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The digital workplace, much like the digital culture that encompasses most of our lives, plays a huge role in the employee journey, that is, the daily interactions and events that make up the daily lives of each employee. Many businesses are beginning to recognize that the digital workplace also affects the recruitment and retention of employees, and in fact, the whole path of their journey, from the day they come for the interview, through the onboarding process, to ongoing training, promotions, all the way to the day an employee retires or moves on.

This article will focus on how the digital workplace can be used to improve the employee journey, from the recruitment process, to onboarding, incentives, data collection and company culture, with employee retention as the main goal.

CMSWire spoke to Dion Hinchcliffe, VP and principal analyst for Constellation Research, and asked him how the digital workplace impacts the employee experience. He said that “Given how technology has pervaded just about every aspect of business at this point, the digital workplace has become one of the cornerstones of employee experience. It's not the whole thing of course, but it's gaining an increased share over the physical workplace and even the cultural/mental/psychological workplace. COVID-19 has recently accelerated that share greatly, and shown how much yet we still have to do to create a healthy, functional, and sustainable digital employee experience.”

How Does the Digital Workplace Play a Role in Recruiting and Retention?

Given that those who are reading this article work in some capacity in Information Technology, the digital workplace will be somewhat familiar to you. Whether it is communication and employee engagement, collaboration, knowledge management, business-specific applications, or agile methodologies, the digital workplace impacts your work. That said, how does the digital workplace facilitate your employee recruiting and retention goals? Additionally, with the recent emphasis on the remote and distributed workforce, how can businesses anticipate and improve the digital workplace of their remote workers?

The same goals and technology that apply to in-house employees also applies to remote and distributed workers. The digital workplace encompases the physical workplace where employees do their jobs, the work-life balance of each employee, and the very technology that allows them to effectively perform their daily tasks.

CMSWire spoke to Mark Whitman, founder and CEO of the recruiting and staffing firm TeamBuilder Search, and asked him about his understanding how the digital workplace impacts recruiting and retention. Whiteman said that “From an employer perspective, the digital workplace offers an opportunity to create a competitive advantage.” He went on to discuss the opportunities that the recent focus on the remote digital workplace provides businesses, and stated that “Companies that utilize virtual working will have greater access to talent. They will no longer be limited to the best talent in the area or the best talent they can relocate. They can recruit the best talent regardless of location. However, companies must learn to effectively lead and manage remotely.”

CMSWire also spoke to Jen Wells, digital and emerging tech talent connector, owner and president of the TalentID Group. Wells stated that “The digital workplace can improve the recruiting process from the perspective of allowing the recruiting process to move forward more quickly. When you are coordinating virtual interviews rather than in-person interviews, people don’t have to take time off to interview or miss valuable time in a day when schedules are already jam packed. Tracking metrics of time to hire, the exact process used, etc. inform decisions moving forward. There should always be a post-mortem or some sort of information tracking to learn from each search.”

Whether we are talking about in-house employees or a distributed virtual workforce, the digital workplace needs to be considered when potential employees are being sought out, during the pre-interview process, during the interview, as a part of onboarding, as a part of the daily interactions between department heads, leaders and employees, all the way through on-going training, promotions and transfers, to retirement or termination. The digital workplace also impacts the type of employees a business attracts during the recruitment process. With millennials making up the largest group in the workforce, the technology, business culture and ideals espoused by a business play a large role in employee engagement and fulfillment.

Whitman believes that with the advances of the digital workplace that are available to today’s remote workforce, a virtual workplace can reduce stress, “lead to greater job satisfaction,” and he emphasized that it can “also lead to improved retention rates. Flexibility and mobility are key currencies in the employment market. This is especially true for people who have family obligations and people who love to travel.”

Like Whitman, Wells sees the positive impact of the move towards a remote or virtual workspace. “The digital workplace, especially as it stands right now with COVID-19, has been wonderful on so many levels for employees. I believe employees will push hard for more flexible work schedules at the end of all of this and in some cases, they may only seek out remote roles.” The impact of the digital workplace has been pivotal, allowing many businesses to thrive during uncertain times through the use of technology. Wells is glad to see the positive impact it has made on many businesses, and stated that “businesses have learned that their employees can still be productive and get work done from home given video conferencing technologies, VPN access, project management platforms, intranets, email, text, etc. and I am seeing them rethink working in the office versus working from home.”

