The internet is the largest piece of engineering in history. You’ll never see most of its wiring, it’s workings, its power, but it’s here, as real as the cities we live in and far bigger in scope.
And much like a city, the internet has become the central access point for economic and social opportunity. It is the home for our digitised workplaces and our video catch ups with friends. It is the gathering point for teams and collaborators and students. It is the new means of productivity, communication and learning.
So the last thing that you want is for people to drop off it. You don’t want your friends, family and colleagues living on the fringe of internet infrastructure, their livelihoods in the balance. Nor would you wish for anyone to be stuck on the outside of this great achievement, denied proper access to the hub of enterprise and, these days, everyday living.
When the internet doesn’t work for us, it’s not as dramatic as the collapsing of bridges and tower blocks. It’s more like a road jammed with traffic, or a lift that doesn’t always respond when you punch a button, or a train that rarely arrives on time. You can live with it, just about. And many of the people working in our companies do just that.
It’s a surprisingly easy problem to overlook, even in the largest of corporations, and something that likely wouldn't get flagged on your regular employee survey. While businesses generally understand that the internet is invariably slowing for a number of their employees, disrupting workflows and adding frustration, many don’t know how to quantify or target the problem.
Because the internet is made of so many components, it’s very difficult to pin down what is affecting speed and performance. It could be any combination of factors, from visible home set ups and software applications to unseen data centres and cloud servers - a problem that is only exacerbated under a hybrid model of both on-site and home working.
Looking around your house, you might think to blame the router or your broadband provider. So you might restart the router, move to another room in the house for better signal or you might research an alternative provider - if you can afford it.
Many can’t afford a faster connection. This might be partly economical or it might be because there’s six people in the house all trying to use the same WiFi for work and study. Either way, it can slow your work, add to your stress and significantly sap your general wellbeing. Does this then become the responsibility of employers?
It’s an issue of equality as much as anything else. One family can boost connectivity for their homeschooled children but another is sharing laptops and struggling for bandwidth. Children are not getting the same kind of education, employees are competing on uneven ground, and when businesses don’t promote those who aren’t hitting their targets due to their internet set up, the inequality gap widens.
When the offices that remain begin to re-open and employees are granted flexibility under a hybrid model to choose their working environment, how will this problem impact those decisions? The choice could inadvertently be taken away from employees if they felt that their home working environment fell short of their experiences in the office.
If we don’t address this problem, people will drop off the internet, disenfranchised. Some already are, perhaps even in our own companies. These people need someone to invest in making a difference for them.
The surprising things is businesses are usually aware of the problem. Particularly in light of the forced digital adoption that occurred in 2020. They notice the drain on productivity, they’re aware of the impact on wellbeing, but to many it feels like a nagging problem, even a daunting one, which they aren’t sure how to tackle.
If we want to make the most difference to the right people in the right way, we need data. There’s no point in shipping routers when it’s internet providers that are the problem, or installing business broadband for people when the largest issue lies with a business application.
And so we ask the question, can HR make the digital world work properly? Can the internet - this vast and inexplicably complex engineering project - be analysed, be measured, be laid bare for businesses to see exactly how, where and why it is impacting human experience. Once that has been narrowed down, the right solutions become clear.
It’s possible for the digital world to work for everyone, everywhere, all the time. It just needs investment and the right information. We’ve found a way to get the right information, the investment is up to you and your business. The initial cost is minutes in comparison to the millions of pounds of productivity you will recover from your workforce. But to level the playing field for employees, to create equality and look after their wellbeing, any cost is surely worth it.
At Actual Experience we've developed a unique business analytics which provide insights that employee surveys just can't offer. This quantifies the impact the digital workplace has on employees (experience, wellbeing, inequality) as well as business efficiency., enabling you to prioritise the right investments and actions needed to make improvements.
If you are curious to find out more, get in touch with one of our Digital Workplace Consultants and find out how we make your your digital world work properly for everyone.