All too often, organizations invest in large technology systems but don’t see widespread employee adoption, in part because these tools don’t reflect how employees actually work. At the same time, workers are clamoring for tools that will help them do their jobs better.
More than half (58%) of respondents to a 2022 Domo survey of employees in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand said their need for technology has increased in the past five years, but their organizations’ tech tools aren’t meeting those needs. Some 60% of the 3,000 respondents, a mix of desk-based and deskless workers, said they could be more productive and do better work with better technology tools. And 62% said better access to useful tech would make them happier at work.
As organizations begin to realize the importance of engaged employees, both remote and in-office, they have started to focus on optimizing the digital employee experience (DEX) — making sure employees have the best experiences with the technologies they use to do their work. And this means all the technologies they use: digital employee experience encompasses every interaction employees have with the multiple digital tools and systems they use to perform their jobs.
It’s critical for organizations to ensure that their employees have the best experiences with the technologies they use to do their work, said Johnny Martinez, director, people advisory and organizational change at consulting firm Protiviti. These days, employees expect an easy-to-use digital experience at work — but getting there isn’t always easy, given the presence of legacy systems, limited budgets, and concerns with change, he said.
The first step to improving employee tech tools is to assess the existing digital employee experience at the organization. Doing so enables companies to determine the strengths and weaknesses of their current digital environments so they can identify the areas they need to improve.
A soup-to-nuts approach to DEX assessment is to monitor and analyze how employees interact with their digital systems. Tracking such metrics as active users, logins, frequency of use, network speeds, and task completion rates enables enterprises to understand where their employees may be experiencing difficulties or frustration.
A burgeoning category of DEX management tools can aggregate and analyze usage and performance data for technologies across the workplace, helping companies pinpoint which technologies are underperforming and providing guidance on how to improve them. These tools don’t come cheap, however, and are resource-intensive to deploy.
For IT organizations with budget or staff constraints, performing usability testing with a representative sample of workers may be more in reach — and can still help identify hidden issues and provide insights into areas for improvement.
But the simplest approach is to gather feedback directly from workers — for example, by conducting a survey of all employees — in-office and remote, desk-based and frontline — to evaluate their digital experiences. The responses will give organizations insights into the areas they need to focus on.
“The easiest way to be sure that employees have access to the right technology is to talk to them about it, listen to their feedback about what’s working and what isn’t, and adapt from there,” said Dan Wilson, vice president and research analyst at Gartner.
Ensuring that employees have the best digital experience “starts with understanding how employees use technology to get their work done and what information they need,” Martinez agreed. “User-centric design thinking can be used to design innovative experiences, determine gaps to close, and validate employee needs over wants.”
George Westerman, a senior lecturer with the MIT Sloan School of Management, encourages organizations to think about employee experience holistically. “Tech alone is not the experience, but rather enhances or detracts from it,” he said.
“When thinking about tech experiences, focus on the tasks the employee wants to do, rather than on the tech itself. Then you’ll be able to find the right combinations and configurations of tech to create a smooth employee experience for every task they do,” Westerman said.
Employee tech optimization in action
For Ivan Dopplé, global practice leader for digital workplace at IT service provider Kyndryl, optimizing employee tech includes consolidating business applications and migrating to modern tools, such as Microsoft’s Power Platform, which has made the employee experience more streamlined and consistent.
“There are fewer obstacles to navigate in order to get the job done, and there is no better way to enable an employee for success than by making their day-to-day [work] easier,” he said.
Kyndryl is also enriching the employee experience with artificial intelligence.
“For example, in Microsoft Teams, we have ‘cards’ that an employee can use to interact with systems like Workday or ServiceNow to perform their most common tasks,” Dopplé said. “This brings all of the things an employee needs routinely to one place. Additionally, we’ve built this with Microsoft’s AI capabilities to be more intuitive and more proactive in responding to employee questions.”
Audio product manufacturer Shure has focused on providing workers with the right technologies to do their jobs effectively and efficiently whether they’re working onsite or remotely, said Meg Madison, senior vice president of human resources. This includes upgraded collaboration tech in conference rooms; microphones and other equipment for remote workers; and improvements to IT infrastructure.
This is a pivotal moment for companies coming off COVID-related workplace restrictions and readjusting to what a “normal” workplace means, Madison said. “Many companies have a mix of employees who are in the office and working from home, so the ability to communicate and collaborate really does depend on the right technology.”
Madison acknowledges that finding the budget to finance tech optimization isn’t always easy for organizations, especially in an uncertain economic climate. “When an organization is experiencing a downturn, it can be tough to balance priorities,” she said.
“I encourage leaders to apply a longer lens to their planning and recognize this as an optimal time to invest in tools and technology that not only boost productivity but also lift employee engagement and retention through a bumpy period,” Madison said. “This just makes good business sense, to fuel recovery.”
