As organizations face the prospect of offices reopening and start planning for the adoption of a hybrid (remote/ in-office) work environment, Richard Gregory, Senior Director at Avanade considers how ‘Nudge’ theory can empower employees to be the best they can be.
For some time, organizations have known that they have needed to be more data-led and insights-driven, however, the biggest challenge is how to turn that into actions that will help move forward an organization at the pace and scale that it wants to operate at.
Satya Nadella famously said last year, “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” But many businesses were slow to change. As Covid-19 lockdowns were enforced across the globe and remote working took over, productivity took a dip as employees got to grips with a new way of working.
It is here that Nudge theory can really help. Humans are inherently known to be averse to change, but through combining data and AI with behavioral science, organizations have the ability to ‘nudge’ employees to adopt certain practices that can help them achieve their goals faster.
You cannot assume employees will embrace a hybrid environment
We learned from the last year that it took around nine months for some employees to adapt to full-time remote working and a lot of people are still not fully productive in this environment. As such, we cannot assume that as the outlook remains positive, employees will be comfortable transitioning back to the office or to a hybrid way of working. What organizations need to realize is that unless you teach people how to work in a new environment and help them change their working practices to suit, many will never regain the same level of productivity. This is where Nudge theory becomes so critical because it is about helping employees subtly change their behavior. We don’t want people to go back into the office to collaborate like they always have done, organisations have a responsibility to take their employees on a journey of adapting to a new way of working.
By combining a Nudge theory platform with tools that are used day-to-day, like Microsoft Outlook, Viva, and Teams, employees will not feel pressured and their wellbeing will be maintained. In the same way, a smartwatch encourages users to stand up after a period of inactivity – employees can benefit from fewer distractions and get personalized ‘nudges’ at the right moments, encouraging them to make small changes that can help improve their working behavior in the long term. Simple examples include automatic prompts to not send emails out of a person’s office hours, or booking focus time in employee’s calendars alerts to encourage more breaks, or booking time off for learning or exercise, known to help decrease stress levels. Nudge theory can help foster a more positive work culture for a global remote workforce and we, at Avanade, are already seeing improved employee productivity and resilience.
Nudge theory combined with smart-space technology can boost innovation
One of the noticeable impacts of the past year was that innovation was being impaired through the lack of those water-cooler moments with people outside of a team that sparks new ideas and thinking. While people are hoping to eventually return to the office, in many cases this will be a phased approach and those serendipitous meetings in the kitchen may still not return as many companies adopt a hybrid working environment with employees only in the office a few days a week or when there is a specific need. Without the knowledge of when people may be in office, colleagues still may not see each other for weeks or months. Nudge theory can, once again, help with this. The Nudge Platform can alert when work connections are in the office at the same time, also if people are scheduled to meet virtually but all are physically in the office, the Nudge Platform can automatically book an appropriate-sized meeting room. Going forward, we expect to see new office campuses and designs being created to encourage people to work better in this hybrid environment with Nudge theory incorporated.
This is not about micro-managing employees
However, a big challenge is to ensure that this technology is not used to ‘spy’ on employees. In the case of Avanade’s Nudge Theory Platform, the ethics behind the use of behavioral science has been thought about from the start, whether that be around data privacy or the approach taken to determine which behavioral traits to encourage. We passionately believe employees want to be the best they can be. Nudges are about removing the noise, reinforcing the right behaviors, and ultimately giving employees reminders at the right time and in the context of their work – without it becoming a “nag” platform. Ultimately this comes back to the values of the organization and the technology being used in the right way, for the right purpose, and with the right intent, which shouldn’t be a concern for leading organizations.
Nudge Theory-based solutions have the potential to transform the behaviors across a whole organization. From improving sales capability, resilience, or even improving leadership or manager effectiveness post-training. Each employee is unique, and by utilizing the power of AI these solutions can be hyper-personalized to help every individual be the best they can be.
By Richard Gregory, Senior Director at Avanade.