The workplace is evolving and there are a myriad of choices to make when considering which technology your organization utilizes and supports. In the enterprise, decisions like this are typically made by a group of stakeholders who represent different parts of the organization. The people often left out of the process are the users of the technology and all of the niche ways they may interact with digital workplace technologies. According to Peter Yared, co-founder and CTO of Sapho, organizations need to do a better job considering all users of applications in the digital workplace and the impact of each decision on user populations not typically considered key stakeholders. This is place, he shared, where you can apply design thinking in your company. 

With that in mind, we turned to the analysts and experts who share their design thinking strategies for employee experience and the digital workplace.

Most Organizations Remain Behind

“Most enterprises are still not adequately addressing how to effectively develop and maintain a straightforward and effective approach to technology enablement of the most important activities in the workplace,” blogged Dion Hinchcliffe, VP and senior analyst at Constellation Research as well as chief strategy officer at online community strategy and design firm, 7Summits. “The proximate cause is sheer complexity as well as experiential noise, mostly of too much information with too little filter. Yet ironically, our businesses actually need to incorporate more technology and data into work processes, not less, to do our jobs better and evolve the organization.

Research by Gartner confirms that only 7 percent to 18 percent of organizations possess the digital dexterity to adopt new ways to work, such as virtual collaboration and mobile work. “An organization with high digital dexterity has employees who have the cognitive ability and social practice to leverage and manipulate media, information and technology in unique and highly innovative ways,” Gartner researchers reported.

Related Article: What is User Experience (UX) Design?

Organizations Don't Want to Spend on Digital Workplace

Ken McElrath, founder and CEO of Skuid, said that when employees become convinced that a good UX is exactly what they need to attract and retain customers, they always see huge gains from that. “But when it comes to, are we going to apply the same thing we learned here internally, they are very hesitant, and they start saying, ‘Wait, I don't have enough money for that?’”

Find the 'Voice of the User' Early

The “when” part of when you should consider users is crucial, according to Stacey Blissett-Saavedra, CIO of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. She says that designing solutions is “where we suffer the most” because “when we look at solutions we want to get the solutions out there. And we forget sometimes that in order to make it really successful we have to spend the money in design and UX. We do some research in usability, but the investment in UX is always after the fact. It needs to be incorporated through the entire process.”

Ask your end users: what features do you actually use in an application? What features are commonly used? “It's important to find out the 80 percent rule versus the 20 percent exception,” Yared added, “because users are typically remembering the exceptions.”

Related Article: Digital Workplace Practitioners Share Employee Experience Challenges

Understand All of Your Users, Not Just 'Power-Users'

So what are good ways to involve users in the mix? Where does good solid design thinking start in the digital workplace? First, let’s face the facts. There is an interesting tension between IT and end user requests, according to Sapho’s Yared. “It is common for an application to become very well suited for the power-users that are using it daily and making a lot of requests of IT,” Yared said. “The power users become the key stakeholders.”  However, it’s the occasional users of an application who are often not considered. Therefore, it’s common for an application to be fine-tuned to the finance organization, for example, but then thousands of employees struggle to complete tasks like approving a purchase order, or finding out that their project is over budget. 

Learning Opportunities

So what's the the remedy? According to Yared, Organizations should consider all users of an application and the impact of each decision on user populations that are not typically considered key stakeholders in an application.

Embed a Digital Native in Digital Workplace Projects

Yared added that design is tough for IT organizations because it typically is not in the employee skill set. “But we've seen success with IT organizations that embed a non-IT digital native directly into projects from inception and empower them to force design thinking into organizations,” Yared said. “I have been in rooms where a 28-year-old ‘voice of the user’ turns an entire decision making process with older IT professionals. I have never seen anything like this in my career and I think it's a great transition for IT organizations to become a modern, digital workplace.”

Be Empathetic

Alex Foucre-Stimes, manager in West Monroe Partners customer experience practice, said the first thing every organization struggles with is truly practicing employee empathy. Foucre-Stimes cited Gandhi, who once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” “I think you can say the same about an organization in their digital workplace for how it treats its groups like field employees, temporary employees and contract workers,” Foucre-Stimes said. “When you start to undergo this digital transformation, you need to ensure they’ve got inclusion.” 

A great design team in the digital workplace understands employee empathy for all career levels, all the departments and locations in an organization. Send out a large survey or a targeted survey to employees to collect data. Conduct interviews and workshops and then meet face to face with employees. It will give you a chance to do more probing and better understand employee needs.

Watch the way workers use their intranets. What’s the experience of a field worker with poor WiFi vs. a desktop-only user? “That really helps us to feed these personas,” Foucre-Stimes said.

Related Article: How Design Thinking Can Help Improve Your Organization's Customer Experience


For McElrath, good design thinking strategies comes back to empathy. Companies need to get in the shoes of employees and ask them, “Is this application in your way? How do we get out of the way and help you to be really productive and get to the information that you need at the right time in the right format so you can make better decisions?” That can lead to better internal employee productivity and in turn better customer experience outcomes.