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Rob Ryan: Want Great Employee Experiences? Take a Walk in Their Shoes

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Workgrid's Rob Ryan shares the big opportunities he sees in employee experience, taking an employee-centric approach to digital workplace design and more.

Rob Ryan thinks organizations need to put the “employee” back into employee experience (EX). While he recognizes leaders are now prioritizing this area, he says organizations that don’t completely understand who their employees are and how they view the world will fail when it comes to providing employee experiences that resonate.

“Go beyond the NPS scores and pulse checks, and gather illustrations, sentiment and stories of what ‘business as usual’ looks like from the employee point of view,” said Ryan. “You’ll see patterns emerge that uncover opportunities and show you where to concentrate your employee experience efforts.”

Ryan is director of product marketing at Workgrid, providers of an intelligent workplace platform. Workgrid is a sponsor of the spring session of Simpler Media Group's DWX Conference, held virtually on May 13. He will present a session titled “The Formula for Creating an Effective Digital Workplace and Transforming Employee Experience.” We spoke with Ryan about the challenges leaders face in creating engaging employee experiences, where he sees the biggest opportunities, and what organizations can do to place the employee at the center of their initiatives.

Designing Experiences with People in Mind

Simpler Media Group: What are the top challenges today’s organizations face when it comes to providing engaging employee experiences?

Rob Ryan: If you were to ask me this question a few years ago, I would have said budget and focus. Times have changed considerably, and over the last year we’ve seen an acceleration in both funding and an emphasis on addressing the employee experience.

I’d say the top challenges always stem from a lack of strategy and a people-focused change management approach. This means keeping a lens on culture, alignment, leadership and commitment. Strategy is often deciding ‘what not to do.’ For employee experience initiatives to be successful, it’s essential to understand how the world looks from the seat of the employee. If their world is not clearly understood, no tactic, program or technology will be successful.

SMG: How has remote work affected the way organizations approach the employee experience?

Ryan: Over the last year, COVID has been the catalyst for sweeping digital and business transformation. Prior to this there was little focus on EX. Now, I feel we’re at a bit of a crossroads. Early in the pandemic we saw many organizations throw technology at the problem, which created more confusion and disruption in an already cluttered technology landscape. The people side of the employee experience equation was often not considered.

Many organizations have only just begun their EX journeys and are looking to support an increasingly remote and hybrid workforce well into the future. This will lead to greater complexity, both in terms of culture and technology. The ability to remain connected, stay aligned, promote culture and instill wellness — all while maintaining engagement and productivity are top concerns. Because there are so many risks, there’s a greater potential for loss of alignment and a negative impact on employee wellness.

One of the biggest dangers is the loss of organic connections and internal networking. After all, most day-to-day business is accomplished not via the hierarchy, but by interpersonal relationships built and maintained to simply get work done.

Rob Ryan: "“EX is a program, not a project. It requires ownership, buy-in, resources and a clear alignment to the vision and mission of the organization.”

SMG: What are some of the biggest opportunities that remote work has brought to organizations?

Ryan: There is plenty of opportunity to be had. The first, which hopefully isn’t taken for granted, is that productivity in many organizations not only remained steady, but increased with employees working from home. There’s a need to reflect on this, to trust that employees who work from home can be highly productive and engaged even when they’re not in the same building. We can move away from the old ‘factory mindset’ of productivity equaling physical presence.

Second, this allows for organizations to truly focus on the employee experience and understand that it goes beyond the technology touchpoints and more to what the employee needs to get work accomplished. It means stepping back to understand the day in the life of your employees in a human-centric approach.

Last is the opportunity to focus on where we can decrease the burden and frustration of technology, context switching and information discovery. This technology friction can be reduced significantly with the proper tools and the employee experience strategy working together.

Providing the Tools to Get Work Done

SMG: What are the most important elements of great employee experiences? Can you provide an example or two of an ideal experience?

Learning Opportunities

Ryan: Great digital employee experiences are holistic. When you take a moment to really think about EX, often ‘moments that matter’ come up. Most of us remember specific events in time when we think of those meaningful moments at work — onboarding, benefits elections, parental leave, being promoted or even being passed over for a promotion. They’re unique to every organization, but can be addressed to ensure technology investments are creating a positive impact on the employee within those moments. If onboarding is one of those key moments, creating a personalized, high-touch experience that makes it easier for employees to adapt to the company culture becomes paramount — and frankly easy to address.

These are moments of the employee experience that take center stage, but the daily experiences also require attention. This means understanding the employee journey end to end and reducing the friction of everyday work.

You can reduce friction, for example, by minimizing the time employees spend switching between apps, tasks and projects with the help of smart notifications. Or provide immediate access to the key information employees need such as alerts, pay slips, benefits, directories or subject matter experts. It’s about helping employees understand their roles at the company and giving them what they need to get the work done.

Then, it’s about layering in the actions and tasks that cut down on app hopping. For example, we have one customer who has over 20 payroll applications. They needed to connect the paystubs, time, attendance and PTO summaries across their tech stack and deliver it individually in a personalized manner.

'Employee Experience Is a Program, Not a Project'

SMG: What are your three biggest recommendations for creating experiences that resonate with today’s workforce?

Ryan: First, understand where you are today in your EX journey. What does the world look like to your employees, particularly the moments that matter as an organization, region or business line? Look across and see where you’re succeeding and where your opportunities may lie.

Next, what does the everyday look like? This isn’t requirements gathering. It’s a reality fact-check. For example, is the front line completely disconnected from the rest of the organization? Understand what risk that creates — alignment, knowledge sharing, wellness and continuity. It should be addressed to instill resiliency.

Last — and I’ve said this for years to all my clients who are introducing technology as a catalyst for change — EX is a program, not a project. It requires ownership, buy-in, resources and a clear alignment to the vision and mission of the organization. If that people-first mindset and program strategy isn’t in place, you won’t be successful.

SMG: What makes you most excited about the future of the digital workplace?

Ryan: There’s a mindset change I see happening from business and application leaders. That is, there is no one technology solution to rule them all within the digital workplace. Leaders are starting to realize that the digital workplace and employee experience programs should be designed around the employee journey. That’s why leveraging tools like Workgrid are so promising. These tools help accelerate productivity, enhance the employee experience and take control of the chaos and noise. It’s an opportunity to provide the right mix of people-focused change and engagement, which is a win for the employee and the business.

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