two colleagues, both with laptops, having a conversation
PHOTO: Jopwell

Digital employee experience is gaining mindshare and traction in organizations around the globe. Teams are finding that it’s framing discussions and plans in a truly strategic way that engages with senior leaders.

It’s early days in the growth of digital employee experience as a discipline, however, and much is still being learned. There are also significant changes happening in the space, including in the definition of digital employee experience itself.

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From Customer Experience to Digital Employee Experience

When I started using digital employee experience as a term in late 2016, the starting point for a definition was customer experience. Wikipedia defines customer experience as: “Customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.”

What was clearly needed was a term that was the mirror-image of CX, looking at interactions with employees rather than customers. That lead to my initial definition of digital employee experience:

"Digital employee experience (DEX) is the sum total of the digital interactions between a staff member and their organization.” (v1)

(Broader yet, digital employee experience is just one part of the total employee experience, which consists of digital, physical and cultural aspects.)

The concept immediately gained traction, as it gave a way of looking holistically at what’s provided digitally to staff. It also puts an emphasis not just on the "what" (which is the digital workplace) but also on the "how" (the digital experience that’s provided). At a strategic level, it became possible to create a narrative that show a future state, where digital tools are seamless and productive for staff, while empowering and engaging them. At a practical level, digital employee experience also drives a relentless focus on usability and simplicity.

As it turns out, however, that first definition of digital employee experience was wrong.

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Participants, Not Just Passive Vessels

Jane McConnell is one of the pioneers of the digital workplace field. She shaped a lot of the early thinking, and her global surveys did (and still do) provide insights into the state of organizations in the digital age. 

It took her just a few minutes to look at the definition of DEX and say: “well, that’s not right!” She highlighted that digital employee experience is not just about what’s delivered top down in a firm — and she was spot on.

On that basis, I humbly introduce an updated definition:

“Digital employee experience (DEX) is the sum total of digital interactions within the work environment” (v2)

This definition acknowledges that while an enterprise provides a huge depth and breadth of digital tools to staff, that’s not the whole picture. Increasingly, as organizations and cultures evolve, the most important interactions are between staff, not from the business to staff. Collaboration and social tools are the most obvious element of person-to-person digital interactions. These interactions happen at every scale, from real-time chats involving a few individuals, to teams, projects and ultimately to the business as a whole.

Moreover, the new definition highlights that these interactions can be understood, fostered and shaped, just like any other aspect of the digital employee experience. It also acknowledges the employees themselves are in control of at least some part of the overall experience, and that they have a shared responsibility to create a great DEX for all.

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What's in a Name (or a Definition)?

A lot — too much — can be read into the definition of a term. And "religious wars" can easily break out between the definitions favored by different factions. Yet words matter, and they should evolve to match the continued evolution of the space they define.

Let’s see where the new definition of digital employee experience takes us, and who knows, perhaps version three of the definition is just around the corner!