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The Rough Road to Better Employee Experience

June 24, 2021 Employee Experience
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

Workplace technology and employee experience have moved notably closer to each other over the last several years, with more executives and analysts spotlighting the importance of digital, well, anything when it comes to the satisfaction, efficiency and productivity of the workforce.

Josh Bersin, the HR industry analyst from whom many HR and tech leaders take their cues, has made the intersection of technology and experience a major theme this year. In his 2021 report on HR technology, he predicted that solutions providers would soon pay more attention to how their products contributed to employee experience. One driver: the need to provide workers with simple, consumer-like tools for use in pretty much every area of work.

If you attend a webinar, listen to a podcast or read an interview with most any technology or HR executive, you’re sure to hear about their commitment to seamless integrations and technology that can be used “in the flow of work.”

“If it fits into our day-to-day work life, we’ll find it valuable and HR will benefit,” Bersin said. “If employees find it to be an interruption and we have to learn how to use it, the verdict is simple: companies won’t gain as much value from it.”

Integration Isn't So Easy

It’s difficult to argue with the notion that technology’s whole purpose at work is to make life better in terms of productivity, experience, product quality or service. But a study by the UK-based digital work platform Qatalog and the Ellis Idea Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., reports that, in fact, the impact of digital tools at work isn’t so positive.

Employees waste an hour a day trying to find information buried within their apps, the study found. Six in 10 people say it’s hard to know what colleagues are doing at any given time. And 43% say they spend too much time switching between apps. Productivity software, it seems, is cheating workers out of time, focus and creativity.

“There’s been an explosion in the number of apps we rely on to do our jobs, but the result isn’t greater productivity. It’s total chaos,” said Qatalog CEO Tariq Rauf. Each tool is “adding to a noisy digital environment that is, quite literally, driving workers to distraction.”

All the time spent navigating technical tools takes away from users’ efforts to engage with colleagues or even think, he said.

Related Article: How Employee Experience Became Table Stakes for HR Technology

Workplace Collaboration: Irony of Ironies

In a typical day, the study found, workers waste 59 minutes trying to find information across tools like Google Workspace, Dropbox and Slack. Because information is fragmented across multiple tools, 54% say finding what they need is more difficult than it ought to be.

Meantime, despite all the talk we hear about “connection,” people are uncertain about what work has been undertaken on the platforms used by other teams. For example, a branding team might rely on a project management solution while the content team organizes its work in a wiki and the sales team tracks its efforts in a customer relationship system. About 61% say it can be hard to figure out what others are working on, while 44% say siloed tools make it difficult to know whether work is being duplicated.

And despite the preponderance of workplace tools, employees still turn to co-workers when they need information, rather than access it directly. Typically, they interrupt at least two people to find what they need, and they do it up to five times a day. That ends up generating more messages, calls and interruptions.

The mechanics of juggling multiple apps is problematic, as well. Forty-three percent of workers report spending too much time switching between different tools, whether they’re cycling through browser tabs or sifting through messaging channels. Forty-five percent say such context switching makes them less productive.  

The impact of all this? According to the Harvard Business Review, 89% of workers say their work life is becoming more difficult. Meantime, 70% believe there could be more efficient ways of using technology to get work done, Qatalog’s research found.

Related Article: Beyond the Time Clock: Meeting the Needs of Remote & Deskless Workers

Differing Points of View Between Employers and Employees

The pandemic only exacerbated such issues, even as it highlighted the different perceptions held by companies and their workers. 

A report by WorkForce Software found, across the board, significant gaps between what organizations believed they were providing to workers and what employees actually experienced. That suggests employers haven’t been offering the solutions workers really need to optimally get their job done.

Bear in mind that, despite all the attention given to the shift to remote work, many hourly workers have continued to report to their employer’s facilities. Workers in industries such as airlines, healthcare, oil and gas, retail and gaming took the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, Livonia, Mich.-based WorkForce said. These workers in particular felt the impact of their employer’s struggle to adapt technology to the changing landscape.

For example, 81% of employers said their company effectively adapted to pandemic-related scheduling issues. However, only 64% of employees felt the same way. Overall, employees looked less favorably than employers on their company’s approach to scheduling shifts throughout the pandemic.

And, opinions diverged significantly on employers’ willingness to be flexible over the past year: About 82% of employers believe they offered scheduling flexibility, compared with 59% of employees. At the same time, 87% of employers said they helped hourly workers deal with personal circumstances that impacted work schedules. Only 60% of employees agreed.

Finally, WorkForce found that many companies still rely on outmoded systems to manage their employees. For example, just half of workers said they access an online portal to track time and attendance. About 56% said they used outdated methods for time tracking, such as wall clocks, paper forms and punch cards.

That impacts perceptions. Employees who use online portals believe their company offers more scheduling flexibility and is more helpful as they address personal circumstances, WorkForce said.

Employers and employees say they have similar goals for their company’s technology. The question is whether they see the same things as they look around the workplace.

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