Much of the focus over the past year has been tooling up workers to enable remote workplaces. Enterprise and IT leaders spent a great deal of time and money investing in technology resources they believed will keep them competitive. While the idea is a good one, the problem is the digital workplace changes rapidly and continuously as more elements and considerations are thrown into the mix.

This seems to suggest the key to maintaining a competitive edge is to keep up with technology and evolve with it as new tools and platforms emerge. Take the example of DevOps. This collaborative approach to software production and deployment integrates development and IT operations to automate and speed up delivery of applications and services.

The focus of DevOps is developing a mindset, a culture and a set of technical practices. It provides communication, integration, automation and close cooperation among all the people needed to plan, develop, test, deploy, release and maintain a solution. The key word is culture. DevOps is a work culture and at its heart is communication and collaboration.

Simply put, it is about people. In a situation where tools are changing constantly, workers need to keep changing, too. Employee experience is the pivot point where technology comes together with people management to evolve work.

Technology's Role in HR Management and Employee Experience

It is clear that technology is a key part of the remote and digital workplace and can be major addition to human resource management. Steve Anevski, CEO of Cincinnati-based Upshift which develops a staffing platform, said new tools introduced in the wake of the pandemic are now part of the work environment. This just proves that as times change and competition increases, the current tools will either have to be changed or re-developed altogether. The best example of this is the use of artificial intelligence.

“AI will be a major tool used in the future," he said. “Businesses will have to integrate this technology to work in a more streamlined and efficient way. After all, you have to adjust and change tech strategies to make your name in the market.”

However, this is not a question of managing work experiences better or introducing new tools to do the job for you, said Lauren Pasquarella Daley, vice president for women and the future of work at New York City-based Catalyst. What’s most important is finding the opportunity to reimagine and redesign the workplace to build a more equitable future of work. Building more empathetic, flexible workplaces at this moment is a differentiator for companies and leaders who want to attract and retain top talent, especially women.

Related Article: How DevOps Is Automating the Workplace

Workers Expect Greater Flexibility and Empathy

Pasquarella Daley pointed to one trend from Catalyst research that showed employee expectations about life and work have shifted through the pandemic. Employees increasingly seek managers who demonstrate care, concern and understanding for their life/work circumstances and provide increased flexibility. 

Other Catalyst research also found that empathy is a leadership skill with clear business benefits. As a result, HR departments and people managers may need to develop a different set of leadership skills for this new era of remote or hybrid work. The good news is that with intentional training and practice nearly anyone can develop empathy.

“Recognizing and re-evaluating when your remote or hybrid workplace may benefit from new remote tools and technology can help improve the employee experience and intentionally build more inclusive workflows and processes,” Pasquarella Daley said.

Technology and tools can also help leaders rethink how, when and where work gets done, she added, better enabling collaboration, innovation, asynchronous work and opportunities for spontaneous interaction for remote workers across locations and schedules.

Related Article: How to Practice Empathy in the Virtual World of Work 

Offer the Right Tools, But Don't Make It About the Tools

For many workers, changing technology tools makes little difference, said Mike Grossman, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based GoodHire. Pursuing the latest technology and high-tech software may look good to external stakeholders, but often does little to improve the workplace experience.

Learning Opportunities

The responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of organizational leaders. A big part is identifying what employees need to do their best work and making it possible with the current resources available.

“While innovation is certainly necessary, there's a distinct difference between actually augmenting the workplace and innovating for innovation's sake," he said. "For the betterment of your team, make sure that your efforts pertain to the former.”

Employees need appropriate tools and software to carry out their roles. Unless new workplace technology can significantly improve their workflow and provide solutions to the problems they face, consider whether it's a necessary expenditure in terms of capital, time and training resources.

Focus on Employee Experience in the Digital and Physical Workplace

Enterprises should avoid overly focusing on replicating work experiences digitally using technology, said Michael Pryor, co-founder and head of product at project management platform Trello, a subsidiary of Atlassian. Rather, they should also focus on replicating the human experience at work

As the battle for talent rages, employers will need to be as purposeful about replicating the human experience digitally as they are about replicating the work digitally. VR and the metaverse present opportunities to digitize in-person time and create a sense of connection, but until these technologies become as ubiquitous as the internet, companies should be as intentional about bringing their teams together in the virtual world as they are in the real one.

"Purpose and execution matter equally in the success of both," Pryor said. "Alternatively, when the opportunity does present itself for teams to gather in person, don’t use that precious time to do work. The best collaboration emerges from trust, and this is fostered through shared experience. Invest in fun activities that facilitate organic conversation and build psychological safety."

Basics Are the Key to Improved Employee Experience

As companies head into the new year, they need new remote tools but also better HR management. Hybrid and remote working is proving to be highly desirable and is driving big movements in the job market as people search for flexibility and more open, trusting management cultures, said Lars Hyland, chief learning officer of San Francisco-based Totara Learning

Employee engagement is closely linked to workplace productivity. Consequently, a lack of engagement is costly, with lost productivity equal to 18% of annual salary and replacement costs of one-half to two times the employee's annual salary when they leave. It's simply good business practice to offer the best possible employee experience to retain and motivate high-performing people.

This does not mean focusing on rewards, perks and quirky workplace environments. In fact, Hyland said, recent research suggests focusing on the basics of good management practice and respectful communication has the most impact on engagement, resilience, commitment and performance. There's a deep connection between learning, engagement and performance management practices and employee motivation.

“Organizations that persist with separate teams and silos to deliver these support services undermine their own efforts,” he said. “An integrated, aligned HR function that considers the actual everyday, individual experience they serve up to each employee is better equipped to manage the transition to a balanced, hybrid workplace."