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Juanita Olguin: Connecting the Dots of the Digital Workplace

February 08, 2021 Digital Workplace
Simpler Media Logo
By SMG Events

Juanita Olguin discovered the importance of nurturing a diverse workforce during her first job, cashing out food service stands at an outdoor swap meet. From retirees selling as a side gig to high school and college students, the varied group of sellers exposed her to the challenge of balancing multiple generations in the workforce.

“I learned early on that the workforce is multi-generational and you need to learn how to work with different people from different backgrounds to be successful,” said Olguin. Working in the “cool job” of cashing out stands at a young age, she also realized the importance of mentoring.

“My manager saw talent or potential in me and was acting as a mentor. That was very meaningful to me, and probably why one of my core beliefs is that employees are super talented if given the right opportunities. Sometimes you need to coach and tap people who may not see their own potential.”

Olguin is director of product marketing for workplace solutions at Coveo, an enterprise SaaS company and digital experience platform provider. Coveo is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group's Winter Digital Workplace Experience (DWX) Conference, held virtually on Thursday, Feb. 11. Olguin and her co-presenter Rosanna Stephens, product management lead for workplace search and knowledge at Adobe, will present "How Adobe is Unifying the Digital Workplace with AI-Powered Search & Knowledge."

We spoke with Olguin about the intelligent workplace, the workforce communication challenge, and taking a holistic view of the employee experience.

Thinking Differently About the Digital Workplace

SMG: Given the health crisis and social unrest of the past year, how do you think employee communication and engagement contribute to the overall success of a company?

Juanita Olguin: I feel very strongly about this one. Communication is the number one challenge that companies face, and where they really need to improve. Businesses can’t succeed if they don't communicate well and often to employees. And given how things are changing so much more quickly in the workplace —people are getting new projects or projects are changing — there's this need to constantly be in alignment, to make sure teams are working together toward the same goal.

When employees feel like they're being communicated with and included, they become more engaged. They're much more effective and willing to go that extra mile for their company and for their teams to reach the same goals. Sometimes it's nice to look at things in the opposite spectrum: Without good communication and without engagement, employees aren’t going to feel like they know what's going on, they're going to feel excluded, and they're going to become disengaged. Ultimately that might result in them leaving the company.

SMG: In a recent Coveo webinar you gave — Rethinking the Digital Workplace of the Future — you said that 'The workplace is largely digital, but not intelligent.' What did you mean by that?

Olguin: To me, that was sort of a challenge for digital workplace leaders today. We know that companies are largely digital. There's an application for everything: email, Slack, Google Drive, HR portals, help desk. There’s a digital solution for all these different areas, but there's really not a way to connect these disparate systems and applications in a way that makes employees' lives easier. There are definitely ways to unify and centralize. But more importantly, companies need to bring together the data and information, and use technology to proactively make content or people recommendations to employees, rather than having them waste time searching for information and asking other people.

We have an opportunity to layer AI and smart technologies across all these disparate systems and applications to help employees make sense of their day, their role, and the network of people within the company they should work with. Leaders need to think differently about their digital workplace.

SMG: One of Gartner’s 2021 trends is the 'intelligent composable business'  —  one that can adapt and arrange itself to accommodate any situation by providing easy access to information and insights for faster decision-making. How have organizations successfully employed this model in their workplace in a COVID world? 

Olguin: People might expect smaller or mid-size companies to be more agile and make adjustments quickly. But we work with large companies that are much more agile than these smaller companies. Because of their size, they've been forced to invest in digital workplace technologies to keep their large workforce in alignment. Companies like Salesforce, Adobe, Manulife and even Dell. They could all tell you without hesitation that they were absolutely ready for these changes, and that work didn't skip a beat.

It’s because these large companies have been steadily investing in digital workplace areas over the past couple of decades. They’ve implemented a company intranet or have invested in areas like knowledge management strategies to make sure their global workforces could work wherever and however they choose.

Ensuring a Healthy, Productive Workforce

SMG: What are some of the top workplace behaviors that need changing, and which obstacles will companies face as they make these kinds of changes?

