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In the DWG Institute Q3 Technology Lab held in September 2020, digital workplace practitioners, teams from technology providers Beezy and Workgrid, and DWG experts explored digital employee experience (DEX). This post highlights some of the main takeaways from the two-day Technology Lab. Recordings are also included.

Digital employee experience in transition

Digital employee experience (DEX) is an increasingly popular term and focus for digital workplace teams, as well as HR, Internal Communications and IT. But DEX is also a concept that has different interpretations and is in a state of flux, particularly due to the profound changes to the digital workplace caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In some organizations DEX is viewed differently now than it was at the beginning of 2020.

To explore the different aspects of DEX, the technologies involved and some of the burning issues that practitioners currently face, we settled on “Digital Employee Experience in transition” as the topic for the latest quarterly Technology Lab from the DWG Technology and Research Institute.

The Q3 Technology Lab

The DWG Institute aims to “bring together members and other organizations, technology providers and experts, to share knowledge, ideas and perspectives securely and confidentially, to significantly improve and reimagine the way we work today and in the future.”

One of the key formats for bringing together members of the global digital workplace community is our quarterly Technology Lab, an online meeting that draws on the best of the DWG research programme, existing formats such as our member meetings and Digital Fikas, and input from our members.

In our Q3 lab we were joined by a diverse group of digital workplace practitioners, experts and representatives from our vendor sponsors, Beezy and Workgrid. Over a packed six hours spread across two days we had an excellent set of presentations, discussions, demos, networking sessions and more, to make this our best DWG Institute Technology Lab yet!

Here are eight key takeaways from the session.

1. This is the age of employee experience

With employee experience as the topic of the two-day Lab, it was important to explore different perspectives and definitions, unpack the term, and set DEX into its wider context.

What was clear throughout the two days is that employee experience is gaining traction within organizations and being taken more seriously by leadership; here the digital workplace is playing a major role in facilitating strong employee experiences. The COVID-19 crisis has also turned up the dial on employee experience, highlighting the importance of putting employees at the centre of technology and more.

DWG consultant and research author Kevin Olp opened the Technology Lab with a session about his recent DWG research on employee experience. Kevin explained how employee experience has been around much longer than we think, but suggested we are now entering a new “age of employee experience”. He then went on to explore different elements of employee experience and the contribution the digital workplace makes around:

  • First impressions
  • Purpose
  • Culture
  • Clarity
  • Trust
  • Teamwork

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 1: 6 Elements of the employee experience (EX)

2. Tool proliferation has a significant negative impact on DEX

A topic that we kept on returning to over both days of the Technology Lab was the issue of tool proliferation. Most digital workplaces are highly complex and have a wide portfolio of applications in use, often with overlapping functionality. This can have a negative impact on employee experience, with employees feeling confusion over which tool to use when, overloaded by the sheer number of applications they need to use, and fragmentation in experiences and processes caused by too many siloed systems. This leads to inefficiency, ambiguity and even technostress, and can also hamper wider initiatives to coordinate one employee experience.

We also got a perspective from David Michael, a former CIO and CTO, who said that if there is proliferation of tools, it often means that IT functions haven’t done enough to provide the right toolset; an additional challenge is helping employees to know which tool to use when. David reflected that the answer lies in the approach to managing a toolset and the governance that needs to be applied.

During the Technology Lab we had a very active “chat” thread where tool proliferation and the related governance approaches needed to tackle it were explored. Here’s a selection of the comments:

Any advice on trying to enact tools governance where there was previously none? I’m dealing with an abundance of shiny object syndrome and mutiny!

We have made it okay to run experiments in these new tools and been part of the conversation as teams start to use them. Embrace rather than shut down.

It’s certainly difficult to find the balance of supporting employees to have a voice or choice of tools. I think the governance is key, and if you end up with multiple tools that can/could serve the same process or teams use the tools differently that certainly can be hard to manage.

I switched jobs in July 2019 and had so many disparate systems to learn with cutesy names and acronyms that I had to write a Post-it note to myself that said “NO MUTTERING” because it was SO frustrating. And, I was pretty familiar with most of the tools. The disparate logins and lack of a clear place from which to access tools drove me wild.

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 1: Digital workplace practitioner perspectives on DEX

3. Senior management engagement and product management mindsets help drive DEX

During the Lab we also explored multiple practitioner perspectives on DEX and what teams can do to drive it forward. Here, different themes emerged including:

  • the importance of undertaking user research and identifying the various touchpoints different employees have during the working day and understanding the tasks they need to complete
  • having the right conversations with senior management so they understand the issues involved and see the importance of DEX
  • having a product management mindset to really craft experiences around customers (in this case employees) over the long term.

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 1: Digital workplace technology provider takes on DEX

4. Employees just want to get things done

Another recurring theme was that employees just want to get things done. In designing digital experiences, we need to consider that busy employees just want to complete tasks in a painless and timely fashion. Successful DEX usually means providing a simple and straightforward way to deliver task completion; digital workplace professionals have a responsibility to remove those barriers to getting things done.

