A version of this article originally appeared in ManageEngine Academy.
Many years ago, I was in a mentoring program that was known for how well it matched mentors to mentees. My mentor was a VP of Marketing in another large corporation, and he was surprised to learn that I was an IT Director. As an employee (and business executive), he had a negative opinion of IT and viewed it as an inhibitor to his job and the business.
Although IT is now recognized as a valuable company asset, the majority of employees are not completely satisfied with the technology environment in their companies. In fact, The Experience 2020 Report: Digital Employee Experience Today (Nexthink and Vanson Bourne) revealed that 83 percent of the study’s employee respondents believe that their employers should improve the digital employee experience.
Employees’ technology expectations are driven by their life outside of work. These expectations have changed with each generation based on the impact of technology in their daily lives. All generations in the workplace expect technology to seamlessly improve and facilitate the way they work. The youngest generation in the workplace, Gen Z—which is composed of digital natives—wants to work with cutting-edge technology even if they aren’t working in the tech sector. Additionally, they’re willing to leave jobs to work with the latest and greatest technology tools. They believe that this will help them stay productive and deliver the expected business results.
According to the aforementioned The Experience 2020 Report, employees identified the five biggest risks of poor digital experience as:
- I am left playing catch up
- Quality of work is negatively impacted
- I can’t do any aspect of my job at all
- I am left frustrated and demoralized with work
- My customers are directly impacted
The risks identified are a combination of productivity issues and feelings. Successfully improving the employee experience has to include a focus on changing how people feel. If these operational or technology risks are eliminated or greatly reduced, the feelings become positive. Based on the listed risks, employees will be able to take pride in the quality of their work and will not be frustrated or stressed in direct relation to the digital experience.
IT’s role in improving the employee experience
In most companies, employee experience initiatives are implemented by the HR department with little to no input from IT. Employee satisfaction survey results are often the catalyst for improvements. As a result, those improvements typically impact only two of the three key components of the employee experience: the physical work environment and organizational culture.
Therefore, IT independently manages the third component of the employee experience: the technical environment. Because IT is not part of the overall initiative, changes are technology-focused and not aligned with employee expectations or job needs. Furthermore, IT solutions often force employees to change how they work instead of enhancing or improving their efficiencies. Today, this approach needs to be reversed. Instead of making employees adjust to the technology, companies need to make the technology adjust to the employees. This results in higher employee engagement and productivity as well as a better overall employee experience.
Although the technology solutions that favorably impact business and employees are different for all companies, laying the foundation for success is the same. Here are six foundational elements that IT needs to institute to successfully improve the employee experience and help meet business goals:
- Become a partner in the employee experience initiative.
- Understand the employee experience today.
- Go beyond the survey in capturing feedback.
- Make it easier for employees to do their jobs.
- Measure the whole experience, not just operational aspects.
- Continually innovate and enhance the technology environment.
- Partner in the employee experience initiative
IT needs to be a partner with HR for the employee experience initiative. It’s essential for IT to fully understand all aspects of the employee experience and what is needed to keep employees engaged and productive.
IT can also help to improve the physical environment of the company (which also impacts culture). Even small amenities, like USB charging ports in conference rooms and dining areas, can help improve the employee experience.
Here are some real-world examples of technology-enabled improvements that are part of the physical environment that have streamlined access, fostered collaboration, and enhanced productivity:
- Touchscreen devices to intuitively control lights, screens, projectors, and temperature in conference rooms and huddle spaces.
- Wireless connectivity to projectors or screens from any device (for employees and visitors). The controls can easily be passed on to other attendees as needed.
- Hardware vending machines, placed in convenient locations, that allow employees to borrow or purchase peripherals, laptops, clickers, charging cables, batteries, power cords, and more.
- When IT approaches technology from an experience perspective, the overall strategy changes. Employee sentiments and perceptions become part of the equation.
- Baseline the current employee experience
It’s essential to understand the current employee experience from the employees’ perspectives. Comprehensively assessing the “Where are we now?” requires collecting extensive information that extends beyond survey results.
Useful methods are:
- Voice of the employee meetings.
- Gemba walks (visiting the place of work and learning the workflow).
- Job shadowing.
- Maturity and productivity assessments.
- Value stream mapping.
- Analyzing success metrics.
- Documenting informal feedback (comments).
When IT is involved in these information gathering initiatives, they have a more complete understanding of employee productivity needs and current sentiments.
Go beyond the survey
IT teams have much more insight into the employee experience than they may realize. Any employee-facing IT team regularly learns vital information about the employee experience. This vital information is usually lost since it is not documented.
Nate Brown, founder of CX Accelerator, found an easy and effective way to help the contact center capture valuable customer comments. He provided all contact center agents a CX Magic Button. The buttons are brightly-colored and plug into the USB port of agents’ workstations. Not only did it provide a physical reminder to capture the information, but it integrated with the CRM tool and was amazingly easy to use.
Pressing the button opened a feedback page where all types of feedback from various touchpoints could be combined with contact center data. They performed text analysis to track trends in the comments, which identified where to focus first.
It’s vital that this collection of EX data becomes an ongoing practice that drives continual improvement. Once we have insight into employee perceptions, we can better ensure that technology enhances the way they work rather than hinders it.
