Corner OfficeExpert Opinion

Rethinking Employee Experience for Work’s Digital Future

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The employee experience has always been a factor in overall employee engagement and satisfaction, but as organizations look to adapt longer-term remote work approaches in 2021, digital elements must take priority.

For years, HR and IT leaders have touted the importance of offering employees remote-work options; however, the rapid, tactical solutions implemented in response to the global pandemic illustrate how many organizations were unprepared. Many IT departments now face a patchwork of IT solutions with limited oversight or governance, creating new problems from disjointed endpoint environments, technology sprawl and frustrated end users.

While some business leaders remain skeptical of remote working’s staying power, about two-thirds of employees say they would prefer to work remotely at least part time after the pandemic. To accommodate them, leaders will need to look to technology to improve the cultural cohesion and situational awareness so critical to true collaboration.

This means HR organizations that have focused on pay, health benefits, retirement plans and traditional engagement strategies will need to collaborate with IT.  The rapid shift to remote work brought more HR executives than ever into the technology discussions.Moving forward, IT will now need to look at areas like cybersecurity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning through the lens of the digital employee experience.

Opportunities for Improvement

Traditional employee-experience elements, such as appealing, modern physical environments, cafeteria perks and manager-employee relationship building have long been key aspects of the employee experience.

Less common is an emphasis on the digital aspects encountered daily: their digital workspace, the ease and convenience of accessing applications on any device, and the ability to digitally collaborate. Post-pandemic reentry will also compel organizations to leverage to technology to help employees feel safer.

Optimizing the digital experience can open a world of opportunity for empowering employees and maximizing productivity. This isn’t limited to traditional office work, but also frontline workers in dispersed retail, logistics and manufacturing environments alike.

And with greater collaboration between HR and IT, we may see the digital workplace evolving in the coming years to include:

  • Smarter, socially distant workspaces: From smart cameras and facial recognition technologies that detect the number of mask-wearing employees in a conference room to thermal imagery boosted by sensors and AI at the edge, the evolution of technology in the workplace can help employees and employers feel safer while collaborating in person.
  • Small convenience perks: IoT strategies can help companies attract and retain employees through a wide range of experiences that promote convenience, well-being and values. Consider automated hot desking, smart parking, custom desk heights and temperatures – all seemingly small features that can improve employee loyalty, engagement and job satisfaction. And, as hybrid working becomes the norm, IoT may play a role in helping colleagues find their work teams in a given day.
  • Deeper employee engagement: With employees dispersed, how do organizations foster more ad-hoc ways of connecting? From Match.com-meets-LinkedIn-like apps designed to connect employees with similar interests to pulse surveys and productivity measurement, IT can increasingly play a role in fostering experiences that help ease worker technology frustrations and build cultural cohesion, collaboration, innovation and productivity.

Overcoming Common Challenges

Many organizations struggle to deliver a compelling digital employee experience for a wide range of reasons.

Budget: The first challenge is often budget. As businesses tighten budgets to recover from the pandemic, it’s important to understand how investing in the digital employee experience can pay long and short-term dividends. The key will be prioritizing technologies that save money, make money or avoid compliance, security or regulatory issues. The digital employee experience will almost always fall into one of those categories, if not multiple.

Competing Priorities: As offices begin to reopen, organizations face a big question: How to balance investing in digital experiences with the reentry requirements of our physical office space. Employee surveys are essential to determining this balance. They paint a clear picture of where employees will be located and what’s most important to them.

Lack of Alignment on Strategy.Organizational silos aren’t a new challenge, but distributed workforces magnify their issues. Silos impede your ability to bring alignment around a cohesive, enterprise-wide digital workspace strategy and determine which solutions to standardize versus differentiate. A documented strategy – one that prioritizes end user simplicity and consistency – will provide much-needed clarity to your various business units and departments, and reduce shadow IT.

Sprawl:As businesses consider their silos, many frequently add distinct collaboration tools. However, more isn’t better. Technology and tool sprawlmost often lead to end-user confusion and inefficiency. For example, in an organization with five different collaboration tools for messaging, how will end users know the best way to communicate with a colleague or efficiently locate content? Consolidate around a smaller set of fit-for-purpose tools to create seamless experiences and boost employee productivity.

Complexity:Additionally, disparate toolsets can create a lack of visibility into the application landscape, raising implications on an organization’s cloud strategy and data center infrastructure. It’s worth considering the number of tools in use across the entire organization, where the data from these tools is stored and whether it’s secure.

Getting Started

With strategic planning, overcoming these challenges is possible. However, the sheer volume of digital workplace solutions can be overwhelming. When getting started, organizations should consider the following questions:

  • What business outcomes am I hoping to achieve?
  • Which key performance indicators can we monitor to measure our progress?
  • How will this solution simplify and directly improve end-user workflows?
  • Who are the right stakeholders to form a cross-functional digital experience committee, representing different functions of the business, to understand current challenges, prioritize our initiatives and test possible solutions? It’s important to separately visualize the staff you wish to survey vs. those who will lead the steering committee. Define which user groups to survey to gather data on preferences and priorities from a broader group. Keep the committee small and limited to those who have a material interest in the business outcomes.
  • Is my existing environment equipped to supply this solution? This means looking both at staff as well as technology infrastructure.
  • Beyond deployment, who will we tap for updating IT staff skills and leading employee training and adoption programs?

As work-from-home mandates continue into 2021 and employee burnout and crisis fatigue intensify, organizations will continue to prioritize the digital workspace. Collaboration between HR and IT is essential to developing a holistic strategy, and working with trusted advisors can also help ensure planning and implementation are seamless.

Achieving a better digital employee experience is not an easy task, but by overcoming key challenges, organizations can derive maximum value both from their employees and technology investments while preparing for the future of work.

(The author is Senior Director, Digital Workspace Practice at World Wide Technology)

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