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By choosing digital workplace tools (read: software) with simple, easy-to-use interfaces, you'll help promote the digital literacy of knowledge workers. Seems straightforward, doesn't it? Yet so many employees struggle with complexity in every aspect of their work, which is compounded by the tools they use daily to accomplish tasks.

Employee-driven design is one way to simplify the digital workplace for everyone involved.

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Let's Start With Intuitive Tools

Learning design firm Everwise provides one of my favorite definitions of employee-driven design (EDD). Put simply, EDD incorporates a design thinking approach that views employees as essential customers whose input is key to designing “a productive, meaningful ‘customer experience’ through solutions that are simple, compelling, and enjoyable ... to ensure positive employee interactions.”

While much has been written about how applying user experience (UX) design principles to physical workspaces can improve the employee experience (EX), very little work has been conducted to understand how software UX impacts EX. 

An IBM Institute for Business Value study supports the notion that the usability of digital tools and social platforms that employees interact with to accomplish work-related activities has a significant impact on the employee experience. The IBM research identified five practices that organizations are using to create more effective experiences. One of those practices is simplicity. The study found software design can have a lasting impact on satisfaction and productivity, stating that: “Employees expect frictionless and intuitive technology. They want to spend their time doing their work, not figuring out how to use the technology behind it.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that robotic process automation (RPA) came about as a way to address poor software usability. Rather than address the underlying problem of complex and confusing software, companies are investing millions of dollars in RPA in an effort to increase productivity. While I’m sure it’s true that many rote tasks are better suited to robots than to humans, I’m equally sure that not every task can or should be automated. So why not improve the usability of the tools that your human employees use in order to increase productivity?

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You’ll Know Good UX When You See It

The best starting place to improve productivity begins with your employees. The first step is to use design-thinking approaches: conduct surveys and shadow workers in order to uncover opportunities that improve usability. As more companies mandate cloud adoption, now is a great time to include simplicity as a primary selection criterion of any new software package.

You may not be able to fully quantify simplicity or usability. Yes, you can count “clicks and ticks” — the number of steps and the time it takes to complete business processes — but don’t discount the value of qualitative input. Your employees will ultimately be the ones using the software, so invite them to participate in vendor demos. Intuitively, they will quickly identify the software tools they would enjoy using.

Finally, keep in mind that consumer applications have become the touchstone for user experience design, so seek applications that look and feel like the ones you personally use on a regular basis. Is the user interface appealing? Is it laid out logically? Does it present you with “just enough” functionality to complete a task? Or are you staring at a frustrating face full of features? 

You may not be able to articulate what the ideal UX looks like, but you — and your employees — will know it when you see it.

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