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Does Your Digital Employee Experience Strategy Actually Look at the Experience?

June 17,2020 Employee Experience
James Robertson
By James Robertson

Awareness is growing around digital employee experience (DEX), the new kid on the block when it comes to better supporting the needs of the workforce in organizations of all shapes and sizes.

In my work, I’m increasingly coming across firms that are establishing their first strategies and plans for DEX. These strategies are hugely diverse, reflecting the large differences in employee needs and organizational DEX maturity. While this is encouraging, I’m concerned that some of these DEX strategies miss the mark in the most fundamental way: they don’t consider experience in a meaningful way.

To look at what should be in a DEX strategy, it’s useful to step back and to examine how all the pieces fit together:

Intranets, Digital Workplaces and DEX

digital employee experience
As businesses are evolving how they support employee needs, there are three major components at play from a strategic viewpoint:

Modern intranets are still very much alive and kicking, and they play continued roles as homes for content needed by staff, and as channels for internal communications. Beyond the basics, modern intranets are much more sophisticated in their capabilities, including providing crucial enterprise front doors to the wider set of tools in use.

Intranets are just one of many tools that make up the wider digital workplace. This includes the growing number of collaboration tools, cloud-based productivity solutions and traditional enterprise applications.

Organizations have had digital workplaces since the inception of the earliest tools, such as email and Word. But what has changed is the scope of digital workplaces and the diversity of tools within them. The challenge is now to shape digital workplaces to ensure they are simple and productive for all employees.

If the digital workplace is “what’s behind the glass,” then digital employee experience (DEX) can be considered the perspective from “in front of the glass.” DEX examines not just the set of tools that are provided by a business, but also the digital interactions between employees.

Related Article: Where Employee Experience Fits in the Digital Workplace

What Strategy Are You Creating?

There's a natural tendency when creating strategies to adopt new language and concepts without necessarily changing the scope of what’s being considered.

Taking each of the three concepts in turn:

Organizations definitely still need to have a clear intranet strategy and roadmap. These will generally consider not just the functionality of the site, but also its structure (information architecture) and design (UX). Intranet governance is also a key consideration to ensure content remains accurate and useful.

While modern intranets have a much wider scope than in past years, intranet strategies still have a singular focus: making improvements to the intranet as a single product within the digital workplace.

A digital workplace strategy is a much more complex beast, as it endeavors to put shape around a hugely complex set of enterprise technologies that are constantly changing. A digital workplace strategy often encompasses:

  • Business needs for enterprise solutions.
  • Underlying IT architectural considerations.
  • Strategic platform decisions (such as a shift to Office 365).
  • Other technology investment decisions.
  • Adoption, change management and appropriate usage.
  • Overlap and integration between systems.
  • IT security and governance.

As can be seen from the list above, digital workplace strategies are primarily (but not exclusively) driven by IT considerations. The focus moves from a single product (such as the intranet) to how all the major products fit together and change over time.

Where does this leave the role of a DEX strategy? While still very much considering technology, a DEX strategy takes a broader view, to focus on the fundamental experiences being provided to the workforce. This is the most strategic perspective. DEX strategies often address:

  • Current experiences of key employee groups.
  • Future (desired) experiences.
  • Guiding principles for improving DEX.
  • Strategic initiatives directly addressing DEX.
  • Business case for DEX improvements.
  • Relationship between DEX and CX.

What often sets DEX strategies apart is the use of narrative, to powerfully articulate current points of pain, and desired future states. This is about showing how the pieces fit together, but not in terms of behind-the-scenes technology aspects (which are covered in digital workplace strategies), but in how well they work for humans (employees).

DEX strategic initiatives often also tackle the glue that binds together the various systems in the digital workplace, as well as targeting key experiences that will have the greatest impact (such DEX for frontline workers).

Related Article: Sound Familiar? 4 Phrases That Show Your Employee Experience Needs Work

A Simple Test

The simplest test of which strategy you’re creating is to see if experience is an integral element, beyond initial definitions and vision statements.

If your strategy largely considers products and platforms (such as Office 365, ServiceNow, Workday, etc), then it’s a digital workplace strategy. Likewise, if the focus is on behind the glass considerations such as security, compliance and recordkeeping.

For the same reasons you should not call your new intranet a digital workplace, don’t paint yourself into a corner by rebranding an existing strategy as a DEX strategy.

When you’re ready to tackle the bigger picture, kick off a DEX strategy, and use experience to build a powerful case for a change, and to describe a truly engaging view of the future that aligns all key stakeholders. And if now isn’t yet the time, keep working on delivering a great intranet that sits within a productive digital workplace.

About the Author

James Robertson is one of the leading thinkers in the intranet space. He's the author of three books, "Essential Intranets: Inspiring Sites that Deliver Business Value," "Designing Intranets: Creating Sites that Work" and "What Every Intranet Team Should Know." Over 20 years in this space, he's also published the articles and methodologies that have guided teams around the globe.

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