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Employee self-service on the go

Michelle Hicks

The first generation of employee self-service allowed individuals to enter their time sheets through a company intranet or even use the same web page to select their family’s benefits during open enrollment. As systems have advanced, employees are now able to view their total rewards in 3D graphics, estimate the right investment mix in their 401(k) portfolios, and create virtual workgroups with tools like SharePoint, which allows them to create their own websites without knowing a lick of code.

But, in the near future, I suspect none of these technologies will truly engage the youngest members of our work force if they can’t get to them from their cell phones and tablets.

Today’s social media generation texts more than they talk. With the iPhone and similar platforms they don’t have to push buttons; they tap a screen to get to who they want to reach. And, they can reach the Internet with these devices from the mall, their car, or the classroom. A colleague who watched his son gaming on his smart phone recently lamented, “Employees won’t consider anything self-service if they have to actually go to a computer to do something. They’re going to want this on their cell phone.”

Business is paying attention and making investments, even in this difficult economy. A recent study by McKinsey & Company finds companies are spending $1 billion on Web 2.0 technology and the level of investment is expected to grow by 15 percent over the next five years. What is driving this investment? Well, it’s more than just the youngest members of our work force.

Grandmothers have now discovered social networking tools like Facebook. I was recently “friended” by my kindergarten teacher and she’s one of the most active people posting in my network – everything from pictures of her grandkids to what she thinks of politicians in Washington. The tools make the Internet even more user-friendly than ever before, capturing the imaginations of even the most reluctant to adopt social network technologies.

As more people do this at home, and soon by phone, we’re going to see a rising demand for similar technologies in the workplace.

But, it takes more than peer pressure to make business pay attention. There has to be an impact on productivity and, ultimately, profit to get executives to commit. Case studies are starting to emerge that demonstrate the power that can be unleashed through broad collaboration. With a tool like SharePoint, a company’s factory workers in one country can post an issue with a particular machine and immediately get a solution from a similar factory in another part of the world.

Instead of escalating the issue through a bureaucratic process to dissect the problem, investigate if it’s occurred in other places, and develop a solution to be fed back down days, weeks, or months later, the solution is instant. The opportunities for efficiency are remarkable.

Of course, there’s an opportunity for disruption as well. Organizations need to pull their IT security, HR and legal teams together to come up with best practices and processes to ensure success. In a poll of 50 early adopters, McKinsey also found that as many of the Web 2.0 organizations are dissatisfied with the tool as they are satisfied with it. Those not yet finding social networking bliss say managers don’t understand how to leverage the tools or they may be concerned about risk.

I remember similar concerns when one of my former employers first instituted e-mail. About 20 people worked in a tiny college campus space at a public radio station. The general manager insisted we start using e-mail to talk to him, which initially seemed ridiculous considering his office was just a few steps away from anyone’s desk. Today, for all of its ills, can you imagine trying to work without it? Web 2.0, employee self-service via mobile phones – we’re going to see all of these in the near future.

The organizations that attract the most collaborative and engaged work force will be those who start learning how to make the tools work now.

Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants.

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