Top benefits of optimizing employee tech tools
Experts cite a number of benefits that come with optimizing employee tech tools, from enhancing workers’ productivity in the short term to staying competitive in the long term.
1. Boosting worker productivity
Joel Raper, senior vice president and general manager of digital workplace solutions at IT consultant Unisys, makes the case for optimizing employee technology to help workers be more productive, which translates to time and money savings.
“Can I [cut your workday] by 10 minutes because the tools are more efficient? Are you better at your job because you’re given access to tools that break down less? Ten minutes a day might not seem like a lot, but multiply that times the number of working days, and multiply that times [your] hourly rate,” Raper said.
“That’s a fairly big impact to a company from a financial perspective — and a very big impact to the individual.”
2. Maximizing current tech investments
If companies focus on improving the tech systems they already have, they can avoid purchasing unnecessary additional tools, said Anthony Martin, founder and CEO of insurance agency Choice Mutual. What’s more, making existing systems work better means organizations won’t need to train their employees to use new software.
True return on investment comes when companies are able to exhaust all the benefits of their purchases. “Upgrading your technology and expanding your team’s ability to manage more features on the platform are both excellent ways to increase the value from a single tool,” Martin said. “Consider it all a form of profit when you continue to yield results and discover new uses for your current tech stack.”
Additionally, it may be possible for companies to merge the features of some of their existing technologies to make them more cost effective.
“Say you’re using a project management tool and an hourly tracking system separately. Most project management tools these days have updates that include time-tracking features,” Martin said. “You might not have noted this when you started using the tool, because the update might not have been issued yet. Now that you can get the best of both worlds out of a single platform, your separate time tracking system becomes merely an additional (and unnecessary) cost to your business. That’s one less subscription you’d be paying.”
3. Attracting top talent
Firms worldwide have made strategic plans and big investments to transform their businesses with more powerful computing and networks, said Shannon MacKay, general manager of worldwide smart collaboration business at Lenovo. Some firms are digitizing processes, while others are reinventing the business based on new market opportunities that technology creates. During economic headwinds, these investments might slow, but they are not stopping.
“All of this is occurring during a historic demographic shift,” noted MacKay. “Baby boomers are leaving the workplace, and digital-native millennials are replacing them. These new workers have high expectations for technology in the workplace, and they adopt it more quickly.”
To attract these younger workers, organizations need to offer the best technology experiences. “The smart money will keep investing in technology with proven ROI that helps their teams do more and be more satisfied on the job,” MacKay said.
4. Retaining employees
Limiting associate turnover is a priority at Shure, said Madison. “We have a well-tenured staff at Shure because we take good care of them,” she said. “We hear anecdotally from both our associates and candidates that our flexible work policies, supported with technology, have really resonated, allowing us to meet them where they are.”
Helping employees feel connected and evolving to meet the fast-paced needs of a tech-driven world are helpful — if not essential — in retaining employees, Madison said.
Raper at Unisys concurred. “Think about a worker that gets hired at your company and leaves in the first six months,” he said. The tools and systems the employee uses in the first few months have a big impact on their initial impressions of the company and can contribute to their decision to leave.
Such short-term employees are a drain on company resources, Raper said. “It [typically] costs $30,000 to $40,000 to recruit and [train] an individual, and you just lose that because they’re only here for three or six months. [Investing in optimizing employee tech] is pretty smart money to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
Employees, particularly those in the younger generations, are willing to vote with their feet if they don’t feel that they’re being given the technology they need to be effective and productive, said Gartner’s Wilson.
“Companies need to give everyone a fighting chance to perform at the top level,” he said. “If the technology is what’s standing in the way of them being able to do their jobs and you are not focused on asking them what needs to be done or actively pursuing ways to improve the technology, then you, as IT, are going to be the reason that people quit. And we’re seeing more and more of that happening.”
5. Remaining competitive
With the increasing dependence on technology in today’s business landscape, organizations are recognizing the importance of having employees with strong tech skills, said Bridget Reed, co-founder of The Word Counter, an online writing assistance tool. “The ability to adapt to new technologies and utilize them effectively can greatly contribute to a company’s success,” she said.
“As such, many organizations are still willing to invest in enhancing their employees’ tech experience. This can be done through various means, such as training programs, workshops, and providing access to cutting-edge tools and software,” she said. “In doing so, organizations can equip their employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the digital age.”
Daniel Osman, head of sales and operations at home co-investment firm Balance Homes, agreed. In today’s fast-paced digital world, technology plays a vital role in enhancing productivity, streamlining processes, and enabling effective communication, he said. By providing employees with the necessary technological tools and resources, companies can empower them to work efficiently and stay ahead of the competition.
“Moreover, investing in employee tech promotes employee satisfaction and engagement, as it demonstrates a commitment to their growth and success,” he said. “Embracing technology is essential for companies to thrive in the modern business landscape.”
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