The Digital Workplace Impacts the Experience of Potential Employees

The pre-employment process for a potential employee is often an anxious time, filled with interviews, a close look at resumes and background checks, and filling out job applications. Then, the prospective employee must wait to see if they are called for the second interview, and essentially has to wait like a bump on a log, until they receive the call they have been waiting for.

Employee experience is inextricably tied to customer experience, and in fact, prospective employees want to be treated as well as a business treats its customers. They also want to see the technology that is used at the company, and experience the culture of the company they will be representing. The recruitment process, all the way through the interview process, pre-employment screening, and onboarding process, needs to be indicative of the experience that will occur once the recruit is an actual employee.

The ability of the job candidate to work through an online application using the tools at hand, be they mobile devices or web browsers, starts the vetting process. Additionally, quantitative data can be obtained through pre-employment aptitude testing, enabling businesses to determine if the recruit is suited for the job they are applying for.

Wells reminded us that it’s not just the recruitment process that is impacted by the digital workplace, and more specifically, the relationships that employees build with co-workers and business leaders — a lot is riding on the company culture. Wells stated that “Employee retention is heavily built on relationships so if the organizational culture is not driven by positive, trust-filled interactions, no system will be able to create that environment.”

The Onboarding Experience Is Guided by the Digital Workplace

In spite of the advances made in technology and software, when it comes to the onboarding process, many companies are still operating the same way they did before digital technology changed the workplace. New employees are required to fill out a score of forms, then they have to go through the procedure of getting their picture taken, which then gets processed by an outside company that creates an employee badge for them, though they won’t receive it for several days. They are not aware of the way the company typically operates during lunch hours, or whether they should bring lunch or be prepared to eat out. They are not yet in the business’ backend database, so they cannot access the software they will be using, and since they are not familiar with the software yet anyway, they will have to plod through it once they get access to familiarize themselves with it before they can become productive. With an effective digital workplace onboarding process in place, it simply doesn’t have to be this way.

Wells is a firm believer in the use of technology when it comes to the onboarding process, and stated that “Onboarding can also be improved through better data gathering processes. Research from Click Boarding has shown 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. This makes it incredibly important to check in with new employees along the way and ask for feedback.”

Another aspect of onboarding is providing a new employee with all the tools and resources they will need to do their job and interact with business assets. Devices can be provisioned as necessary, and software should be accessible through a standardized process that is easy to navigate, with documentation, tutorials and videos easily accessible on the first day — preferably with the ability to access these resources outside the workplace.

Additionally, the acquisition of a login password that allows them to access company assets should be immediate and seamless. They should not need three different logins and passwords to get to three different areas within the company. A single sign-in process, or zero-trust security system that makes all business applications and resources accessible reduces complexity and frustration for new employees, while improving the experience of current workers. It is also indicative of the company culture, and provides an intuitive look at how working with the company will be: Is each day going to be filled with frustration and repetitive tasks that could easily be simplified, or will they be working for a company that has already been using an EX program to work out the bugs and glitches in order to provide a seamless environment that fosters productivity and ease-of-use?

An Efficient Digital Workplace Reduces Employee Frustration

Your business may have done many things to improve the digital workplace in the last few years. There may be an ongoing learning program that encourages employees to improve their digital literacy. The employee intranet may have been improved, and is even used by employees as a sort of “in-house social network” we discussed, which has been very useful to encourage a sense of community within the workplace. What may be pushing employees away, in spite of all these improvements, are the daily frustrations and lack of accessibility that you simply may not be aware of.

Recognizing that many of their employees are millennials, some businesses make an assumption that because these employees grew up in a digital era, they are familiar with technology, even if it is something out of their general realm of expertise, such as enterprise search or project management software. Without adequate training, an employee that is expected to be productive will become increasingly frustrated as the work piles up.

Hinchcliffe hit the nail on the head when he said that "The next generation of workers moving en masse to the workplace is Gen-Z, and they are the most idealistic and mission-oriented generation yet. They don't want to come into a workplace and find antiquated tools. One of the most disengaging things you can do is take young and highly motivated workers and then give them a jumble of hard to use and outdated tools, processes, and technologies. I'm seeing increasing challenges with retention as a new generation of workers, which are very familiar with what is digital modern, seek employers who understand what's possible today and help them reach their potential with highly capable digital employee experiences."

One issue that often comes up in discussions about the digital workplace, especially in regards to millennials, is the use of what is called “Shadow IT,” which is not as ominous as it sounds. Shadow IT refers to the use of “rogue hardware and software” by employees — that is, when an employee uses their own device or software rather than those that the business has provided them with or instructed them to use.