Olguin: The workplace behaviors I think need changing include siloed working behavior where you have many different departments, or even six different teams within one marketing organization, for example. What ends up happening is there’s always a siloed effect. It isn't deliberate. I think that because teams are trying to work quickly and move forward, they may not always keep the wider organization or other teams in the loop. The obstacle companies face is: How can you make sure the right people are included? Or how do you make sure you're communicating widely and broadly on key projects in different areas?

Technology like AI and machine learning, which we're starting to see pop up a lot more, can help make suggestions or recommendations to people based off of their work activity. When everyone's working so quickly, sometimes there's human error in trying to keep everyone involved or in the loop. For me personally, if I'm working on a project, there are probably 12 people that need to have some level of knowledge of what I'm working on. And from a human perspective, I might only include nine of them. This is where technology can come in and say, 'Hey, this person in your network should probably know about this project.' Or, 'Do you want to send this information to them as well?' I'm hopeful that we can get there in the future so that everyone has the right information based off their role in their team.

Coveo's Juanita Olguin: "Companies can't control everything, including how an employee is going to feel, but they should focus on what they can control."

SMG: 2020 threw many organizations off guard and into remote work. Moving into 2021, do you think most organizations are ready for hybrid/remote workplaces to become the norm? For those who aren’t, what can they do to ensure a healthy, productive workforce?

Olguin: For those that aren't ready or hadn't thought about this, they should follow a program map, or program management methodology to keep everyone organized and in sync. I always talk about the intranet as that central point to make sure employees know what's happening to keep them aligned. And of course, the intranet should link off to other applications that are relevant for employees. But it’s important for those that aren't ready to understand the need for this sort of centralized communication forum, whether that’s an intranet or an employee community.

Also, make sure you have a steady flow of communication, whether that's weekly meetings or a central Slack team. You’ll definitely need to invest in the digital workplace and other areas to ensure that logistically, employees can work remotely. These could include webinar technologies, a laptop that can be used from wherever you are, and the right security measures to make sure that when employees are connecting, they're doing it safely — just the basics of enabling someone to work remotely. You’ll also need more communication or behavioral management type investments and things like the intranet or knowledge management strategies to ensure you’re making it easy for your employees to find what they need.

Evolving to Meet Employee Expectations

SMG: How have expectations around the employee experience changed due to COVID-19?

Olguin: Because of COVID-19 and remote work, there's really been a shift to investing in the employee experience. And I think it’s going to continue. Employees want a flexible workplace, and that means being able to work from home or pop into the office if that's an option. It also means being able to perhaps take a couple of hours in the morning to take care of your children, and maybe work a little bit later. Companies are really going to have to adjust to meet the changing employee expectations brought about by COVID-19.

SMG: What’s your top advice for organizations as they work to evolve their workplaces?

Olguin: Look at the workplace holistically. Think about the employee experience as every single touchpoint that an employee has with the company — from the moment they're being onboarded, to their interactions with teams, intranet, help desk and benefits. All of these touchpoints and experiences an employee has really do shape their perception of the overall company.

Companies can't control everything, including how an employee is going to feel, but they should focus on what they can control. And that happens to be technology and the digital workplace. You should always make sure that technology works for employees, is additive and valuable for employees, and is never the reason why your employees are struggling.

SMG: What excites you most about the future of the digital workplace?

Olguin: I'm really passionate about employee development and advancement. I believe ... there’s so much untapped potential in the workplace. So what excites me about the workplace is that we're now seeing these advanced customer-oriented technologies being used internally to help employees with productivity and to really reach their potential. I'm excited about the fact that companies are starting to think a little bit differently about investing in the workplace and what that means, and why employee experience matters.

I think there's still a long way to go for many companies in the area of employee experience. But at least they’re starting to pay attention and understand what it means to invest in digital workplace technologies that help make employees work more efficiently, make them more productive, and connect them to the right people.

Register today for your free virtual pass to the 2021 Digital Workplace Experience Conference Series.

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