Photograph credit: John Doe

Working Well: Building a Future-Proof Employee Experience

Next Gen employees. Greater flexibility. Increased global collaborations. Quicksilver turnarounds. Remote teams. Expectations of transparency around process and purpose. An engaging, consistent experience that provides employees with the means to achieve more and stay with you longer. A clear purpose and the means to pursue it. These are just some of the focal points in the world of work right now, and as you read this you’re likely considering a few more factors for the list. 

But there’s a common thread here. Essentially, we don’t think of the workplace the way we used to. We’ve gotten more comfortable with envisioning a work culture as opposed to a work space. We see the work environment holistically instead of just function by function, and we see employee experience as a whole spectrum of interactions, communications, people, and tasks.  

That’s to be congratulated, though most of us are too busy going at speed to stop and take the time to acknowledge this. But what it means is that our business objectives regarding the workplace have made the leap from an ROI keyed to performance to an ROI keyed to experience, and that includes a far deeper sense of what the real payoff needs to be. We want to know our investment is resulting in inspired, creative, valuable and productive employees who function as an intrinsic part of our organizations. And what’s enabled this new vision of work and have shifted leadership expectations is our access to the technology that can make it happen.  

A Leadership Priority

Two new reports illustrate this shift. The first, a Dow Jones /Wall Street Journal Intelligence Report commissioned by Citrix, shows that buy-in is not the same obstacle it’s been in the past — a progression that has been facilitated by our understanding of the power of employee experience. Of the one thousand senior IT and HR executives polled, 74% rated using technology in service of employee experience as a high or top priority. It’s no longer just an option: for just about three quarters of those in the study, it is the option.

Notably, these respondents include key decision-makers. Half of those surveyed in the study are CHROs or CIOs, while the rest are either direct reports to them, SVP/VPs or department heads. What’s clear is that we’re not just looking for the connection between new technologies and higher employee engagement. We know there’s a connection. What we’re looking for now is how these emerging new tools will drive higher employee engagement and how that higher employee engagement will result in substantial benefits to the employer. We’re embracing the relationship between tech, experience, and business results. It’s now a matter of how we handle it.

So our concern now is not if we should invest in the tech that boosts employee experience, and it’s not why either. It’s how. 75% of those in the Dow Jones/WSJ survey said they expect to see high or outstanding financial benefits from their investments into new technologies that boost employee experience.  

Seamlessness and Accessibility  

We talk about the always-on nature of working now, and that new reality has an influence on many key HR objectives. We discuss the need for a new cycle of continuous feedback and the need to not rely on isolated and periodic formal reviews for an accurate picture of performance; both are facilitated by technology. But along with that always-on quality of how we work is the fact that we no longer have to work at the same time or in the same place to get things done. Remote and flexible working situations are not just trending, they’re taking over as a practical solution to the pressing need for talent: 2019 came to a close with 7.3 million job openings in the U.S. but only 6.5 million people actively seeking employment.  

The responses in the Dow Jones/WSJ study show that we are indeed changing our minds about the where and when of our workforce: 80% of employers cite flexible work arrangements as

having a positive effect on employee engagement, and they’re looking at technology as the means to making it happen. Asked, “What enables knowledge workers to complete tasks

most effectively?” the answers show a somewhat equal concern with seamlessness and accessibility:

  • Unified and secure access through digital workspaces: 32%
  • Remote access: 31%
  • Collaboration and communication through social networks: 31% 
  • Internet of Things: 31%
  • Automation of routine tasks: 31%

No surprises here, as this is in line with a welcome evolution. Why shouldn’t we be able to work whenever and wherever, without being functionally disconnected either from our people or our process? That combination — of moving through tasks without friction and without loss of access no matter where we are or when we’re working — means it gets a lot easier for us to get our work done. And that’s the bottom line: the ideal employee experience enables us to get work done — with ease, with happiness, and with effectiveness. 

Always On: The Need for Digital Wellness

The question of what it means to be always on is was addressed in a just-released whitepaper by Quartz/Citrix. It looks at how leaders can best meet worker expectations of their technology, and how we can build and engage a workforce that is actually productive and happy. In essence, this all falls within a core concept that is going to increasingly important: digital wellness. It’s another indicator that we’re evolving not just our concept of the workforce but the work culture itself — facilitated by the digital environment we work in. We need to measure workplace experience (WX), the report says, and I agree.

Data in the Quartz/Citrix report shows that the quality of the technology we provide our employees is imperative for productivity:

  • Over 90% of respondents who have access to “good” tech at work report being productive. 
  • Just 38% of respondents who have access to “average” tech at work report being productive.
  • Only 12% of respondents who have access to “poor” tech at work report being productive

And productivity at work is facilitated by three key factors in terms of technology, as respondents indicated. When asked which attributes would most likely improve their ability to be productive in the workplace:

  • 33.6% said speed
  • 31.8% said reliability
  • 30.7% said ease of use.

Just how those play into the concept of digital wellness is something we all have to pay attention to, and that’s where I see the next step in our evolution into how we see working. It’s not just a collection of functions, it has to be a platform that enables us to move from task to task without putting hurdles in our way, whether they’re perceived delays, functional glitches or cumbersome operating processes. All play a tangible role in workplace stress — which is not a new concept: the Quartz/Citrix report cites a pivotal UC Irvine study from over a decade ago on what the endless interruptions of multitasking do to our state of mind. All it takes to feel higher stress, frustration and pressure is 20 minutes of interrupted performance. 

More Automated, More Human

It’s certainly no surprise, then, 83.9% of respondents noted that most importantly, new technologies should just be easy to use. And that providing technology that simplifies tasks would be key.  Employees are spending more than half of a typical 8-hour workday dealing with administrative tasks and searching for needed information, the Quartz/Citrix findings reveal. The underpinning employee concern: How can leaders make it better? How can leaders free up their time, so they’re not drowning in these repetitive tasks? We want our employees to be creative; to innovate; to align their sense of purpose with ours. They can’t if they’re stuck filling out 400 forms and repopulating a spreadsheet.

And that’s where the future of work comes in: Automation is a powerful problem-solver. It can automate administrative tasks and optimize workflows, and provide employees with freedom from task fatigue. When we’re looking at employee expectations, automation is a substantial factor in what they really need. Because what employees need from tech to do their jobs is essentially tech that enables them to be free to do it. But it also has to do with a new approach; with “getting out of your comfort zone and re-examining everything,” as Donna Kimmel, Citrix EVP and CPO, said recently on the Citrix blog.   

Is the answer less tech? Never. There’s no such thing, and we know it. It has to do with  providing employees with an employee experience — and a workplace experience — that, in essence, guards them against task overload and frees them to use their skills and their brains and to remain engaged. And that means leaders need to commit to the digital work environment that can do it. I always go back to the same bottom line: you need your talent to want to stay. In terms of the technology that means you talent needs to feel like they’re able to get their work done. Provide them with the workspace and the work functions that enable them to feel good about what they do, and they will. 

This post is a collaboration between TalentCulture and Citrix

Photo by Marvin Meyer