What employees really, really want from you

Three big themes from one global research firm’s quantitative survey of knowledge workers to help guide organizational change

It starts by listening

When it comes to transforming how we work, we believe the best way to start is to ask the people doing that work. That’s why we’re constantly in conversation with knowledge workers in companies of all sizes, to find out what they expect from work and learn about how they’d like to get things done every day. Part of this means always looking into how work and employee expectations are changing for enterprise companies.

This report is based on a quantitative study by the global firm Kelton Research that focuses on three of the clearest themes that have emerged in our discussions with knowledge workers. In this piece, we share Kelton’s findings, and supplement the issues with data and insights from around the world of work.

It reflects important changes in people’s expectations about work, including:

  • A desire for more transparency—in all directions
  • The need to connect with colleagues more deeply
  • The importance of better processes and collaboration tools
  • The disconnects that are preventing progress on these fronts

We hope the research contributes to the ongoing conversation about work and suggests how enterprises can rise to the challenges of change.

Critically, we hope that it shows how every business leader—not just HR and IT leaders—can have a measurable impact on their organizations by focusing on relationships, connections and the way work gets done.

A word on methodology
This Slack Future of Work survey was conducted online among 1,459 knowledge workers in the U.S. over the age of 18. The margin of error is 2.6%.

That’s a lot for any organization to tackle without making some big changes.

“Fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 firm was 75 years; now it’s less than 15.”

Beth ComstockImagine It Forward

The change within 

Alongside all this transformation is a very real change that’s happening inside your company: the change in employee expectations. 

Employees don’t just want to see more diverse and inclusive workspaces, guided by a clear mission and sense of purpose. Their lives as consumers have also shown them a better way to work: Mobile apps, social media platforms and e-commerce experiences have given them exciting new ways to communicate; set up and participate in groups; share ideas, photos and stories; and get together to make things happen.

Then they get to work, and it’s back to email, conference calls, meetings and that intranet from the ’90s. Do we need to change the culture, systems and tools that support our working lives? Of course we do. The question for big companies is how to change.

Let’s look at what employees are saying…

Three big themes:  

In this research, we chose to look at three concerns already strongly indicated by a wide range of employees in all kinds of enterprises:

1. Transparency and alignment

A deeper partnership with company leaders and a better understanding of strategic and tactical decision-making. This is one part of a wider desire for better access to the information needed to do one’s job. We focused on the top-down vector here: the transparency of executive decision-making.

2. Relationships and connections

The desire for more and deeper bonds with colleagues. This is especially important and challenging in a world of distributed, mobile and cross-functional teams.

3. Collaboration tools

The need for better employee experiences and faster, better-informed decision-making through improved communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing.

This is emerging fast as an employee expectation—as the means of communication that evolved to support old ways of working start to show the strain of the new demands.

Theme 1: Transparency and alignment

Employees today expect to be able to find the information, the people and the resources they need to do their jobs.

That’s reflected in a need for visibility into every aspect of their work:

  • Company visibility
    Workers want clarity on the strategic direction of the business and the decisions that support it.
  • Market visibility
    People want to understand the context of their business and industry, including insights on the competition and emerging trends.
  • Co-worker visibility
    They want to see across departments and disciplines to better inform their own work.

For this study, we focused on the first kind of visibility: the transparency of strategic direction and executive decision-making.

Building a learning/sharing culture
We’re seeing that the top-down, “command and control” cultures of yesterday’s large enterprises are starting to give way to more open cultures based on transparency, visibility and knowledge sharing. And pioneering business and HR leaders are playing a major role in this transformation, often leading by example.

“Being an accessible CHRO means that you’re available to everyone...Through transparency and openness, you’ll learn if your managers, directors and senior directors are administering the talent management structures according to your blueprint, vision and the organization’s culture.”

