently, leaders can deepen trust with their people.
  • Grow a thriving culture: People who see a clear line from their work to company purpose are more connected and fulfilled. Leaders can deepen that connection by championing how different ideas and experiences matter to the long-term success of the organization, and by creating an environment where people’s whole health is cared for.
  • Enable the agile organization: Omni-connected experiences help people be productive wherever they are. Leaders need to expand the notion of flexibility to also consider when and how individuals work best. From there they can build flexible frameworks that are agile enough to be adapted to meet changing needs in a fluid environment.
  • Empower people through technology: Building a robust technology foundation in the cloud is the first step. The next is empowering people to experiment and explore emerging technologies like the metaverse and giving people the autonomy to improve their own processes using tech and data.

“So many of our conversations the past two years have been about return to the workplace,” Shook says. “Instead, we should focus on experiences that level the playing field so every person can work to their full potential, in work and in life, in ways that work for them—which deepens trust, strengthens culture and ultimately drives business results.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.