Hinchcliffe provides a valid description of the issue, stating that "the digital workplace consists of all the devices, applications, data, channels, and the people we connect with primarily through tech that we need to carry out our job responsibilities. This includes sanctioned and unsanctioned technology both, for it's whatever we actually use to get our work done, from personal devices and applications to officially issued systems and devices."

The debate is typically about the security of the business if unofficial technology is used. Wells believes that the familiarity of use and enhancement to the employee experience make the risk worth it — when it is practical. She stated that, “employees should absolutely be able to use their own devices for work when appropriate because they know the ins and outs of their own devices and therefore they are more comfortable working from them. Not to mention, it saves a company money when they use their own. Also, when subsidized, employees are more likely to purchase the latest and greatest which makes it easier to manage security risks. There are two key factors that can and should impact the ability to use your own devices. The first is that some companies are dealing with highly confidential information in which case it doesn’t always make sense. Secondly, if you don’t have an IT team or outsourced resources to support it, it may not be a wise choice for a company to allow it.”

Whitman agreed that when the risks of Shadow IT are minimal, in specific circumstances it is worth considering, and said that “Businesses should consider the risk and reward of Shadow IT according to their specific circumstances and the needs of each individual role. Shadow IT could involve significant risk for some roles in an organization, but incur little to no risk for other roles.”

A Social Meeting Place Encourages Employee Bonding

Whether your employees are in-house or working remotely, it’s important to provide a social network of sorts for employees — an environment where they can discuss non-work issues and just be normal people discussing the things that matter to them, be it family issues, relationship problems, hobbies, social or political events or current news. This encourages bonding, friendships and a sense of being a part of a team, as well as fostering a sense of belonging.

Hinchcliffe spoke of the need for workplace social interaction when he said that "A sense of social connection and belonging is a fundamental aspect of the human experience, and now technology can take us there and bring us back to the types of places which we crave as social creatures and cleary recognize in a time where our physical workplaces become less important. In an era where organizations are so virtual themselves, we can now count on a host of places where virtual communities convene to maintain our connections to our friends, colleagues, and virtual tribes. These include enterprise social networks, online forums, internal blogs, activity streams, social intranets, and so on. Even team chat and e-mail works in a pinch, but don't scale very well. In any case, we have begun to find a way to maintain connection, cohesion, culture, and situational awareness in new digital channels that can almost replace the physical workplace.”

Wells believes that this is where an intranet and social software can be a very effective avenue for employee socialization, if they are used to their full advantage. She said that “Companies have used intranets for years and other various social meeting places. There is also a growing list of products that provide virtual environments to drive ‘water cooler’ type conversations and promote employee engagement. These tools are great but companies have always struggled to figure out how best to use them and maintain them. As with any new tool or system, there needs to be a dedicated resource or resources ensuring the system is optimized and used to its fullest potential. If not, it turns into a wasted investment of time and money.”

Aside from the social aspects of a virtual meeting place, it also provides a place where employees can brainstorm, and discuss potential business ideas in a no-pressure environment. This is where innovation and creativity thrive, and a business can evolve and grow. By opening the lines of communication in a much greater way than mere emails and chat programs provide, a virtual meeting place gives workers a way to feel connected to the business, and allows them to feel included and vital.

Whitman suggested that although virtual social connections are important, they do not negate the basic requirements and desires of employees. He reiterated that “I’m not saying companies shouldn’t use digital-based social mechanisms for employees to enable collaboration and connection. I’m saying that companies should cover the basics before they worry about putting a lot of social mechanisms in place. People want to be fairly compensated, treated with respect, and to have opportunities for growth and advancement. People want to have managers who remove obstacles that make their jobs harder than they need to be. Pay people well, treat them with respect, give them opportunities for growth and advancement, and remove obstacles that make their jobs more difficult. Virtual social mechanisms aside, this is how you will have good retention.”

Conclusion

The digital workplace provides businesses with many opportunities to improve the employee journey, beginning with the first intersection point that the job candidate has with the business, through the onboarding process and tasks that an employee routinely does each day. A business needs to align their digital workplace with the company culture as a means of improving the lives of each employee, reducing frustration and simplifying procedures, all of which will allow a business to hire more effective employees and retain them as satisfied, engaged workers.

As Erin M. Merchant, technology evangelist at Spoke, reminded us, “Great experience can't just be sold on what technology we provide, but how we provide the tech as an experience of work. The current global situation is an active example that where tools and tech are incorporated as a way to help people work better, together they can be attributed to frictionless work, and therefore part of company culture.”