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The case for the engaged university

Making the case for technology adoption that engages employees
University Business, June 2018

Let’s face it—running any department at a university, college, or other higher education institution brings unexpected twists and turns each day. This is especially true when it comes to managing the workforce, which is typically a diverse group of employees including hourly and part-time workers, student workers, employees with varied native languages, and more.

Now add these challenges to the mix - rising tuition costs, growing need for transparency, and an increasing difficulty of students deriving value of a college degree after spending significantly on it. How we see higher institutions winning here is by creating a culture of engagement where staff members feel valued, empowered, and are happy! This can lead to a memorable experience for both staff and students, urging them to stay, give back, and gain value. There is really no better way to help students thrive than by creating a positive and happy campus culture surrounding them.

This is how ultimately higher education institutions can align its employees to accomplish missions.

Workforce management

And this is why technology advancements need to be extended to the staff as much as the students. Workforce management technology is one that automates and streamlines routine processes such as time and attendance, employee scheduling, leave management, HR, and payroll. This technology traditionally has helped higher education institutions manage labor costs while empowering managers and employees by freeing up their time and providing key insights into labor data.

All of these benefits can be achieved today as well but with new innovations, the technology can do more! Today, AI powered workforce management turns the routine into something more strategic. Below are some ways that we’re benefitting our employees, students, and all those who touch our campus life (from our frontline staff to our administrative staff) with this technology!

Device-agnostic solutions today let employees work the way they want

Common approaches to how employees interact with their managers or each other may not always work in the higher education industry. For example, remember that a significant percentage of employees in a college or university environment won’t have access to a desktop. So asking them to enter time, view a schedule, or perform other work-related tasks using a traditional desktop application may not be ideal. However, everyone has a smartphone today, so why not give them self-service access to their work-related data on any phone or mobile device? For instance, our student employees who are academic tutors do their best to meet the students where they are, which is typically in the residence hall. Why should these tutors waste their time looking for a desktop or a clock when they could just clock in when they arrive at their destination to meet with the student. It just makes sense and doesn’t waste our tutors’ time, making them happier and potentially allowing them to provide better customer service to their clients…our students.

Now, powerful mobile applications let employees check accrual balances, request time off, and complete many other tasks using their own mobile devices. And because these solutions are completely device-agnostic, employees can more easily move from desktop to tablet to phone – with the same experience and without feature loss.

Empower managers with artificial intelligence by turning routine work to strategic outcomes

The next generation of workforce management technology is powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. As a result, managers know that they’re making the most accurate decisions. At the same time, they can now make these decisions quickly and easily since the technology now offers various predictions and guidance for the best possible decisions.

How is this possible? The workforce management solution now includes powerful embedded analytics capable of delivering the context, awareness, and analysis of key decisions – right in the moment that they must be made. Additionally, machine learning can detect meaningful patterns within mountains of data to apply intelligence to various behaviors and make highly relevant recommendations. For example, if a student employee or a full-time employee calls in sick, the machine learning capability can recommend who is available to fill the shift and is both eligible and qualified to do so.

Also, instead of wasting time checking to see if an employee has enough accrued vacation to take time off, a manager can receive this information from the solution and quickly approve the request. Not only does the manager save time, but she can now build better relationships with employees by actually asking about their vacations plans – not their accrual balance. By letting AI turn routine work into strategic outcomes, managers now can confidently make better and accurate decisions while being more accessible to employees.

Enhance the employee experience and let them champion the technology

And for all users, the technology is completely optimized for the user experience. These new solutions are so easy to use that they require little to no training and enable users to interact with their workforce management system in the same way they would order an Uber ride. One-click actions offer new improvements over traditional workflow and processes such as calling out sick, submitting time-off requests, reviewing timecards, swapping shifts, building schedules, and so much more.

All of this becomes an important advantage. Whenever a college or university implements a new technology, training is one part of the adoption process. But if the application or technology is intuitive and easy to use, it will lead to increased user adoption and overall change management. Such a focus is also appealing to all employee segments. Now non-native English speakers will embrace the new solutions enthusiastically, hourly workers will become more energized and motivated, and employees and managers will develop better working relationships and a greater bond.  

Add new dimensions to how you manage your biggest asset - your workforce

It appears that student-facing technologies are always at the top of a college’s or university’s priority list but higher education institutions would fulfill their academic missions even more by focusing on their employees as well. With advancements that deliver better employee experiences - mobility, ease of use, and more - tomorrow’s workforce management technology is an investment worth considering today.

Ultimately, when employees are engaged, they provide better service to the students and delivering a positive and worthwhile student experience is the University of Colorado, Boulder’s primary objective.

Chris Mullen is director of human resources for housing & dining services at the University of Colorado, Boulder

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