Jeff Fermin is cofounder of Officevibe, a Montréal-based company that develops cloud-based software for employee engagement. The company’s mission is ambitious: “to help people grow and gain motivation to succeed in the office, make healthy lifestyle choices, create an eco-friendly workplace, give back to philanthropic causes, and have them collaborate with their colleagues in and out of the office.” We spoke with Fermin, who heads up marketing and business development at Officevibe, about trends in office culture and eLearning.
Mindflash: What does employee engagement mean?
JF: Let me start by explaining the problem that’s going on. A lot of people are not satisfied with their jobs. They just show up and go through the motions. They are not really contributing to their companies. They’re just sending text messages and basically wasting their time. Research shows that a majority of people suffer from too much stress at work and that low productivity is costing companies a lot of money. We are trying to offer a solution where companies can bring some fun back into the workplace. Officevibe is a gamified service that we think ultimately can help people embrace work and the company’s mission. This product is perfect for a company with 10 employees or 10,000 employees.
M: Wow, that’s a pretty grim assessment of life at work! With so many Americans still out of work or working part-time, minimum-wage jobs, why aren’t people just happy to have a good job?
JF: Money isn't everything. The question I'd like to give someone with a job that "isn't too awesome" is: If you had to take 5% less to work at an office that will appreciate you and where you'll be happy working, would you do it? So far I have yet to hear anyone say no to that idea. Sure, we all have needs that can be obtained with some extra funds, but when your stress levels are so high that it's affecting your health and mental well-being, is it worth it?
M: Okay, so how do people use Officevibe?
JF: It is a social platform, and we have developed the product around these five qualities of a great workplace: wellness (staying healthy), social (building relationships), environment (recycling or saving resources), generosity (philanthropy or community work), and productivity (being more efficient on the job). The software contains hundreds of tasks. You could earn points by taking a quick break to do some push-ups, or getting focus by shutting down your email or phone for half an hour.
M: Those sound like great ideas, but in the eyes of managers, isn’t Officevibe just one more distraction?
JF: Isn’t investing in employee happiness important? We need to solve these issues of high stress and low employee engagement, because they are bringing companies down. The product is not designed as something to be used for more than a few minutes a day. Then, consider how much companies spend on retention and hiring. Avoiding high turnover is important to the bottom line. Our platform is also designed to create a collaborative atmosphere that can transcend the product into the hallways. It’s about getting people more involved in their work and with their colleagues.
M: Gamification seems to be growing in the software industry. Can this also apply to corporate eLearning?
JF: I just took a University of Pennsylvania business course and the professor gamified the whole course. It was all online and I learned more than any course I paid for in college, in just 8 weeks. I had fun and also learned new techniques and skills a lot faster. If a company were to use a similar platform to train or inform their employees, they can help their employees gain new skills in a fraction of the time.
M: Does the availability of frequent and easy learning opportunities, such as through eLearning, make a difference in employee happiness?
JF: I believe that eLearning can make a positive difference, because the person is acquiring information when they are in the mood to learn. All the research will tell you that employees love autonomy. If you give them the ability to learn and acquire skills on their own, not only will they learn it easier, but they'll be able to try their newfound abilities and knowledge faster. It’s even more important to have a good culture to set the stage. If someone has access to an incredible training program but their job is still too stressful, the impact of the training may be negligible. So companies should focus on creating a great culture, and then integrate elements of that culture into all of their training.
M: Can you give an example of how a company can integrate culture into a training program?
JF: A company can integrate culture into training by simply allowing their new hires to get in the action. Have them sit in the same floor as the other employees. Have them shadow an employee with a similar position. Even go as far as to have a "culture quiz" or "culture day" where you let the new hire know all the company's values and what's expected out of them. It may sound silly, but having some sort of welcoming ceremony for the new hires that lasts throughout their first week can be empowering.