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The importance of a digital employee experience strategy

Carol Rozwell, an analyst on Gartner's digital workplace team, discusses employee experience strategy, the bigger role ahead for IT and the need to redesign workspaces.

Organizations seem to be moving away from the once popular concept of employee engagement to a , all-inclusive idea of employee experience.

While several reports have maintained that developing an effective employee experience strategy will remain pivotal to the success of digital workplaces and business goals, very few companies and HR leaders are successful at designing a unique experience for digital employees in their workforce.

SearchHRSoftware spoke with Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's digital workplace team, to delineate employee engagement from employee experience and to learn more about ways organizations can redesign their workplace environment and fine-tune their digital employee experience strategy.

We're seeing a shift in focus from the concept of employee engagement to employee experience. How do we differentiate between these two somewhat overlapping ideas?

Broadly speaking, literally everything that happens to them [employees] in the context of work is employee experience.
Carol RozwellVice president and distinguished analyst, Gartner's digital workplace team

Carol Rozwell: Classically, employee engagement is considered as an emotional commitment that an employee has to an organization and its goals. That's the summary of the definition we've seen on this subject. The term employee experience, as Gartner defines it, refers to the employees' perception and feelings influenced by their interaction with their customers, leaders, team processes, policies, tools and the work environment.

So, the degree to which employees are engaged at their work is affected by their employee experience. Broadly speaking, literally everything that happens to them in the context of work is employee experience.

A Gartner report recognized employee experience as one of the eight building blocks of the digital workplace. Could you elaborate more on that?

Rozwell: Digital workplace, as Gartner considers it, is a business strategy. The idea is to put in place an environment that is more conducive to people getting their mission-critical work done. That's why we put in employee experience as an important building block in the report. Also, it is somewhat akin to customer experience.

Many organizations are trying to improve how they deal with their customers; similarly, if you're building a digital workplace, you want to make sure that you're making it as easy as possible for people to get their work done, which often involves dealing with the organizations' customers. So, it changes the organizational model in a number ways, but it also changes the interaction model to make it easy for employees to work [with customers] and each other. This is in contrast with some of the older hierarchical models, where you have to go up and down and get permission just to talk to somebody from another department.

What, in your opinion, will be some of the ways employers will look at improving digital employee experience in the coming months?

Rozwell: There are a couple of good examples the way I look at it.

, the IT department has to be more accessible to the employees. They have to be not just problem-solving people, but people who are there to help employees get better usage out of their technology. Therefore, a more proactive and forward-thinking IT role is one. One of the common things we see when we have a facility redesigned is the genius bar, wherein the IT person is sitting right there when you walk in and you can see him. They're pretty much there, and they're approachable.

The second of focus is getting data and analytics to an employee that is contextualized for the work that they're doing and provided to them in real time. An example might be: As a Gartner analyst, I'm on a call with a client, and before I have that interaction, I had access to information that was going to make that interaction much more valuable for the client. Instead of me having to search information, the information is fed to me as needed.

Thirdly -- and somewhat related -- is what we see with the content itself that's being provided. For example, say a salesperson who is trying to close a account -- they will be provided with a great deal of background information on that prospect before they have their conversation. The idea is that, in a digital workplace, there is a contextualization of what is needed so it's not information about everybody that works in a company but the prospect they're working on. And also, it's provided to them as opposed to the salesperson having to search it out himself.

So, those are the few, general approaches that we're seeing in the digital workplaces.

Given that IT is expected to play a very important role, what kind of changes to everyday IT do companies need to consider for improving their digital employee experience strategy?

Rozwell: If you think about it, historically, applications have been thrust upon employees. Our team has looked at a variety of tools that we used to call 'social software' and 'collaboration tools' … and now, we're writing about 'work stream collaboration' and 'meeting solutions.' So, the idea is that these are applications that are much more focused on improving how employees interact with each other; they are also much more intuitive to use, and they simplify various work processes -- holding a meeting, for instance.

To create a really improved employee experience, for example, we want to make sure that, when I walk into a conference room with my tablet or laptop, I'm automatically recognized and allowed to come on the network. I would then be provided with all the information needed for the meeting, and maybe if it was a meeting number two or three in a series, I have the information, the agenda and the decisions from the past meetings. Also, if you look at some of the technology that is intended to improve the meetings itself, we're seeing a lot of visualization. Various vendors provide products that create a visually immersive meeting environment, whereby you can have people in one conference room connect in with people from another conference room and everybody can see each other and bring up the documents or PPTs [PowerPoints] under discussion in the meeting.

Could you share your thoughts on the basic starting steps that would enable companies to design a holistic employee experience strategy and the pitfalls to avoid?

Rozwell: Our recommendation is ascertaining what the needs are of the various segments of the employees.

A pitfall would be assuming that every group of people working in the organization wants the same thing. You'll definitely see differences. So, once you have a good segmentation, then you can start to determine what types of spaces will help people work better than they do right now. Another pitfall is forcing employees to work in an open office space but letting the managers stay in the status quo with their private, floor-to-ceiling offices around the window. That's the worst pitfalls that I see. The antidote to that is making sure that everybody is treated as equitably as possible when redesigning the office floor .

The other pitfall is assuming that real estate or IT knows what employees should have as opposed to asking and getting a good understanding of how people work and then providing … the applications, hardware and space that will help people to get their work done more effectively.

The other point is that old adage: 'Communicate, and communicate.' As plans are starting to be developed to redesign an office space or take on any aspect of the digital workplace, it's essential that people are being told what's going on and why. What we find is human beings being human beings, in the absence of information, fear the worst. So, providing people with as many details as available and frequently communicating how the plan is intended to go, what are the phases, when will they happen -- these will lessen people's concerns and also increase employee support for the changes.

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