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News roundup: Manage employee resource groups and more

A new tool from Espresa could help improve employee engagement. Reach remote workers with a new version of StaffConnect. And Fitbit looks at health coaching.

This week's news roundup features a tool to manage employee resource groups, a roadmap for a wellness coaching technology program and an AI-powered platform to match employees with the right insurance options.

Ready, set, engage

Espresa, which makes a platform for automating employee programs, has added new features that can track and manage employee resource groups.

Employee resource groups, which are organically formed clubs of people with shared enthusiasms, are increasingly popular in U.S. corporations. A 2016 study by Bentley University indicated 90% of Fortune 500 companies have employee resource groups, and 8.5% of American employees participate in at least one.

At a time when employee retention has become more critical, thanks to a very tight labor market, employee resource groups can help employee engagement. But the grassroots nature of the efforts makes it hard for both employees and HR departments to track and manage them.

In many companies today, employee resource groups are managed with a cobbled-together collection of wiki pages, Google Docs and Evite invitations, said Raghavan Menon, CTO of Espresa, based in Palo Alto, Calif. And HR departments often have no idea what's going on, when it's happening or who is in charge.

"Today, nothing allows the employer or company to actually promote [employee resource groups] and then decentralize them to allow employees to manage and run the groups with light oversight from HR," Menon explained.

Espresa's new features give HR departments a web-based way to keep track of the employee resource groups, while giving the employees a matching mobile app to help them run the efforts.

"When employees are running things, they're not going to use it if it's an old-style enterprise app," he said. "They want consumer-grade user experience on a mobile app."

With Espresa, HR staff can also measure employee resource groups' success factors, including participation and volunteer activity levels. That information can then be used to make decisions about company funding or a rewards program, Menon said.

An alternate health coach

Is it possible to help an employee with a chronic condition feel supported and empowered to make lifestyle changes using high-tech health coaching and wearable health technology? According to John Moore, M.D., medical director at San Francisco-based Fitbit, the answer is yes.

During World Congress' 10th annual Virtual Health Care Summit in Boston, Moore outlined a health coaching roadmap designed to help HR departments and employers meet workers where they are.

“Hey, we know the healthcare experience can be really tough, and it's hard to manage with other priorities," he said. "We know you have a life."

Using a health coach, wearables or a mobile phone -- and possibly even looping in family and friends -- an employee with a health condition is walked through the steps of setting micro-goals over a two-week period. Reminders, support and encouragement are delivered via a wearable or a phone and can include a real or virtual coach, or even a family intervention, if necessary.

The idea, Moore stressed, is to enable an HR wellness benefits program to give ownership of lifestyle changes back to the employee, while at the same time making the goals sufficiently small to be doable.

"This is different than [typical] health coaching in the workplace," he said. "This is going to be a much richer interaction on a daily basis. And because it's facilitated by technology, it's more scalable and more cost-effective. We'll be able to collect information that spans from blood pressure, to weight, to steps, to glucose activity and sleep data to get the whole picture of the individual so they can understand themselves better."

This is an in-the-works offering from Fitbit, and it will not be limited to just the Fitbit-brand device. This platform will be based on technology Fitbit acquired from Twine in February 2018. Moore outlined a vision of interoperability that could include everything, from the pharmacy to a glucose meter to, eventually, an electronic health record system. This could work in tandem with a company's on-site or near-site health clinic and expand from there, he said.

"Technology can help break down barriers that have existed in traditional healthcare. Right now, interactions are so widely spaced, you can't put coaches in the office every day or every week. There needs to be a way to leverage technology," he said. "We can't just give people an app with an AI chatbot and expect it to magically help them. The human element is still a very important piece, and we can use technology to make that human superhuman."

HR on the go

StaffConnect has released version 2.2 of its mobile engagement platform, which includes new options for customers to create portals for easier access to payroll, training and other HR information and forms. The StaffConnect service can be used by workers in the office and by what the company calls "nondesk employees," or NDEs.

The company's 2018 Employee Engagement Survey showed more than one-third of companies have at least 50% of their workforce as NDEs and highlighted the challenges of keeping all employees equally informed and engaged. The survey indicated the vast majority of companies continue to use either email (almost 80%) or an intranet (almost 49%) to communicate with employees, while just 2% of companies reach out via mobile devices.

The company is also now offering a REST API to make it easier to integrate its platform into existing HR services, and it added custom branding and increased quiz feature options to boost customization.

StaffConnect's new version also offers additional security options and features, including GDPR compliance and protection for data at rest.

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