wooden frame of a house under construction
PHOTO: ungvar

Most organizations say they want to empower employees with technology that allows them to effectively communicate with colleagues and efficiently get work done.

However, not all of them view employee experience falling on the shoulders of IT. Should they?

In a Harvard Business Review report sponsored by Salesforce, 40% said they see employee experience as the responsibility of human resources, and 14% feel it’s on the C-Suite. IT’s ownership? Only 5%.

That flies in the face of other movements in the IT industry: Gartner including experience-level agreements (XLAs) into its Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace 2020 for the first time, for instance. XLAs are a new type of agreement IT departments bake into their contracts with managed services companies or third-party IT sources where experience metrics trump service metrics.

“Experience-based IT is all about delivering solutions that remove the frustration and complexity inherent in work in a consistent, secure and reliable way so that users can focus and perform at their best without technology getting in the way,” said Meerah Rajavel, CIO for Citrix, a digital workplace software provider. 

Changing the IT Mindset

Some CIOs feel IT should be leaders in providing solid employee experiences. So how does it get done? Focusing on experience will make the value your organization brings more apparent on an everyday basis, according to Colleen Berube, CIO and senior vice president of operations for Zendesk, which offers customer service software.

Moving in the direction of experience-based IT, however, requires a big change for IT teams traditionally tasked with technological maintenance and efficiency. 

“The biggest challenge in moving to experience-based IT is fundamentally changing the mindset,” Berube said. “Traditionally, IT organizations tend to focus on the details of what their technology will do, how it works and not fully consider the experience for the user once it’s in place.”

Changing this mindset takes time and proactive effort, she added. It can be accelerated by having members sit alongside users to see what the actual user experience is like. Berube said CIOs can help this change by asking different questions that move away from “what are your requirements” to “what is the experience that we want the customer to have.” 

Related Article: Why IT Is Moving Beyond Service to Employee Experience

Identify ‘Moments That Matter’ and Focus on Fundamentals

IT needs to focus and pick the process where the experience matters the most from the user perspective, Rajavel said. This requires, she added, a strong partnership with HR to determine areas that employees care about. 

IT needs to recognize the “moments that matter,” such as onboarding and career progression, and identify solutions users need and prefer to use. Essentially, IT needs to think like software engineers with a “build” mentality to design and deliver solutions that meet these needs and build loyalty and brand equity for the organization, according to Rajavel.

Balancing innovation with keeping the lights on is always a challenge. And to overcome it, IT needs to focus on the fundamentals of “core versus context” and put its energy toward delivering those solutions that are most critical to the business and in line with user preferences, Rajavel said.

“The challenge in this is offering too many choices of tools, leading to choice paradox and ultimately poor experience and dissatisfied users,” she said. “Rather, you must select those that enable you to simplify and remove the friction from work and seamlessly integrate them. Security has to be baked into the solution from the get-go, and it can’t be an afterthought."

Related Article: Mapping Employee Journeys Can Make a Better Workplace

Experience-Based IT in an Ever-Changing Workplace

IT teams were pressed more than ever in 2020 to provide solid employee experiences in the midst of lightning-fast changes in the work environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Successfully enabling a new work model takes more than just flipping the switch on technologies. Culture plays a huge role in adoption, too, Rajavel said.

“And to drive it, our IT and HR teams worked closely together to help employees understand the context for enabling remote work and provide training and resources on how to make it work for them so they can continue to perform at their best," she said.

To ease the transition, Rajavel said Citrix provided $1,000 to each employee at the beginning of the pandemic to purchase what they felt they needed to create a remote workspace.

“Working remote isn’t easy,” Rajavel said. “And when it comes to addressing the technical aspects of how employees can cope and remain productive, you’ve got to walk in their shoes and understand how they leverage technology to achieve business outcomes. The key to keeping employees engaged and productive lies in providing consistent, secure and reliable access to the systems and information they need to get work done — wherever it needs to get done.”

And while it’s much of the same for 2021, IT teams must brace for the reality that the office will come back. According to a report on remote work released this month by PwC, less than one in five executives said they want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. However, just 13% of executives are prepared to let go of the office for good, and 87% of employees say the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships.

If 2020 was about remote work, 2021 and beyond will be about hybrid workplaces so long as COVID-19 can be curbed and vaccines reach enough of the global population to have a true impact on health. Rajavel sees a return back to the office as a "slow ebb and flow throughout 2021." Workforce productivity and well-being remains the No. 1 priority for her IT teams, she said. And they always have their eyes on the hybrid-workplace prize.

“Enabling a hybrid work model will be a priority, as hybrid work becomes the norm with people working from home a few days a week and going into the office if and when they want to," she said.

Think About Customer Experience Impact

When thinking about experience-based IT, it’s important to remember the connection and impact IT plays in customer experience, according to Berube.

She said IT impacts customer experience in a variety of ways: 

  • Systems of engagement that touch customers directly.
  • Transactional systems that power the systems of engagement.
  • Systems that create the employee experience internally.

“In today’s world, success relies on delivering excellent customer experience,” Berube said. “The move to digital has allowed more companies to create responsive, transparent and efficient experiences that customers love, and their expectations keep increasing. Any customer you do business with and every person you employ is comparing their experience with your company to the best experience they’ve ever had.”