smiling woman working on a laptop
PHOTO: Jopwell

We've seen an upwell of interest and activity over the last year about digital employee experience (DEX). The first projects are now being delivered under the banner of DEX, and businesses are establishing teams with DEX as their core remit.

This is a young field — even the definition of DEX has evolved over the last 12 months. It’s therefore valuable to understand what the "state of the nation" is for DEX around the globe, including the challenges and opportunities that currently exist.

To answer these and other questions, my firm, Step Two, recently released the results of its second global digital employee experience survey. While some of the findings will no doubt match expectations, a few surprises are in store.

What Is Digital Employee Experience, and Is It Important?

Digital employee experience is a concept that’s yet to be widely embraced by organizations, although it’s encouraging to see the proportion of organizations that have a definition rise from 11% to 16% over the last year.

Where a definition was in place, most matched the definition linked to above, "Digital employee experience (DEX) is the sum total of digital interactions within the work environment.” Some variations on the theme could be found, such as “The digital employee experience is the sum of all digital tools funnelled through the digital workplace channels.”

Among respondents, many rated it as either extremely or very important (42% in 2020, up from 39% in 2019). With DEX as a relatively new concept, however, it’s not surprising to see it remains only somewhat important for many organizations (39% this year, down from 42% in last year’s survey). This relatively low level of priority means that DEX will struggle to compete with other initiatives (see the figures on challenges and barriers later in this report).

Related Article: Defining a Good — Dare I Say Great? — Digital Employee Experience

Who Is Leading Digital Employee Experience?

In the previous survey, the main business areas who were (primarily) responsible for delivering an improved DEX were the intranet team (28%) and IT (18%), with other areas at 6% or less (including senior leaders).

This year, these two groups are joined by internal communications (15%) and the digital team, reflecting a broader focus on digital employee experience across organizations.

For the first time this year, the survey asked respondents to indicate where they saw DEX being driven within their organizations. Only 54% reported that DEX was being strongly or somewhat led from the top down or centrally.

This compares with 76% and 75% of respondents indicating that DEX was being led within individual business units or from the bottom up, respectively. What stands out is that 39% said DEX was not at all being led from the top down, compared to 18% or 19% for business units or by staff themselves.

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Is Critical to Business Success

Technology Is Now an Enabler of DEX, Not a Blocker?

This year’s survey also examined organizational readiness across three facets:

  • People: including leadership, culture, skills, roles and responsibilities.
  • Process: including working practices, collaboration and business processes.
  • Technology: including platforms, products and technologies.

When assessing the readiness of their organization for DEX, 46% of respondents rated their technology readiness as either mostly or very ready. This scored higher than both people readiness (30%) and process readiness (27%).

When looking at roadblocks, the last survey found 50% of respondents indicated that “technology issues or limitations” was an issue. This year, that figure dropped to 36%, and technologies issues slipped to 10th place rather than 4th in the previous survey.

Perhaps with the widespread roll-out of modern tools in recent years — from Office 365 and Workplace by Facebook to ServiceNow and Workday — organizations are now much better-placed to make progress on DEX? More than that, perhaps technology is now a net benefit for teams, rather than an anchor to progress?

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Bridges the Gap Between HR and IT

What's Next for DEX

If these findings are encouraging, then the full survey results show a broader picture of steady progress. There are still many challenges to overcome, many relating to competing priorities, resource limits and a lack of clear overall vision. And while some of the "simpler" strategies — such as internal communication strategies — are now in place for many, few have yet to make solid progress on "harder" DEX topics, such as employee experience or employee engagement.

There’s still much work to be done, and I can’t wait to further shape this emerging field.