Chris FieldsOn Spark by ADP, Dec 2017

Key findings:

  • Transparency matters
    Knowledge workers want to feel connected to their company’s mission. And that means hearing about the company strategy and the decisions made at the executive level.
  • A transparency gap
    82% of knowledge workers say it’s important that their organization is transparent. But only 19% consider their company to be “very transparent.”
  • Enterprise alert
    Knowledge workers at larger companies value transparency even more than those at smaller companies (89% vs. 80%).

“Transparency is about more than executives being forthcoming. It’s about whether people within an organization can actually see what’s going on in different departments and working groups.”

Stewart ButterfieldCEO, Slack

The big picture: 80% of knowledge workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their organizations.

 

Specifically, they want visibility into:

75% Overall business strategy
75% Business opportunities
74% & 71% Industry and competitor updates

A talent acquisition and retention issue

87% of respondents want their future company to be transparent.

The value of transparency

We looked beyond the survey results to bring other perspectives to the table. What we saw validated our findings: Transparency really does matter.

“We think of organizational health as more than just culture or employee engagement. It’s the organization’s ability to align around a common vision, execute against that vision effectively, and renew itself through innovation and creative thinking.”

McKinsey QuarterlySept. 2017

“We use something called the Open Decision Framework to guide how decisions that impact other teams, or the company as a whole, are made and communicated. We can get valuable feedback throughout the decision-making process and...be more open about how (and why) we’re making certain decisions.”

Jim WhitehurstPresident and Chief Executive, Red Hat

“Cultures that thrive are bound by a mutual understanding and respect for the company mission, vision and values. This shared connection requires companies to be intentional about how information is disseminated. The strongest cultures are highly effective in properly communicating news, changes, goals and successes throughout their ranks and are inclusive in soliciting feedback.”

Niquenya CollinsBuilding Bridges Consulting

Theme 2: Relationships and connections

We spend a third of our lives at work—and even though it’s work, social human connection is important. Without it, workers are more likely to feel alienated and disengaged.

Attracting and keeping talent—as well as getting the best performance from everyone—means actively promoting a culture that fosters strong connections and greater trust among colleagues. But forces like the increasing pace of work, more distributed teams and more contract work can threaten the bonds that make work engaging and fulfilling.

The research findings support what we all intuitively feel: People want these connections at work, but they’re not always getting them.

Key findings: A universal need

  • We all need connections
    91% of respondents have a desire to feel closer to colleagues in the future. And 89% said they want to be more connected to their company’s mission and values.
  • Connection broken?
    Only 26% of knowledge workers describe their office as “connected.”
  • Building bridges
    35% of knowledge workers feel that more social events with colleagues would boost their sense of connectedness. 33% felt that “more collaborative work” would improve things. And 31% believe that better communication tools should be a priority.
  • More meetings? Maybe not.
    Only 15% of knowledge workers think that “more scheduled meetings” would increase their sense of connection.

How relationships and connections influence business

The need to build connections in the new workplace is a growing theme across management and leadership discussion forums.

“If you can figure out how to unlock each person in your organization, you’re just creating more value. If two or three people out of every 10 are not unlocked... you’re leaving money on the table. If they’re not all in, they’re not executing at a level you need them to every day.”

Chinwe OnyeagoroPresident, Great Place to Work

“Only 24% of employees feel connected to their peers.”

TinyPulse Employee Engagement Report2017

“70% of professionals in the U.S. today would not work at a leading company if it meant they had to tolerate a bad workplace culture.”

LinkedIn Censuswide Research2018

“It’s important to have tools that make the remote workers feel as much a part of the organization as if he or she were in the office. Remote workers who feel remote also feel isolated from the company, and that drives down productivity.”

Zeus KerravalaFounder ZK Research, Harvard Business Review

“The greatest predictor of happiness is social connection, by far.”

Shawn AchorThe Happiness Advantage

“Respondents who didn’t have a best friend or strong relationships with co-workers only had a 1-in-12 chance of being engaged.”

GallupWellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath and Jim Harter

“30% of respondents who reported having a best friend at work were seven times more likely to be engaged at their jobs than those who didn’t.”

GallupWellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath and Jim Harter

Theme 3: Collaboration tools

Despite the dramatic changes in the dynamics of knowledge work, it’s still supported by a decades-old collaboration infrastructure: meetings, teleconferences and email.

While all of these play an important role in any effective organization, today’s employees expect and crave new collaboration tools to help them do their jobs.

Key findings:

  • Growing dissatisfaction: Only 31% of the knowledge workers surveyed are “extremely satisfied” with their current work communication tools.
  • The modernization imperative: 74% think that work environments of the future will be more collaborative.
  • Get real (time): 80% expect colleagues to answer emails as quickly as possible. And about three-fourths, or 74%, prefer the ability to send real-time messages at work.
  • Better tools, please: Better communication tools at work would make people feel more connected (31% of respondents), versus more meetings (15%) or a more open office space (13%).
  • Connecting the dots: Those who communicate via workplace messaging and collaboration apps are more likely to describe their office as connected (30% compared with 22%).

Weaving the new fabric of work

Collaboration tools alone can’t create a more connected workplace culture. But there’s increasing research that shows that collaboration tools can have a major impact on productivity and engagement.

“For the first time in HR, our profession is being told that we need to be a technology proponent. Technology is not just for the IT department anymore. It’s for the HR professionals.”

Cara CaprettaVP–Human Capital Management Transformation Practice, Oracle

“Moving beyond thinking of personal productivity and technology tools in isolation is critical for organizations to achieve positive results. A combination of culture, leadership and incentives needs to come together for effective collaboration and productivity to reign. To do this, HR organizations must work with IT to bring their expertise in team management, goal-setting and employee development to help make using the new wave of connectivity tools productive, simple and engaging.”

DeloitteGlobal Human Capital Trends, 2018

“72% of our survey respondents have already seen benefit from using connected workplace tools.”

DeloitteGlobal Human Capital Trends, 2018

Conclusion

The more we listen to knowledge workers talk about their work experiences and expectations, the clearer we can be about the kinds of changes leaders and managers need to prioritize. The three themes identified in this research—the need for better transparency, relationships and collaboration tools—are important guides to organizational change.

The good news

Big, global companies across all industries are already making significant progress on all three fronts:

  • To boost transparency
    They’re supplementing the standard “all-hands” meetings and top-down announcements with more open, fluid communication using collaboration platforms and workspaces based on real-time messaging and knowledge sharing.
  • To boost connectedness
    They’re allowing teams to set up their own, often cross-functional, collaboration spaces—covering “the work of work” and supporting the social, interpersonal aspects too.
  • To boost collaboration
    They’re bringing in tools that can integrate existing work applications into a more seamless, cohesive collaboration infrastructure.

And, thanks to the new, open IT delivery models, these transformations aren’t limited to the traditional enterprise IT vendors or legacy office stacks. Instead, companies are leveraging a new generation of open applications that are easily integrated with existing work software.

“Our recommendation is clear: Start managing your organizational health as rigorously as you do your P&L, providing pathways for leaders at all levels to take part and embedding and measuring the new ways of working.”

McKinsey QuarterlySept 2017

It’s time for champions

The profound changes in work happening right now create an enormous opportunity for business leaders across all departments who can connect the dots between culture, systems and work styles.

The transformation cannot just be driven by IT or HR—though it may well start there. Leaders across any line of business can pave the way for this new collaborative revolution, starting with their own teams. All it needs is a clear perspective on collaboration and employee experience as they relate to your business goals.

This is happening fast

Companies that get ahead of transparency, connectedness and collaboration trends will not only find it easier to attract, retain and motivate their people. They’ll also play a far more visible role in the business outcomes every CEO is looking for: innovation, efficiency, customer-centricity and change acceleration.

“There’s actually a huge degree of overlap between what executives want and what workers want. People want to move quickly and feel engaged; to operate in alignment and have the autonomy to make decisions.”

Stewart ButterfieldCEO, Slack

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