As we start another year enterprises are still facing the same old problems, even if there are a whole bunch of new technologies to help. Among the major issues enterprise leaders face is employee engagement. In fact, it could be argued that this is, in fact, the most difficult problem of all and one that has so many moving parts, that it is unclear how to solve it. The pain point, of course, is how to get your workers to use and be productive with the tools they're provided in the workplace.

Embracing Digital Workplace Services

Like everything else digital, this too is changing and enterprises are responding to workers’ needs. According to Information Services Group (ISG) in research published last December, US organizations are embracing digital workplace services that enhance employees' work experiences, rather than ones that integrate easily with the existing company environment. The ISG Provider Lens Digital Workplace of the Future Report for the U.S. focuses on technology and services that enable employees to access their work profiles, data and applications anytime and from anyplace.

To measure user engagement, US enterprises are starting to consider replacing the traditional service-level agreements (SLAs) they have with providers in the digital workplace market with end-user experience level agreements (XLAs), based on measurable end-user experience enhancements, the report says. So is focusing on employee experiences rather that technology stacks the right approach?

Even two years ago, major companies like Walmart, Audi and Apple were providing employees with custom mobile apps to improve how they do their jobs. But often, those company-issued apps fail when it comes to delivering the type of user experience workers are used to with the apps they download from the public app stores according to a quantitative study of enterprise apps carried out by San Francisco-based ArcTouch. In the eBook Functional But Unfriendly (registration required), the research, which surveyed 487 American full-time office employees who use at least one enterprise mobile app at least once per week, when it comes to user experience, many apps are falling short. Among the findings are:

  1. Only one in eight office workers (12%) are using apps for their jobs, pointing to a huge opportunity for growth when compared to the nearly universal usage of smartphones and tablets.
  2. 83% of people who use apps for work, think the apps make them more productive.
  3. Less than one in three (30%) described their app as “intuitive,” and only 13% said the app they use for work is “elegant.”
  4. Just over half of users (52%) said the app was reliable/stable enough to deserve an "A" grade for performance.
  5. 86% of workplace app users said functionality was one of the most important attributes of an app (86%) but only 52% of respondents said the functionality was worthy of an ‘A’ grade.
  6. Only one-in-four office workers (25%) strongly look forward to using their most-used enterprise mobile app. Meanwhile, one-in-three users (33%) don’t look forward to using the app at all.

“There is a significant missed opportunity when it comes to enterprise apps in today’s workplace Adam Fingerman, founder and chief experience officer (CXO) of San Francisco-based ArcTouch, told CMSWire. “First, there is a large unmet appetite for apps among the workforce, and second, a slew of apps that are in use are simply missing the mark. With custom enterprise apps, employers have the opportunity to improve their employees’ productivity and overall work experience. Yet many enterprise apps today are simply not living up to user expectations.”

Related Article: What You Need to Know About Employee Engagement Software

Implanting New Technologies

If organizations are responding to workers’ demands for specific kinds of apps rather than workers simply accepting and working with the apps that they find already deployed in the workplace, it is early days yet. Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Bellevue, Wash.-based Limeade citing a recent study that found only 17 percent of U.S. employees agree with the idea that their company “readily implements new technologies that help us to be more productive”, argues that many employees don’t trust their employers to implement technology that’s in their best interest. The result is low utilization or worse – a sense of negativity or even hostility when it comes to using tech.

Ultimately, boosting app use depends on creating a meaningful and compelling experience for employees—an experience that’s done for them not to them. “If you are looking to boost adoption among employees, it comes back to building trust, as well as breaking down silos so you can focus your strategy on employees’ needs,” she said.

 To counter that, she added, organizations should start by taking a step back and agreeing, that all software should create a positive work environment. Then bring employees into the fold by asking them what they need to feel more engaged, included and productive. “When they feel like they're part of something bigger, adoption will come. Put each of your solutions through this lens and if they clearly don’t contribute to a better employee experience, or deliver a message of care, consider a new approach.

More tactically, organizations should choose technology that can target employees with relevant, meaningful activities that you know will add value to them as individuals.

The Problem With Talent

Jason Field, founder and CEO of New York City-based BrainStation argues that the real issue here is not technology per se, but in managing the talent needs surrounding digital transformation is a focus on continuous learning.  Upskilling, he suggests, is the ultimate work perk to help maximize employee engagement and satisfaction, rather than new tools and systems that require employee adoption. Companies must have a holistic approach to talent that involves upskilling, reskilling, and hiring, he said. There are plenty of extremely valuable employees within your walls that just need a bit of investment to get the level needed to produce the business results today’s economy now requires.

Learning Opportunities

They will be loyal, they come with years of institutional knowledge that a new recruit would not, and training is now more cost effective than finding new hires. And regardless of a “looming” recession or not, a cost-effective, results-driven talent development program is increasingly becoming a business imperative. “Learning is more of an essential layer for organizations than ever before because of the constantly changing landscape...and it’s only going to move faster,” he said.

Pedro Bados, CEO and co-founder of Switzerland-based Nexthink agrees. He says companies are at war for talent, trying to retain existing employees and attract new ones. If day-to-day experiences at work are not positive, then current employees will leave and new talent won’t join. Employee experience has historically focused on two important pillars: people and places. This includes culture, morale, company perks, great office spaces and more. “As companies have marched forward with bold digital transformation initiatives, employees have increasingly become dependent on a wide variety of technologies and applications to work efficiently and effectively.”

These digital initiatives have significantly increased the importance of a third pillar of the employee experience equation… technology — leading companies to realize they must actively monitor and maintain it as closely as their focus on people and places. For many employees, getting work done has become clunky, slow, and frustrating because the technology companies provide just doesn’t work.

To move away from the status quo and excel at employee experience, companies need to identify technology that enables IT teams to leverage real-time application and device data with timely and contextually-relevant user sentiment, to better understand how technology is experienced within their company. Understanding is key: improving employees’ digital experiences will have a massive impact on productivity, employee engagement and a business’ bottom line.

Related Article: Employee-Driven Design: Creating an Engaging Digital Workplace

Digital Work In The Future

So what is the solution? Andrew Filev, founder and CEO, San Francisco-based Wrike pointed out that 2010s saw a boom of the BYOA (or Bring Your Own App) movement in which employees were allowed to select their own apps based on their preferences for how they worked.

But for the 2020s, this approach won't work for most businesses. New regulations like GDPR and the increasing emphasis on protecting employee and customer data mean CIOs and IT need to vet apps for security. They can take it to the next level by vetting how well new tools integrate with other enterprise systems to create a unified digital workplace.

Fortunately, the game has changed. The BYOA movement forced software developers to pursue excellence in user experience and design, meaning that enterprise security and user engagement are no longer mutually exclusive. Emerging tools like collaborative work management software can enhance the digital workplace and improve the employee experience by connecting work with impact and uniting virtual teams. These tools can also enhance employee experience by automating routine tasks and making the information employees use to work more findable and actionable,” he said.