Tim Flower: Digital Workplace Experiences and the Holy Cow Moment
Tim Flower has had a front-row seat to the evolution of digital workplace experience. From his early career in field service and customer support with Digital Equipment he moved on to The Hartford at a pivotal moment when distributed computing was coming into its own.
“At Digital Equipment I was onsite helping a number of different customers with their computing environments,” Flower said. “But I went to The Hartford in 1995 because I wanted to focus on one single environment. Distributed computing was starting to come online there, and it was really exciting to be building out the teams, establishing the processes and creating the technology to support that — everything from networking to distributed computing environments to antivirus.”
But the financial crisis of 2008 presented even bigger challenges, especially for a 200-year-old company in the insurance and financial services industry, Flower said. Obviously the industry itself was in ruins, but savvier organizations realized there were other competitive differentiators that help rebuild.
The ‘Holy Cow’ Moment
“For a 200-year-old company, it was super important to make sure that the brand survived, and even was able to thrive,” Flower said. “So, what happened was we brought in Nexthink to help us solve the customer experience piece of that puzzle. It was amazing. It was a ‘holy cow’ moment for me. It was so transformational that I wanted to do more with that technology. This was something I knew I wanted to do over and over and help other organizations the way Nexthink served The Hartford.”
For the last five years, Flower has done exactly that as global director of business transformation at Nexthink. “It’s really, at the heart of it, a customer success role. I figure out how to operationalize that digital experience piece and extract value so it’s not just a shiny tool or a flashy piece of software, but a transformational journey for each customer,” he said.
Nexthink is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group's Digital Workplace Experience, taking place online Oct. 13 and Oct. 14. Flower will also be speaking at the event.
We spoke with Flower about what an ideal digital workplace experience looks like, why IT and HR need to collaborate and how workplace culture impacts experience.
The Ideal Digital Workplace Experience
Simpler Media Group: What does an ideal workplace experience look like to you? Why is that the 'ideal'?
Flower: To me it means that IT doesn’t get in the way. That’s the lowest the bar should be set. It should be like electricity — it’s always there, it’s reliable, stable and accessible. And it’s directed at enabling business growth. When you’re bringing tech to bear so companies can be more competitive, you need productive, engaged, satisfied employees. And if tech doesn’t work, whether you’re working remote or you’re in-office, then it affects everything. You have to have people, processes and technology. If any of those are missing, then you’re not competitive. You have to go back to the requirements. And that starts with not assuming what people need, what processes work and what technology can do to support all that, and asking, 'Does it work? Is it what you expected? Are you productive? If not, what else do you need to do that?'
SMG: Does an ‘ideal workplace experience’ change based on the industry? The company? Based on someone’s role? Why or why not?
Flower: The details change, yes, but the overall requirements don’t. Obviously some workplaces can facilitate remote work, others can’t; there are different tech suites and tools — take manufacturing, or retail, as examples. You maybe have office-based people, but you also have people who have to be in the plant, or the retail store, and so then your requirements are going to be different. That’s where it starts, with the requirements, because you have to understand those to make sure the business can function at its peak. If you are in sales or consulting, or software engineering, for instance, then you can trust people to be more flexible, you can have people who work flex hours, who are always remote and who don’t have a set location or schedule.
But it always comes back to the lowest bar of the technology: if your people, no matter who, can’t read email or access Salesforce, or anything like that, then they’re never going to be productive.
SMG: What role does organizational culture play in digital workplace experiences?
Flower: You take that structural, technical paradigm and drop culture on top of it. I could still have a brick and mortar environment and it could still have a great culture. I think the misconception is that there’s only one way to have a great culture, but that’s not true at all.
It’s really about getting away from that old-school, command-and-control mentality of needing butts in seats no matter what. And the tech needs to meet that new paradigm. If you have a more modern culture, even if you have brick-and-mortar locations, you might still have your office staff that can work from home, that can flex their time and so on, so the culture is on top of their more traditional industry and infrastructure. There were certainly some with the mentality at The Hartford that were really conservative and just wanted to see butts in seats. That’s not the kind of culture I am most comfortable with.
SMG: You wrote an article earlier this year for HR Technologist which talked about the necessity of HR and IT working together. What role does each of those departments have in creating great workplace experiences? How can they work together most effectively?
Flower: It all comes together with collaboration. HR is the single point of interface for all employees, so that’s, I think, where it all starts. [HR] are in service to employees, but also to executives and to an extent, to process — making sure forms are filled out, that proper procedure and policy is in place and followed both internally and externally.
But, as we talk about IT needing to engage and understand the business priorities more, then HR is the logical funnel for that. That’s a great way to get the stakeholders to broker those relationships [between business, leadership and IT]. You may or may not have success going directly back and forth between business units, but HR can serve as a great bridge.
And specific to UX, there are only so many things IT can do even if they are gathering UX information. IT can gather metrics, they can fix devices to make sure they all run correctly, that sort of thing, but as IT gathers data on things that are outside their purview like, for example, who has an ergonomic chair? Who needs flex time because they don’t have childcare until 1 pm, then those issues are ones that IT cannot fix. That’s where HR should try to remediate those issues and help support.
Here’s an example of a great collaboration between IT and HR, though — Nexthink has the ability to pop up a dialogue box whenever you want to during a user’s interaction. So, one of our customers wanted to schedule this to happen on a user’s third visit to the HR site during their onboarding process. They wanted to ask things like, 'How do you like the medical benefits options? What do you think of the 401K? How about the professional development?' Things like that. They had figured out that when they asked employees a month after start, it was too late; immediately after they started was too early. But that third visit was the sweet spot, and placing it in the context of what the employee was doing was great.
Of course, there’s a different angle when you add in the long-term remote work situation. Comprehensive benefits plans (CBP) don’t necessarily take pandemics into account! So there’s a lot of experimentation and questioning about how do you onboard? How do you introduce people into a team?
The Right Experience for the Journey
SMG: What do you like to do in your spare time? What is it about those experiences/activities that you think translates to creating good workplace experiences, and why?
Flower: I like to ride my Harley-Davidson, and I also have a Jeep. I take the Harley on cross-country trips, and since I’ve been here in Wilmington, I like to take the Jeep out. But I think, in pondering this question, what occurred to me is that you have to think ahead and understand what you want the experience to be and what it actually is going to be or you’re going to have a bad time.
I wouldn’t take my Harley and try and ride it on the beach, right? But I do take it on long trips, yes, and that means I have to plan for and pack and make sure I have the right gear and equipment for what that entails. That’s similar to digital workplace experiences, I think, because if you don’t think about what you want the experience to be and then make preparations to manifest that experience, it won’t happen. It’s all about what you need, how to get that, and then making sure you get the right experience.
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