Keeping Engagement Real: Going "Low Tech" in a "High Tech" World

By Alex Teo, HR , People Ops, ShopBack

Alex Teo, HR , People Ops, ShopBack

As a digital platform, ShopBack runs 24 hours, seven days a week. It does not need a human being to send a message every time a customer completes a transaction and receives their cashback.

Likewise, many new HR platforms tout their ability to provide digital tools that serve companies in a similar way, be it for collecting real-time data on employee activity, pulse surveys and 360 feedback, or even allowing employees to send virtual items to each other as a form of recognition. These platforms give companies the ability to improve employee engagement at ‘scale’; meaning that the size of the HR or People team does not need to increase to correspondingly serve the needs of more people.

While there is value in deploying scalable solutions for convenience and productivity, new HR technology does not obviate the need to also take tangible actions in the physical world.In our rush to go digital, we sometimes forget what makes us human, and the kinds of connections that really matter to us.

How we think about this at ShopBack

At ShopBack, we seek to combine tech with what also makes sense at the human level, even if these solutions seem ostensibly ‘low tech’ or blindingly obvious. We are by no means the only company to do what we do, nor do we get it right all the time. But we have sought to find what works for us, and encourage companies to find solutions that make sense for them, based on their industry, stage of growth, or the culture that they desire.

"If companies remember that tech is there to enable, not replace human connection, we will see a shift in how employees find meaning in their workplaces"

Keeping Healthy

Working in a start-up can be physically demanding, and the strong levels of ownership may lead to people neglecting their health to meet the demands of customers and partners.

When we realized that people were neglecting their fitness, a few volunteers put up their hands to take turns to conduct HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) in the office common area. They set up a Slack channel, put together a short ‘how-to’ instruction guide on Google Docs, and went out to get members to join.
Two years on, what started as a ground-up initiative is now a standing arrangement within the company that takes place two evenings a week. Each session draws anywhere between 5 to 15 people. In fact, HIIT is now conducted regularly even in our overseas offices (e.g. Taiwan, Indonesia).

Other groups also organized themselves to play sports, such as floor ball, football, or badminton. While Slack is the primary coordination channel, new joiners often did not know when these activities occurred. To address this, we put up a physical notice board in the common area that indicates all of the available activities, when they happen, and which Slack channel to join for more information. So sometimes the ‘old school’ solution can be just as effective.

Showing Appreciation

As a rapidly scaling start-up, most people in ShopBack work extremely hard because they want to see the company succeed.

Given the lengths to which ShopBackers go to deliver results, we try to show our appreciation via shout-outs during Townhall presentations or over communication platforms like Slack and email. However, to maximize impact, we try to combine these with real world experiences.

For instance, in the lead-up to peak periods such as 11.11, country teams are given resources to organize activities within their own offices as a show of thanks for their efforts. These can take the form of massages, manicures, or special food stations. We also organize a company-wide teleconference to rally the teams, and even tap on their competitive spirit by organizing a virtual trivia quiz. In addition, we also provide appreciation cards for ShopBackers to write out thank you messages to each other.
Why? Sometimes the tactile feel of something in your hands just seems more real, and I know that many of us keep these cards with us.

Lessons Learned

In closing, we wanted to share some lessons we have learned in our journey so far.

1. Keep the end in mind and Simplify

Don’t rush to a solution that looks like “the next big thing” when a simpler approach may suffice.
If having a 1-to-1s can give the same insights as a new predictive AI platform, the latter might not be the better option.

2. Executing end-to-end

Don’t be half-hearted about running some programs once you identify them as important.
A number of these actions may not have immediately quantifiable ROI, but it doesn’t mean that
employees won’t appreciate them. Stay the course and execute them well.

3. Keep the “customer” in mind
This one requires a bit of soul-searching. When choosing new initiatives, constantly question if you are doing this to merely enhance your employer ‘brand’, or if it adds real value to your colleagues’ lives.

On a wider scale, if companies remember that tech is there to enable, not replace human connection, perhaps we will see a shift in how employees find meaning in their workplaces.

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