Jay Graff, a Digital Associate Experience Strategist at JM Family Enterprises, told a compelling story he used to engage senior stakeholders by comparing customer experiences of using Uber (where the app knows you and ordering a vehicle is instant and effortless) with the convoluted steps that employees needed to take to hire a temporary vehicle inside the company. This anecdote resonated with many of us, not only as digital workplace professionals, but also as our experiences as employees.

Comments in the chat thread included:

Employees don’t care what system it is (to an extent, especially if it’s not a core system). They just care about “their” need. I need to find this piece of information, I need to submit an expense, I need to order a better chair for my home office, etc.

I just wrapped up a survey of our ESN and this is exactly what we find – people are there for a specific reason. Not necessarily the community or the KM.

I always used to think about what employees care about during introduction calls on our intranet. Where’s the HR info on holidays, how do I fill out my timesheet and find my teammates…

5. Organizations need to start by bringing together a cross-functional team

The scope of DEX is so broad that it needs a wide group of stakeholders and people from right across the organization to be involved. Inevitably, this means breaking siloes and creating cross-functional structures to drive forward DEX both in terms of senior stakeholders to ensure governance but also as regards the more operational teams too. During the session we even heard about some roles that are being created to oversee this, which sit outside HR, IT and Comms. In her summary of Day One themes ,Keeley Sorokti, Director Knowledge Sharing at The Ounce of Prevention Fund, raised the question of who should actually lead the DEX strategy.

The cross-functional theme was also reflected in various comments in the chat thread:

It strikes me that having the intranet, KM and even Learning and Development teams roll up into an employee experience team might be an interesting org structure.

Online community and digital workplace professionals have so many of the skills and experience to move into roles like this. We already have a very strong cross-functional view of the organization and often see connections that others don’t.

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 2: Reflections and insights from Day 1 on DEX

6. The experience layer is not only aspirational, it’s achievable

One of the major directions of travel for teams creating a digital employee experience is to create some kind of “experience layer” across all the applications and solutions that employees use every day so that employees only have one place to go to access the tools and information they need, with a consistent, simplified and personalized user experience.

In the past, the idea of the “experience layer” has been essentially aspirational, but now thanks to the evolution of sophisticated products across the digital workplace, some kind of experience layer is actually achievable. Both Workgrid and Beezy fulfil this need with software that has been built around the needs of the user, with the easy ability to plug in different applications and deliver information and transactional capabilities across one well-designed interface, for example, through the intranet.

Organizations using solutions like Workgrid and Beezy allow teams to meet two of the challenges already highlighted – trying to ease the impact of application and information overload caused by tool proliferation, and meeting the desire of employees just wanting to get things done.

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 2: Managing Change & New Way of Work (with Workgrid)

7. Intelligence is the new frontier of the digital workplace

In the sessions led by the technical providers we got some glimpses of what the near future of the digital workplace looks like, with examples of how solutions like Workgrid and Beezy are starting to use artificial intelligence (AI) and the combination of different types of data to deliver more intelligent solutions for employees. Here the emphasis seems to be on doing what we already do in better, smarter and more effective ways rather than creating new solutions from scratch, for example with the creation of smarter auto-tagging of content and presenting choices for content owners to validate. Employees don’t necessarily want new features in their tools, but things that actually work really well.

With the evolution of the Microsoft Graph and Microsoft’s Project Cortex we’re also likely to see more examples of intelligent solutions across Microsoft 365. It seems intelligence may be the next frontier in the evolution of the digital workplace and DEX. Here, smart solutions that actually work will trump the new and shiny.

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 2: Beezy’s evolution to an intelligent workplace

8. Start conversations, find your story, gather data, formalize next steps

As we wrapped up day two of the Technology Lab, participants reflected on next steps and how we can make DEX happen. With many organizations still at the very early stages of their DEX journey, the emphasis was very much on placing DEX on the agenda and getting started. Several themes emerged, including:

  • starting the right conversations with the correct stakeholders to raise awareness and drive consensus
  • finding your story that will provide the hook to ensure stakeholders understand the essence of DEX and its importance
  • gathering data to drive home the message and enable the right decisions to be made
  • formalizing next steps by articulating strategies, designing approaches to governance and planning your roadmap.

Comments in the chat thread from DWG’s Nicole Carter succinctly summed some of these points made by practitioners:

From David Michael: Go and talk to your CIO/CTO (whoever is in charge of tech). Get to know them and find a way to really connect. They are all busy and have a number of high priority things they are focusing on. Often internal communications/intranet/internal collaboration is not one of them. So be a resource, be an asset to them and offer to be the connection between what the end users want/need and the tech team. In other words, go and collaborate with your head of tech!

From Jay Graff: Basically, you have to find that story that demonstrates in a simple, elegant way what you are trying to accomplish. It is your elevator pitch based on an example from your digital experience outside the walls of your company compared to inside the walls.

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 2: Taking action in your organization

DWG Institute Technology Lab Sep 2020, Day 2: Key takeaways from DEX in transition

Our thanks to everyone involved, including the Workgrid and Beezy teams, for an excellent DWG Technology and Research Institute Technology Lab.

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About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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