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It's Time to Raise the Bar for Employee Experience

September 23, 2020 Employee Experience
James Dellow
By James Dellow

The pandemic is testing our workplaces in many ways. Depending on the sector you work in, you could be riding at the front of the wave of disruption that has accelerated real digital transformation or scrambling to adopt new ways of working, with some finding it a blessing and others a curse. Some businesses have barely been impacted, but the world around them is vastly different than it was a year ago.

In all cases, the caliber of the employee experience on offer has quickly become apparent.

  • Why can’t our people respond to this change quickly enough?
  • If we aren’t working together, can our company culture survive?
  • How do we collaborate with our business partners or recruit staff if we can’t meet face to face?

In all of my research and discussions with people about their organization's response to COVID-19, it was those that had already invested in creating the best possible digital workplace that reported the most positive feedback about the role of technology in the crisis. The rest were satisfied with simply deploying VPNs and videoconferencing and chat solutions like Zoom, Teams and Slack. But is that really enough or does it mean your organization is fit for the task ahead?

Where Technology Fits in the Employee Experience

One current challenge is how technology has become a critical enabler of the employee experience. Technology is no longer what we might think of through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a hygiene factor: the rule that get it right and no one cares, but get it wrong and everyone complains.

While past research has shown technology is a known factor in why someone might choose to work for an organization, it was never the deciding factor. Certainly, a long-standing goal of employee experience was to remove unnecessary frustration in the daily interactions people have with their organization. It's a worthy goal and I’m all for efficient self-service, where it empowers or gives employees convenience. But as we retreat behind screens and apps to transact, more than ever we need to remember that work is a human endeavor.

I might even go so far as to argue that interest in the employee experience, prior to the pandemic, came as a reaction to how we have used technology to dehumanize the workplace or the employee-employer relationship. Employee experience became a way of balancing or smoothing the sum total of experience. But when we no longer have access to the benefits of a shared physical workplace, we realize a beautiful interface on an app designed to implement a poor internal policy or ineffective work procedure is still a bad experience.

Automation should be used for efficiency and improving productivity, but in the context of employee experience, it should be an enabler. For example, workplace wellness or mental health apps are a good example of using technology to scale access to a service that might otherwise be restricted by location or paygrade. But there is room to use technology as an even more positive lever in the employee experience beyond single apps or solutions.

One way of doing this is to pare back employee experience to its fundamentals and put the “human” back at the center of our strategy, rather than apps and interfaces. This will remind us to put technology in the service of achieving the goal of attracting, engaging, empowering and retaining the best staff, rather than technology as the experience.

Related Article: How the CIO and the CHRO Will Rethink Employee Experience Together

It's Time to Raise the Employee Experience Bar

Now is the time for us to shift our expectations and aspirations of employee experience for the long haul. Simply removing friction or frustration in the employee experience through a modern digital workplace is no longer a differentiator. That needs to be embedded in your work operating system by default.

Our focus for employee experience needs to be on improving human connections, including how we manage, how employees learn and develop, and how we share knowledge and support each other. And if we join the dots, we will find that a modern digital workplace does have an important role to play in that outcome.

Related Article: Employee Experience, The EX-Factor for Competitive Advantage

About the Author

Passionate about changing the way the world gets work done using digital technology, James has spent much of the last decade specializing in human-centered IT solutions that help people connect, communicate and collaborate with each other. His professional experience includes working in a variety of information and knowledge management roles and as a consultant with a wide range of government, professional and blue chip companies.

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