It’s Time to Think About the Post-2020 Employee Experience

In these fraught times, most of us find that it’s quite challenging to think or plan about business longer term. Yet the benefits of doing are not only self-evident, it is likely critical at this moment to successfully navigate the challenging journey that now lies ahead of us. One of the most important topics to address in this new reality is how to provide a healthy and effective workplace for our workers.

We are now likely at the end of the beginning of the pandemic. As businesses start to open up, the first major wave of return to work (RTW) protocols have now been released by various regional governments. They give us a detailed sense of the issues and capabilities — exemplified by this excellent RTW checklist from SHRM — that we’ll need to begin putting in place to begin transitioning to what will become our next situational phase of work.

Just as importantly, such views also give us a reading on what we must consider to embark on the process of determining what the new long-term future of our employee experiences will be. One sobering data point: As little as a quarter of workers are willing to resume working in a physical office post-COVID according to a recent Gallup survey. This data has major ramifications, not the least that this means that most organizations will need to provide a remote-first employee experience for the foreseeable future.

The Post-2020 Digital Employee Experience

Second, both our businesses and workers are not in their best shape. We’ll need to focus on wellness and taking the care of the fundamentals when it comes to healthy workers, both physically and psychologically. So too with the business, to ensure it recovers and is better adapted to transformed markets, different demands, and new operational challenges.

While this future is still very uncertain, given the continuing changes in the world, some key elements are abundantly clear: We won’t return to the physical workplace that existed pre-COVID. Nor will we be staying in our present digitally remote environment in its current state, given its apparent shortcomings, especially not when an entire organization now has to run mostly virtual. In this virtual state, the top challenge consistently reported across many surveys is adequate communication and collaboration, most recently confirmed in a broad survey by Buffer, though there are plenty of other challenges to remote work/work from home (WFH) as well.

The Post-Pandemic Employee Experience Will Be Mostly About the Digital Workplace

So much as already happened this year when it comes to employee experience, from the dramatic and sudden shift to remote work in March to a much greater focus on employee wellbeing and health subsequently, among a whole host of rapid and disruptive new shifts. And so much more was going to happen — please see my rueful interview with DWG’s Paul Miller about the many changes in trajectory — until the pandemic hit. Now it appears that 2021 will be the breakout year for a much different and more useful view of employee experience.

As many of you know, I’ve long sought to create unifying visuals of our digital workplaces and human collaboration through technology, as well as provocative views to help us conceptualize the vital work we have in getting technology right for actual use by humans in business. My main theme as always is that technology must be foremost about people, or what is the point?

Now it’s time to take everything that has happened recently, add in all the major tech and societal trends that were feeding into 2020, and paint a comprehensive new and updated picture to see where we are now with employee experience. I’ve already initiatied that process with my informal employee experience board of digital workplace practitioners, IT leaders, user advocates, researchers, vendors, and others.

What does this look like exactly? For the overarching concept, I’m already on record saying that digital experience is ultimately the only thing that truly matters in the end, and that particularly includes employee experience. Everything else is an implementation or vendor sourcing detail. Instead, it’s the nature and quality of the journey itself, the trust and value of the data within it, and communal human connection through digital touchpoints that is by far the most important aspects which we need to get right (and fix) for our workers, customers, and partners.

Because employee experience is badly broken today, congested by ever-accumulating digital channels, an endless multitude of (albeit useful and needed) apps, and mountains and mountains of data with little overall design or thought to how it all works or could better fit together.

I believe it’s time — a true imperative even — to do much better by completely reformulating the worker journey around the experience model, combined with our urgent needs post-pandemic, especially around wellbeing and resilience. Most of us will start at the core of their employee experiences and steadily go outward until we reach diminishing returns. Some will find that it’s better to start the edge and work their way inward. But change we must, because the status quo is near the breaking point in terms of ever-lengthening employee onboarding times, needless cognitive load on workers to manage growing complexity, stagnating worker productivity, and low employee engagement/satisfaction.

The Post-2020 Employee Experience Has No Silos, No Barriers, No Limits

As part of this, I’ve synthesized what I believe is a unified view of what the post-2020 digital employee experience stack looks like, given the pandemic, latest industry trends, and other factors I’ll explore soon. Given the scope of the entire employee experience today, there simply is a lot of necessary components to this view. It will take me several months to full explore it here and elsewhere.

