With a huge number of enterprises now looking to leave a large part of their workforce at home after the COVID-19 crisis, the way the digital workplace is structured and managed is going to change dramatically. One role that is likely to change is the employee experience manager. The world of work has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. As companies and employees navigate the disruption, it is clear that work and the physical offices, will never be the same.
Facing the next normal without a blueprint, business leaders will have an opportunity to accelerate the future of work and reimagine the office to provide more flexibility, resources and new experiences to employees, Santa Clara, Calif.-based ServiceNow’s global director of HR transformation, Tracey Fritcher, said.
In this next normal, work is no longer somewhere you go but something you do — from anywhere. While some workers will prefer direct interaction with their team members from the same location, the advent of the anytime, anywhere workplace of the future will gradually replace the traditional, pre-COVID office.
Productive Employee Experiences
Digitally transformed organizations will give employees what they need to stay productive regardless of location and create a great experience. If people need help along the way — whether that is a piece of new equipment, being able to digitally sign an HR form or request a new mask to go into the office — giving people a single location to get what they need and clearly communicating how it can be used will be critical. “I've talked to people leaders across industries and around the world, and we all see that work and how we think about the employee experience has changed.,” Fritcher said. “The rise of remote work as a result of the crisis has increased the complexity of a return to the office, as well as the need to create a safe and productive employee experience that protects the psychological and physical safety of employees.”
Employee Experience managers will need to lead with compassion and focus on both the emotional and physical needs of employees as well as make sure they can still be productive by leveraging digital technologies that will help us all adapt and design for the next normal. Managing remote workforces and the return to an office requires careful planning, execution, and organizational agility across the enterprise
Whether it is the first employees back to the office or those that will continue to work remotely for a time, all business functions must collaborate to design systems that are easy, accessible, and available across devices. This means that Employee Experience managers must create a totally seamless digital employee experience that workers can access from anywhere, from onboarding to training to team management.
So how can Employee Experience managers create a roadmap forward that brings all this together? Fritcher argue that enterprises need to have confidence that people want to do their best for their organizations and its customers, so it is important to take a people-first approach and remember that this inflection point in the world of work will be defined with the employee at the center and everyone will benefit as a result.
As employees continue to work from home after the COVID-19 crisis, employee experience managers must ensure their workforce is engaged and progressing forward in their employee journey, Cameron Smith, vice president of product management and workforce engagement management at Daly City, Calif-based Genesys, said.
This means not only measuring and assessing employee performance but looking at whether they are getting sufficient training to perform well and receiving adequate coaching and mentoring from their supervisors. Employee experience managers will also need to make sure all team members have access to the tools needed to both do their work and constantly improve.
In addition, the employee experience manager will be tasked with fostering autonomy among employees. “This involves helping team members feel empowered and encouraging them to self-direct how and when they do their work so they can perform at their peak. This might also involve changing the culture around communication and feedback among employees and their supervisors,” he said.
Work Schedules and Employee Experience
New York City-based WithPulp is a remote-only digital agency. Husam Machlovi, its CEO, says that new, big focus for employee experience managers will be to help remote employees implement their ideal working schedules. Traditional work (9-5pms) had workers online at the same time. The sudden shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has a lot of companies implementing remote work in this way. But remote work will increasingly shift away for this model.
Remote work will require some time for synchronization, but for the most part, workers will be able to work on their own schedules. Employee experience managers will need to advocate on behalf of the employee so that the employee’s work life balance is maintained, and they can focus on the results they were brought on board to achieve.
He also believes that the employee experience manager’s role will evolve to have more ownership of a company’s intranet (i.e. a wiki, internal communications, employee directory, onboarding). The intranet will become a more effective way to onboard new employees as well as create communities within a large, remote workforce.
The Role of Human Resources
Dr. Reetu Sandhu is manager of the Limeade Institute which conducts research on employee well-being and experience trends. Limeade itself develops an employee experience platform. “Throughout the pandemic,” she said, “we’ve seen how important it is to demonstrate employee care and that day-to-day responsibilities of HR matter. During the shutdown, HR has been put into a position where they are recognized as critical to organizational success.”
While organizations have always understood the benefits of HR initiatives, they are now truly realizing the direct impact the people function has. Whether it is investing in new technology or mental health resources for employees, the things that used to be viewed as “extra” or “nice-to-haves” are now recognized as necessary to keep businesses operating smoothly and employee engagement high.
However, instead of placing the onus on HR professionals to ensure that their function remains at the table, the responsibilities fall on top organizational leaders to continue an investment in their people function. “The pandemic has shown us that we need to rethink how we view work, and our approach to the entire employee experience. Going back to 'normal' and returning to pre-pandemic operations is no longer possible. We must look ahead and adapt to the changing landscape while implementing what we’ve learned along the way,” she added.
What Can You Do?
Liz Smith, CHRO at Netherlands-based Mobiquity also stressed the "human" aspect of developing employee experiences. She said the key to developing top employee experiences in the current crisis is to develop a culture of trust across the enterprise. There are several things leaders can do to foster a culture of trust and the high performance that goes with it.
To start with, she said, leaders need to recognize that employees are people first and they are multidimensional. Leaders should emphasize professional development of their team members, give employees more autonomy to set more of their own work patterns, and provide input on what they will work on whenever possible.
Leaders should show employees how they fit into the overall organization and how they add value. Leaders should routinely point out the impact of the work that employees are doing. Some employees are so focused on their assigned tasks that they may need help in recognizing their impact on the organization and its customers. Leaders should also recognize excellence, especially immediately after a job well done.
Leaders should intentionally build internal relationships and they should encourage employees to build a strong network within the organization too. Strong professional connections within the organization will deepen employee affiliation and engagement.