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How can CIOs build better employee experience?

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CIO

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For decades, companies have been focusing on improving the customer experience. But comparatively little effort has been put into the employee experience – the ‘what it’s like to work there’.

The COVID-19 crisis has upended that equation, with companies having to make sweeping changes to the way their people work. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella acknowledges, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

Now that the initial seismic shift to working from home has occurred – surprisingly smoothly by all accounts – companies face a new, longer-term challenge: to build trust that they can still ‘hear’ their employees.

How can teams be kept cohesive and staff be supported to continue building strong relationships with each other outside their team, even as long-established staff with existing networks leave, and are replaced by new people who’ve never set foot in the office?

These challenges can’t be solved by technology alone: they need strategies put in place and a program of work around them to recreate the same opportunities that used to arise from hallway conversations, body language in meetings and in-person trips between offices in different places.

While the challenge is apparent now during COVID, there’s broad acceptance that the way we work will have changed forever. If productivity remains as good working from home as it is in the office, things are unlikely to return to exactly how they are once the virus is brought under control, as the current arrangements have benefits for both the employer and employee.

Employee experience has been a nascent space for some time. Companies that have made early investments in this space have already been seeing rich returns: Accenture reports such companies outperform the S&P by 122 per cent and are 21 per cent more profitable than those that haven’t.

As Jeanne Meister, a Partner with Future Workplace, put it – and this falls into the category of things that sound really obvious once they’re put into words – the future of work is the future of worker wellbeing.

What is employee experience?

Employee Experience is about everything an employee encounters and observes from their first day and throughout their entire tenure – from filling in the job application all the way through to the exit interview.

Best practice EX develops a set of options that can be individually tailored to each employee’s needs to provide a hyper-personalised experience for each employee based on their circumstances.

This means that the employer must know their employees very well, to be able to segment them by persona. Then, a suite of services, technologies and processes can be delivered to each employee persona.

This importance of this approach has been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID crisis – large employers are becoming aware that different employee demographics are faring very differently. A McKinsey report found that of fathers working at home, 79.4% reported positive work effectiveness, while employees still required to work on site reported nearly the complete opposite – 70.5% negative work effectiveness.

But drilling down further into that data, McKinsey reveals that remote workers with dependent children are doing better than those without, suggesting that the lack of community offered by the workplace is a key driver of negative work performance.

Even within the work-from-home dads who do so well, 17 per cent reported being disengaged and 15 per cent had a negative sense of wellbeing. What this shows, according to McKinsey, is that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for entire employee demographic groups, and that employee experience strategies tailored to individuals will ultimately be needed.

Building an effective Employee Experience strategy

Employee Experience in most companies is probably where Customer Experience was 10 years ago – there’s unlikely to be a person owning what it looks like, nor a clear strategy/plan, nor metrics in place to track it, or clear integration of technology platforms supporting it.

The good news is that many of the tools and techniques used to develop Customer Experience can be lifted-and-shifted into the Employee Experience strategy design space. Customer journey maps, for example, can be an excellent tool for identifying all the touchpoints, gaps and pain points – in employee processes. Personas can be built of employee demographics to help understand the needs of different groups.

As brand consultant Denise Lee-Yohn wrote in Harvard Business Review, Employee Experience is an opportunity to bring brand values to life for staff. For example, “if a company wants its brand to be known for automation and speed, then the employees’ workplace environment, benefits, performance reviews, and so on should be technology-enabled and fast.”

With that in mind, there are low-hanging fruit that can be picked first:

Onboarding – the process of bringing an employee on board should be systematised and automated, with software tools managing the process, sending prompts to hiring managers and the candidate, and electronically processing all the artefacts like letters of offer, provisioning access passes and ordering office equipment automatically.

Training and enablement – training should be presented in interactive learning management systems, which can then be offered to employees with training progress fully tracked.

Collaboration, creation and sharing – frictionless audio and videoconferencing options should be provided for employees, with integrated whiteboarding, live on-screen document collaboration and secure signing/approvals.

Organisational updates – campaigns should target employees at optimal times, via the most appropriate channel to their persona. Their engagement level with the material can then be captured and used to measure efficacy of communication strategies and improve the next wave.

Employee productivity – electronic document signing should be provided to all employees, with software tools automating database-driven process flows, removing the inefficient ‘print, sign, scan, email’ shuffle.

Employee analytics – customer analytics technologies should be used to better understand employee behaviour. Every staff member is generating volumes of information from their digital interaction every day, and the right tools can help employers understand, segment and better design services to help each group of employees succeed.

So, when resources are tight, and there are only so many battles that can be won, why should C-level executives care about employee experience? Put simply, because companies that do experience much greater profitability – up to 25% higher, according to an MIT study.

Software leaders Adobe and Microsoft have been making heavy investment in tools that can enable better Employee Experience. For example, as part of Office 365, Microsoft Teams allows for live document editing and collaboration right alongside a video or conference.

Adobe Sign has been integrated as Microsoft’s preferred e-signature solution, allowing frictionless decision-making across devices.

Adobe’s Experience Cloud suite, used to build some of the world’s most high-profile websites, is increasingly being tasked to drive automated workflows for smoother EX.

Top 5 tips for improving Employee Experience

  • Invest in modern software tools that make your employees feel that they’re working with the best and smoothest technology, matching or bettering the technology in their personal life.
  • Don’t just ‘hope for the best’ – make sure everything involved in an employee’s tenure is systematised, just as you would plan a product go to market process.
  • Use journey mapping techniques to understand the employee journey and spot gaps in processes and services
  • Don’t wait until employees leave to complete an exit interview! Complete regular “employee stay” interviews to understand current pain points.
  • Make learning and career development a focus, with high production quality interactive learning tools.
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