man using a braille reader keyboard with his computer
PHOTO: Sigmund

The digital workforce has been on the minds of businesses and employees since the COVID-19 pandemic began. When lockdown protocols started earlier this year, organizations whose employees typically worked in an office setting had to provide — in record time — remotely accessible digital tools.

New processes and workflows had to be adjusted too. Creative teams that were used to brainstorming in person on white boards had to find a way to take this group activity online. Daily engineering scrums had to do the same. And every remote worker had to find the balance between answering every instant message and videoconference invite that came their way with giving their complete focus to their daily tasks.

Getting new tools, processes and workflows up and running quickly was a win for businesses, but it was far from the only hurdle. Once online, we soon saw that the digital world at scale can be imperfect. The sheer ubiquity of remote tools and workflows has led to some growing pains and shown limitations in many brands’ ability to successfully support a fully remote workforce. In particular, brands around the world discovered four key failures as they moved to a fully remote workforce, all of which impact the digital experience for employees. Not every company is dealing with each one of these problems, but they are widespread. You will likely recognize and relate to at least one of the below based on your own experience:

1. Not All Employee Experiences Are Accessible to Everyone

The sudden move to remote work caught everyone by surprise — even the digital workforce tool vendors who have benefited from increased usage and visibility. While this user growth is clearly a boon to their businesses, they may have been somewhat unprepared to deliver great digital experiences on a large scale — and to a larger and more diverse audience.

Accessibility is critical for organizations to improve the experience for all users, broaden their market and strengthen their brand image. It is also essential to serve internal audiences. After all, how can an employee be expected to do their job at the highest level if the digital tools they are forced to use do not provide them with an effective and intuitive way to work?

Related Article: We Need to Build Accessibility Into Our Digital Workplaces

2. Tools Don’t Always Match the Digital Literacy of Users

Out of necessity, a number of experiences are more digitized now than ever before. These experiences are being launched quickly, but it is important to keep the user top of mind. Who will be using the digital tool/experience? What is their comfort level with technology? These questions should typically be considered up front, but because of the rush to make these experiences available, many companies are dealing with them after the fact.

Take, for example, the e-learning and virtual classrooms we’ve seen schools around the United States leverage as students stay at home amid the pandemic. Anecdotally, how often have you heard a teacher or two say they don’t feel technically savvy enough to run their classroom online? I know I’ve heard it. Even for those teachers who were already used to tools like Google classroom, there has been an adjustment period. With more time to prepare, many would likely have wanted to investigate and match the digital literacy of employees, or at least provided more training on the digital tools that would be used.

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3. Some Digital Experiences Are Not on Brand

Many companies were set up for success from the start of the pandemic because they already had a strong digital presence, and they were already taking advantage of digital tools on a regular basis. This helps because they were able to take the time and effort to ensure their digital tools and experiences matched the brand and tone of their company.

However, not every company was in the same position. Some quickly found that the digital tools they picked didn't accurately represent their brand to employees, which can cause frustration among workers. Imagine a company whose internal culture is whimsical and informal. Yet the tools employees are now using seem complex, formal and archaic. The employees may shun the IT-approved tools altogether and find their own, unapproved tools that match the experience they typically see in the corporate office setting.

Related Article: Bringing Shadow IT Into the Light

4. Tools Are Not Personalized — or Easily Customizable — to Individual Employees

Taking the last point a step further is the personalization of tools. Not everyone is the same, so a single, concrete experience/tool may not work for every employee. It is important to provide options for employees — if not on the tools they can use, then at least some customizable aspects within the tool to ensure it works for the individual employee.

As with so many aspects of COVID-19, we see a necessary acceleration in adoption of tools that may or may not fit the bill. Yet these tools are here to stay. Let’s take some time now to improve these tools and address the issues above so the remote employee experience becomes a more enjoyable one. The important thing to do moving forward is to run surveys and user experience studies with employees, so they can tell you how a specific tool/experience is serving them, and how it can be improved. These efforts, in the long- and short-term, will benefit both the employee experience and the company as a whole.

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