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Tech Leaders, You Must Get “Phygital” Even in a Digital World

How do we meet our team's emotional needs in a new decentralised team environment?


Most businesses around the world have been disrupted to varying degrees — except perhaps for technology companies. The majority of tech companies have taken to the new normal like ducks to water, because they were already using software and online tools to communicate, collaborate and manage. 

Despite all these tools, workers in tech companies are not immune to emotional strain, such as anxiety, stress, or feeling disengaged. For tech leaders, the question is not the functional “How can I get my team to work?” but more, “How can I meet my team’s emotional needs?”




Could “phygital” leadership be the answer?

While tech leaders often look for digital solutions, we believe there is a good case for embracing the “phygital” — a hybrid of physical and digital.

A truly “phygital world” is one where technology and traditional physical experiences blend seamlessly. And Covid-19 has made “phygital” a lifestyle, according to Dr. Joo Seng Tan, associate professor of management at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  

We can see this in the retail sector. As we all know, retail has been disrupted by e-commerce, with digital shopping gaining an increasing share of the pie. However, many customers still like to make the trip to brick-and-mortar stores to see, smell and feel the products before buying them online. Retailers are hence trying to provide “phygital experiences” where customers can buy physical groceries but purchase them through mobile apps. 

For instance, a conducive brick-and-mortar environment encourages shoppers to dwell and buy more. At the same time, putting the purchase journey online provides valuable customer data for personalised marketing. This way, “phygital” retailers can boost their sales and increase customer loyalty by leveraging the best of both worlds. 

Likewise, leaders who are seeking to motivate and reward their employees must keep in mind WFH realities. Perhaps, instead of a transport allowance, companies can replace it with an air-conditioning allowance. With the money saved on decking out the office pantry, funds can be diverted to items and services that employees can use at home. 

This is exactly what some of BI WORLDWIDE’s clients have done. Employees are offered rewards points that can be used to redeem a curated collection of items catering to the WFH life from the company’s merchandise marketplace. 

Think, how would you feel if your company provided you ergonomic work desks and office chairs, and a whole suite of health and wellness products that can be used to enhance your WFH life? We think you’d probably find them thoughtful and empathetic to your needs. 




“Phygitalising” your employee engagement strategies

In the retail example above, it’s clear that the physical experience is valuable and cannot be replicated digitally. 

The same is true for motivating and engaging your team. Digital tools alone cannot fully meet the deep human needs that employees face. Therefore, even tech leaders must be open to re-evaluating their touchpoints for employee engagement and collaboration. 

However, going “phygital” requires a great deal of out-of-the-box thinking. Instead of looking at your existing tools, leaders may have to mix and match strategies to craft new physical-digital hybrid experiences entirely.

For example, you might conduct pulse surveys to measure work from home employee engagement (digital), organise an off-site breakout session to foster dynamic cooperation (physical), follow that up with new initiatives (digital), and motivate your team members with experiences or rewards (physical).

Executing a nuanced people-management workflow is not difficult, but it takes commitment to change and see it through. It requires managers to genuinely care for their staff, and it goes a long way towards higher employee retention.

We would argue it’s worth it.




Going “phygital” to identify your superstars

While it’s important to attend to employees undergoing emotional or mental strain, leaders should also take care to not take their high achievers for granted. Should these superstars feel disengaged or undervalued, it could be detrimental not just to your company’s work output, but also have a negative ripple effect on the morale of their colleagues.

To address your superstars, leaders first need to identify them. Here’s where the “phygital” comes in, but in reverse.

Instead of relying on physical cues (such as being present in important meetings), leaders can look closely at employees’ digital footprints on online collaboration tools (such as taking ownership of projects and contributing meaningfully) for talent management.

On digital workspaces, all contributions are recorded in black and white, making it possible to uncover the introverted stars you might have overlooked in the physical office. Again, make use of the “phygital” experience to reward your superstars — for example, a combination of digital recognition and physical rewards to motivate.

Rewriting the rules of the game for employee engagement 

As you can see, the idea of “phygital” leadership is less like a simple equation and more like a complex formula. 

Because the rules of “phygital” engagement have not been written, leaders do have to go back to the drawing board to come up with creative, often nuanced, solutions. It also requires agility and responsiveness as you fine-tune your strategies based on feedback.

The lack of a rulebook could be discouraging to conventional managers who prefer to work within established systems and standard operating procedures.

On the other hand, this tabula rasa could be incredibly exciting for visionary, people-oriented leaders — of which there are plenty in tech.

From the employees’ point of view, having a blank slate might also be a blessing. They have an unprecedented opportunity to shake off legacy systems and can have a greater say in how employees want to be engaged.

You will need new systems, such as an employee rewards marketplace and incentive programmes, for such a "phygital" world. And we can help tech leaders like you rewrite the rules of the game and embrace the change. BI WORLDWIDE has helped global companies set up reward and recognition systems, as well as engagement, education, and communication tools.

Learn more about how we can help you enhance performance in a remote working environment and link employee satisfaction and employee recognition to business metrics.


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