Reimagining the Workplace User Experience: What Lies Ahead for Modern Workers?

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Historically, enterprises haven’t always consistently prioritised the employee experience (EX). A decade ago, for example, the consumerisation concept became a frequently-discussed objective after the emergence of the iPhone and iPad, the beginnings of a mobile work culture, user-friendly mobile apps, and the rise of the bring your own device culture and shadow IT. Experts said consumerisation was “the propensity for users’ experiences with technology to impact their expectations regarding technology experiences at work”. Developers everywhere raised their game, attempting to refine clunky enterprise user interfaces.

The employee experience concept continues to evolve. Covid-19 has compressed several years’-worth of rising expectations into a two year period of fast-tracked remote working deployments.

Gartner analyst Suzanne Adnams says: “About half of the workforce in advanced economies will need to work in a corporate facility, 25% to 30% will work permanently at home, and the rest will come to the office two or three days a week and work at home the rest of the time.”

As we already know, the technology implications are substantial. For many organisations, they include a need for the following:

  • Personalised workspaces that remain constant while users change location and device
  • Renewed emphasis on network connectivity and application delivery
  • Approach to security that uses the zero trust model as a baseline rather than an aspiration
  • Intelligent collaboration tools that command the respect of employees
  • Increased reliance on the cloud and cloud-native applications

For CIOs, however, the list of concerns doesn’t end here. Hybrid working is creating a set of new responsibilities. Many employees are exhausted. Some want their employers to accelerate the deployment of long-term hybrid working arrangements. Others fear the future and cling to the office. Meanwhile, across the developed world, labour shortages are biting and the war for talent has intensified. The end result? CIOs now have to consider how they can use technology to deliver a better EX. So what avenues should IT leaders explore as they develop strategies for EX that delivers business benefits in a transformed world of work?

Understand the IT role in the wider context

Global HR consultants Mercer are predicting the “rise of the relatable organisation”. They say these organisations will be, “resetting for stakeholder relevance, building adaptive capacity in their people and processes, figuring out how to work in partnership and tackle inequalities, driving outcomes on total well-being, incentivising employability, and harnessing collective energy”. Technology can support this transition. Some solutions offer the possibility of rapidly addressing sources of friction that remain embedded in digital processes, damaging productivity and harming EX.

Examples include low-code platforms used tactically by power users within business units and the use of intelligent Business Process Management (iBPM) to automate repetitive tasks. In addition, the emerging category of Multiexperience Development Platforms (MXDPs) allows in-house developers to build interconnected application experiences for employees across multiple devices, touchpoints and interaction types.

Workplace Personas and Design Thinking

Long ago, Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen, the doyennes of online user experience design, described how good user experiences typically rely upon “simplicity and elegance” to deliver products and services that are “a joy to own, a joy to use”.

Now CIOs need to consider re-emphasising this classic piece of wisdom inside their own organisations. Let’s be clear: the “simplicity”, “elegance” and “joy” of good EX design results in commercial benefits.

This is because customer experience very often depends upon employee experience. In terms of returns or a billing query, for example, the customer experience frequently relies upon interactions with several internal departments. As Jason Wong, VP analyst at Gartner, suggests, businesses need to construct their EX to provide the environment for employees to deliver outstanding CX.

Research shows that managers’ perceptions of work and the workplace often differ radically from those of employees. For example, on average, 75% of senior corporate leaders feel that their organisation takes into account the thoughts and feelings of employees before making decisions, but only 47% of employees agree. In the world of hybrid work, IT management will increasingly need to understand the world as it looks from the perspective of employees.

Many organisations are allocating employees to a set of workforce personas based on their roles. Telemetry data can identify individual work behaviours, mobility behaviour and applications that are or aren’t being used intensively. Interviews and analysis of employee sentiment can generate additional insights.

Personas are very often used as part of wider exercises in what is known as Design Thinking (DT). DT is built around the idea that technology solutions benefit from taking into account a wide range of voices and perspectives from the user community. A typical approach starts by assessing the status quo as it manifests itself to both senior leaders and the wider workforce.

The process might then move on to identifying “moments that matter”, which the strategy consultancy McKinsey defines as “employee life cycle inflection points that, if designed well, can create a disproportionate uplift in experience”. The final phase of a DT involves the deployment of solutions and accompanying monitoring systems to assess effectiveness and financial impact.

What’s clear from the experts is that better EX outcomes are often about the need to balance technology with an approach to workplace culture. In organisational terms, techniques like Design Thinking also tend to rely upon a close partnership between HR and the IT organisation.

We already know that the world of hybrid work involves change for many employees. In parallel, it is now becoming clear that IT leaders will also need to deal with considerable change, both in the way they think about end-user computing and the priorities they set for the rest of the IT organisation.

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