Digital workplace strategy often focuses on technology and how it can be used to further the goals of the organization. But it's important not to ignore employee experience. Workers who have a positive experience are more likely to stay, are better team players, have a greater level of personal satisfaction, and are more aligned with business goals. Positive employee experience translates to a positive customer experience, too.
Digital workplace strategy is about hardware and software but there are many other important aspects especially in regards to employee experience, or EX. A successful EX-focused digital workplace strategy makes a business more resilient to crisis, creates more engaged, productive and satisfied workers, and delivers a greater promise of increased ROI.
Make Remote and Distributed Workers a Priority
The remote, distributed workforce is here to stay so an effective digital workplace strategy must include the needs of remote workers.
COVID has caused leaders to closely re-examine many of the foundations and beliefs that were once held to be immutable. The question of whether remote workers can be trusted to be productive and efficient from home has been answered: They can, and are often more productive. Although many workers will eventually return to the office, others will not and still others are simply not prepared to return at this point.
A recent survey conducted by enterprise software company Unit4 showed that more than half of their employees were not yet ready to return to the workplace. As a result, Unit4 has planned a phased re-entry over the next few months. Lisa Dodman, the company's chief people officer, said that while the majority of their workers were still working remotely, they were able implement a solution that increased productivity by 12%. Even those businesses who plan to eventually return some of their workers to the office must still address the needs of remote workers for some time to come.
Antoine Faisandier, CEO of Powell Software North America, a provider of digital workplace solutions, said that even before the current crisis his company was working to address the needs of the remote and distributed workforce. “Offering a digital workplace that is available from everywhere that enables all employees wherever they are located to access to the corporate information they need in order to get their work done is inherent to Powell Software’s core strategy and DNA,” he said.
Since the start of the COVID crisis, Powell has added functionality to its software suite to address the needs of remote workers and make a smooth and effective transition to what Faisandier called the “new normal,” including meeting room management, governance and user adoption capabilities, all designed to enhance communication and collaboration within the enterprise. Faisandier said the company plans to organize remote happy hours to exchange and share information beyond traditional business topics to further address the needs of the distributed workforce.
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The Flexible Workplace Enhances Employee Experience
The flexible workplace is here to stay. Some of the largest tech companies including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Spotify have extended their flexibility guidelines. Twitter extended its flexible workplace indefinitely, saying the company will never go back to the way it was before COVID.
One-third of workers said a flexible work schedule is one of the benefits they enjoy most as a remote worker, according to The 2020 State of Remote Work report released by Buffer.com. They are now being judged based on the work they actually do rather than time they are sitting in front of their PC. They can take breaks when needed, which is particularly valuable for working parents whose children are out of school.
According to survey conducted by Azurite Consulting, employees who worked remotely due to COVID had a better work-life balance and both employees and employers reported a better state of mental health. Further, 72% of managers and 68% of employees felt they were not only able to work as efficiently, but actually more efficiently, from home. The data showed 37% of employees felt that they have a better work/life balance now and flexible hours enabled 27% of those polled to alternate work time with their spouse, allowing them to spend more time with their children.
For employees, the remote and flexible workplace has increased their level of satisfaction and self-worth, improved mental health, allowed them to spend more time with families and improved their employee experience.
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Effective Communication and Collaboration Are Key
Whether employees are working in the office or remotely, communication and collaboration break downs bring business to a halt. Whatever software platform is decided on, businesses must ensure it enables workers to communicate and collaborate easily and effectively with their coworkers, team leads and leadership.
Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP, a VOIP provider, said the ability to communicate effectively is a top priority for employees and mobility is the key. Employees “feel more engaged when using personal devices for work purposes,” he said, noting that 70% of millennials bring their devices to work regardless of the company's "Bring Your Own Device" policy.
“Employers should list the choices for digital workplace technology, analyze and consult, then choose the one that fits best,” Yonatan said.
It’s time to reconsider the whole question of “shadow IT” and employee choice when it comes to the use of personal devices, and make it a part of the digital workplace strategy, he said. Much of the frustration that comes with communication and collaboration software relates to the technologies not effectively working with each other.
“If you go for a front door approach, and choose a tool such as Microsoft Teams for collaboration, which other technology will you add to the stack? Zoom? RingCentral?" Yonatan said. "Are the tools you are adding to the stack allowing for a BYOD approach to avoid employee frustration?”
Listening to the employee voice is one of the keys to a successful digital workplace strategy. When leaders are “deliberate about choosing the tech that employees interact with, to the point where they invite the employees to give their opinion, they will end up with a digital workplace that favors employee experience," Yonatan said.