Make it easier for employees to do their jobs
Employees want their technology to be intuitive, reliable, and easy to use. When there’s an interruption, they expect to get back to productivity quickly and conveniently. Therefore, when looking at the employee experience, it’s necessary to look at all touchpoints from a process and technology perspective. The goal is to minimize the effort employees need to make to use technology in their jobs and to get support if needed.
Eliminating unnecessary steps, setting expectations, keeping customers informed, and streamlining processes can help minimize employee effort and increase satisfaction. Here are some other ways companies have minimized employee effort and improved the experience:
To order preapproved hardware from the service catalog, a form was created that already included the company discount code. The employee simply had to enter contact information and shipping information. The approving manager’s email address and negotiated pricing were autogenerated on the form. Once the Order button was pressed, the form routed to the manager for approval and to the vendor for fulfillment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees were using applications and/or working from home for the first time. Teams proactively prepared them in various ways:
- Emails that set expectations and provided links to self-help and training
- Instructional videos
- Documented step-by-step procedures
- Status updates on hardware shipments in the service catalog
- Answers to frequently asked questions
- Checklists and recommendations for what they needed to work from home
Not only did this reduce the number of contacts to the service desk, but it also gave employees the information they needed prior to leaving the office and working from home. It built confidence that they could work from home successfully and that IT was enabling them to do it.
Measure the experience
Most IT metrics are operational in nature and measure individual transactions or operational efficiency, not the overall experience. Employee feelings and perspectives are tougher to measure and not something IT traditionally captures outside of a customer satisfaction (transactional) survey.
CitrusCollab, a company focused on improving the employee experience, shares two ways to improve the employee experience:
- First, recognize that employees’ feelings and perceptions are cumulative. In other words, they are not based on one interaction with IT or one negative experience with technology. They’re based on the accumulation of all interactions and experiences. CitrusCollab states that these “moments over time” need to be considered when measuring the employee experience.
- The second way is to include experience indicators in measuring success. These indicators are used in experience-level agreements (XLAs) and are aligned with SLAs. This changes the focus to the experience as a whole instead of transactions. The combination of SLA indicators and experience indicators (XIs) allows us to comprehensively measure the experience.
XIs are based on what we learn from the comments and feelings of employees. In the case of Joe, a source of frustration was not knowing when his reports would work and not being updated by support. To avoid creating frustration for employees, we’d design our procedures and processes to prevent frustration related to communication. We then add these to the XLA through a series of XIs that are aligned with operational indicators. Adding XLAs helps redefine the value we need to deliver and the way we measure success.
Innovate and enhance
Employees and IT have a different perspective on successful innovation. In The Experience 2020 Report, IT respondents felt that they were providing innovative solutions, yet employees rated them much lower.
Innovation needs to focus on optimization, which could be as simple as reducing time, automating, or allowing employees to provide ideas for increasing productivity through technology. Additionally, when IT evaluates or considers new technology, employees should be involved in the process. That is the only way to know if the technology enhances their work and increases productivity.
Here are examples of fostering innovation:
- An IT department that supports employees at construction sites supported their core company value of innovation by allowing employees to try new technology in their jobs. If they require support, they receive “best effort,” which is 10 minutes. If the issue isn’t resolved, the employee involves the manufacturer. If the technology increases productivity, there is a process for submitting a request for it to be considered.
- In a company that provides insurance for farmers, agents were equipped with laptops and printers so that they could print contracts and have them signed at the customers’ farms. Dust was ruining the printers, and IT recognized the frequency and cost of printer replacements. They provided a digital solution that eliminated the need for on-site printers. Agents were able to get a digital signature on-site. Both the agents and the external customers were much happier!
- An IT department supporting science labs is interviewing employees about how Google Glass could benefit their work. They’re involving them in testing, and measuring the benefits to see if there is enough business value to purchase and use them.
In each of these companies, employees rate innovation high and are happy with the evolving technology environment. IT is not making technology decisions in a vacuum; they’re going to the source and providing solutions that make employees’ jobs easier, which in turn increases quality and productivity.
Focusing on the employee experience goes beyond making employees happy. It drives higher engagement and productivity and makes the organization more successful. Additionally, all employees, IT employees included, can see that they’re making a difference for their companies. The value IT adds to improving the employee experience not only makes it easier to do business with IT, it makes the company easier to do business with for its external customers. Building this foundation for value co-creation between IT and employees allows for continued growth and success for the entire organization.
Rae Ann Bruno is the President of Business Solutions Training, Inc (BST), an organization focused on training and consulting in various areas of ITIL, Knowledge-centered Service (KCS), Service Desk Improvement, Internal Marketing, Metrics and ITIL Process Improvement. She was inducted into the HDI Hall of Fame in 2017 and was named one of Cherwell’s IT Legends that same year. She holds several ITIL and HDI certifications and is a Business Associate for HDI ITIL and Support Center certification courses and consulting.
Rae Ann is a member of the HDI International Standards committee and is a frequent speaker at leadership and support conferences. She is the author of the HDI focus books: Translating IT Metrics into Business Benefits and What Have you Done for Me Lately? Creating an Internal Marketing Culture.