WOMAN IN TECH PROFILE: Finalist in the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards Innovator Award category, Megha Prakash, founder of Earthmiles and Earthmiles@Work answers questions about her role and her career.
The Earthmiles platform helps use behavioural psychology and data analytics improve its users’ wellbeing.
What do you love most about your role?
There are a huge number of things that I love about my role. Although I wear the hat of CEO, which many people would tend to look at as a primarily business role, in reality creating and growing a product from scratch requires a multiplicity of skills, skills that I am constantly striving to learn and enhance in myself.
There is a lot of creativity in deciding which problems to focus on and which approaches to use in solving those problems. You’re looking constantly across a breadth of areas from product and strategy to commercial partnerships and sales, and working all the time in lockstep with technology because ultimately tech is the medium through which we deliver our innovative approaches.
I love that we are working on fundamentally improving lives and for solving broad issues that exist in workplaces and our lives today and that really need solving. Having a mission-oriented mindset really gives me something to look forward to every day, and an enthusiasm for tackling the issues of the day.
What the importance of behavioural psychology in the workplace?
Behavioral psychology popularly refers to the various shortcuts and heuristics that our brains have developed as we have evolved over millenia. Rational behaviour might dictate that we do one thing – exercise every single day, never be addicted to cigarettes or sugar, save for old age, etc. However reality is very complex and there are myriad forces actually driving the decisions we made from day to day.
A lot of the decisions that are said to be “impulses” are actually driven by our subconscious minds (rather than our conscious minds) and have their roots in complex evolutionary triggers that have nothing to do with conscious rationality. There are well-known cognitive biases that may lead to suboptimal decision making. We seek to harness some of this hard-wiring within our brain to drive better life outcomes for e.g. can we harness reward-seeking to drive positive behaviours by creating a reward or incentive for it?
This remains as important at the workplace as outside of it. We spend half our waking lives at work, and today its becoming very apparent that our environment and habits at the workplace are major determinants of our overall health and wellbeing. The view of the workplace as something just yielding a paycheck at the end of the day is changing. At Earthmiles we seek to give employees various “levers” to engage with their wellbeing at the workplace. For some, this is healthy rivalry with their colleagues (step challenge anyone?) For others something like this would do the opposite, and they’d be intimidated into not even taking part. For those with other motivations we provide rewards in the form of financial incentives, social cues, team play, and personal self-improvement “small victories” to grab their interest.
How is tech evolving behavioural psychology in the workplace?
In fact, tech is changing the very nature of the workplace. Today a huge number of companies are operating teams that are geographically dispersed, employees that are working remotely or flexibly, the “gig” economy is changing the nature of employer-employee relationships, and many other changes are at play. The younger generations who are entering the job market now also have a very different set of expectations from their employers as opposed to prior years, and this too is driven by information and technology.
These changes make it difficult today to apply traditional thinking to creating and maintaining an organisational culture and identity, loyalty and retention in employees, and other new challenges. But on the flip side of the coin, with the help of tech platforms including mobile phones, there are now new ways to reach and interact with the workforce. Employers can create meaningful programmes that are more immediately usable and available to employees and (with their consent of course) supply them with modules, incentives, and communications to affect better awareness and behavioural change.
For example, in the Earthmiles app, employers can create “group mission” which involve the entire firm in a cause of their choosing. Everyone has to walk during a certain period of time and all their steps will go towards releasing a corpus of funds towards that cause (say, cancer research). This motivates and incentivises activity levels in employees but also creates opportunities for team building, organisational identity, loyalty, retention and recruitment. The app offers a range of modules to cater to different such goals.
What does success look like in the workplace once these practices are implemented properly?
Success can look like a number of things because different types of employers are dealing with different types of challenges. In the case of a traditional workplace, success may be seen as a culture enhancer that ultimately leads to better productivity i.e. a good wellbeing programme creates communications and incentives for them to step away from the strains and stresses of everyday work and focus on their wellbeing in a number of ways. The ultimate goal being able to view the workplace and the employer as an enabler of better wellbeing, not a distraction from it. Over the long term this would lead to lower sickness, high productivity, better employee engagement and motivation. In a different set up, such as a young company with a distributed workforce, success may be measured foremost by recruitment appeal and the employees’ involvement (regardless of geography) in their roles and their team. No matter what the nature of the workplace, in every situation successful programmes and practices would drive up employee engagement and enable better overall wellbeing.
How have you helped support women in the tech industry?
Tech is still a space where women are still finding their voice. It is important to be part of the dialogue and the process, being involved in women in tech communities and forums and most of all to listen to and give opportunities to other women through employment, partnerships and mentoring, all of which I strive to do.