Communication and collaboration aren’t simply about software but are also about effectively communicating with employees concerning about what is expected of them, how the business works and its goals and culture. Employees want ease of collaboration and communication, and well-documented documented processes, said Petra Odak, chief marketing officer at Better Proposals. But it goes beyond that. "The biggest impact on our employees happened when we documented how we work, how we communicate and what our values are," Odak said. "We put it all in writing and uploaded it for the new employees to see. It made a massive difference in onboarding because everything was in one place.”
Effective communication also has to address the feelings of isolation and lack of connection many remote workers experience. Carla Yudhishthu, vice president of people operations at ThinkHR and Mammoth HR, two recently merged companies, said her company prioritizes open communication to build the connectivity often missing for remote workers. “In addition to our standard all-hands meetings that we hold every six weeks throughout the year, now held using video conferencing, we have added ‘mini all-hands’ meetings in between the longer meetings to keep our teams updated on how we are doing relative to our business objectives, recognize team and individual accomplishments, and to share updates as needed,” she said.
Yudhishthu also addressed the workplace socialization that is missing by creating a virtual water cooler-like environment where employees can discuss non-work issues. Her company recenltly implemented an app called Donut on Slack to pair employees together and encourage them to meet. “Our Slack channel for employees to sign up to get matched is called #cuppa_connect, encouraging the idea of grabbing a cup of coffee and having a virtual meeting via video conference to connect as you would in a live office," she said. "I have had calls with three employees I had never had a chance to connect with for a live one-on-one discussion. It’s a great way for folks to connect cross-functionally and of course, from any geographical location.“
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Focus on Technology That Works Effectively and Easily
Technology company Zoho released the results of a study conducted during the pandemic in April that showed while businesses were able to continue traditional management practices without any problems, their technology systems were considered outdated and inefficient. A majority (66%) of those surveyed had high job satisfaction and 69% felt their job is meaningful. But when it came to the technology they use, results were not nearly so good.
Of those working remotely, 51% said that it was inadequate in keeping them aligned with the goals set for them by the company. More than half (52%) felt limited by their home office computers and 54% of enterprise-level employees felt the applications they were using were not intuitive and were difficult to integrate. Further, 40% of the largest enterprise employees said they had to use multiple technology platforms to perform their job and 37% said their technology infrastructure was not capable of providing effective communications throughout the organization.
Employees have proven capable of doing their work remotely but the limitations of technology must be addressed as part of digital workplace strategy. “During this challenging period, employees also want their organizations to be supportive of their technology requirements, and expect their employers to identify and remove impediments to remote working," said Brian Berns, CEO of cloud-based user experience analytics company Knoa Software. "This sounds like a given but it’s also a challenge for IT services groups that must deal with a multitude of access configurations and end-user environments. Visibility into the issues faced by employees when remotely accessing corporate systems is key to ensuring a responsive help desk and overall positive usage experience.”
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Business Culture Should Align With Employee Values
COVID-19 shifted the focus of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, from sustainability and climate action to how companies treated employees and their communities during the crisis. The death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn. sparked protests against systemic racism and police brutality across the world. Businesses and brands were no longer able to sit on the sidelines.
CSR policies and the public image of a corporation affect the way consumers see that brand and how they spend their money. A 2019 report from GlobalWebIndex showed that 68% of online consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom would base their decision to not use a brand because of poor or misleading CSR, and nearly 50% would pay a premium for brands with a socially conscious image. CSR and the culture of a business affect employees even more. By having a personal investment in the same values as their employer, employees feel a sense of purpose and meaning and have a greater level of personal satisfaction in the jobs they perform. It provides them with a greater sense of belonging, which in turn leads to a higher level of productivity on the job.
“The key element an employee wants to see in the digital workplace is an energetic culture, because people want to be engaged," said Indie Bollman, vice president of corporate development at Trailer Bridge Inc. "Without a doubt, the culture of the organization must have prominence in all workplace strategies and messaging. The basic human desire of people wanting to be a part of something and that their contribution is valued never changes across the physical or digital worlds. Essentially, who the company is, what their culture and values are, and why they provide the service to others that they do — all of these need to be portrayed just as clearly as they are in a physical work environment.”
Bollman said the culture of a business extends from CSR all the way to social engagement and said that “the need for culture doesn’t diminish in a digital environment and so it’s importance shouldn’t either. It means the digital workplace strategy has to be crafted toward employees and their purpose, development and entertainment.”
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Bollman’s company has continued to engage and retain team members because as Bollman said, “Today’s digital world affords companies a way to keep engagement high, through the use of a variety of tools to connect, communicate, engage, survey, and even have fun.”
By turning the focus of the digital workplace strategy to the employee experience beyond the technology and software, a business will be able to surmount many of the bottlenecks and roadblocks that will come in its day-to-day business practices while enhancing the employee journey. That, in turn, will enable a business to remain productive and profitable when times are good, and flourish even through times of crisis.