There are number of key points in this model that are important to understand in order to appreciate why it addresses many key issues in employee experience better than previous models:

  • This model merges IT, HR, comms, and everyone else into a single view for the first time. There are no artificial boundaries, and the vision is integrated and unified. This means there are many elements in this view that are unfamiliar to people in each of these functions. That is just fine. We’re all going to have the learn all the moving parts to deliver significant and sustainable employee experience improvements. Note: The view above is the highest level one. I will be releasing the detailed view shortly.
  • If experience is at the core of employee experience, it should be the organizing principle. It should be represented as a recognizable capability on the IT side, and used by HR and everyone else to urgently produce the experiences we need that tap into our full capabilities as individuals and organizations. This is a very different view than in the past where we acquired individual digital tools, touchpoints, or suites, branded and configured them a bit, maybe added an integration or three, and threw them over the wall to workers. Invariably this just added one more thing to the grab bag of apps and systems they have to use. No more. A digital experience model that forms a consistent “center of gravity” for the worker and their daily activities is the most important focus in this model.
  • Automation, analytics, current and coming revolutions in digital experience, consumer-grade user interfaces, low/no-code and the emerging tech spectrum must regularly inform and improve the employee experience. The employee experience must evolve as fast the world, and it must therefore be represented in a cohesive but loosely-structured stack designed to change and keep up. Most organizations will spend the next five to 10 years getting this stack right for them, and they’ll never finish evolving it, nor should they. But it must be the primary focus, along with the worker journey itself.
  • The daily moments of the worker must be the unit of employee experience development and management. This makes it human centered and aimed at the most meaningful work activities. Re-organize disjointed work into singular job activities (sell a product, build a team, manage a project, get a promotion) that formerly spanned many to dozens of siloed apps and unify them into easily customized and personalized digital experience that are contextual, have built-in just-in-time training and can be created by anyone in the organization that needs to.

At its core, however, this is an attempt to put all the moving parts of digital employee experience together — perhaps for the first time in a truly comprehensive view — in what I believe is a new, useful, and compelling way that is centered around experiences while empathizing deeply with two vital audiences: Employees and the business, both.

As mentioned above, this is the beginning of a long exposition on experience-led employee journeys that I believe is becoming the next leading model for digital workplace and employee experience. Please join me here and elsewhere as I continue to explore it in detail, as well those organizations that are already starting to do it.

Note: No view of employee experience could be truly novel of course, as many in the industry have identified or created so many pieces of what I lay out here. We’re all building on the shoulders of giants. What’s different, I would suggest, is a truly holistic and inclusive approach that has the highest chance to be successful at addressing the largely accidental, disjointed, overly complex, and sprawling employee experience that most of us have built up over the years.

Please contact me if you have important contributions to make. Do consult the additional reading below for a fuller view of how all these pieces fit together into a much brighter and more effective employee experience that meets both the needs of workers, the business, and our times.

Additional Reading

How Work Will Evolve in a Digital Post-Pandemic Society

Revisiting How to Cultivate Connected Organizations in an Age of Coronavirus

My 2020 Predictions for the Future of Work

A Checklist for a Modern Core Digital Workplace and/or Intranet

Creating the Modern Digital Workplace and Employee Experience

The Challenging State of Employee Experience and Digital Workplace Today

2 Responses to It’s Time to Think About the Post-2020 Employee Experience

  1. Luis Suarez says:

    Hi Dion, lovely blog post and reflections shared across on the topic of the employee experience and how COVID-19 may have changed the game entirely from here onwards. Or may be not. One thing that I’m missing from your write-up above is something I have strongly believed needs a much long overdue re-think AND re-do. In the space of the (digital) employee experience, I’m failing to see conversations about the new social contract that needs to happen between organisations and their employees in this brave new #DigitalFirst world where the focus is on #PeopleFirst.

    It cannot be we are talking about this very important topic and then we are starting to see more and more firms shattering those social contracts with arguments like ‘If you are now going to be working away from the office (i.e. home), we are going to reduce your salary because you no longer need to commute to the office’. That’s what I would call a failed attempt towards improving the overall (digital) employee experience if we haven’t understood much the whole notion around working distributedly and we still keep rewarding employees through presenteism versus results / outcomes / deliverables.

    We must do better, indeed, if we ought to have an influence in that overall #DEX experience and so far I’m failing to see conversations by those groups you mentioned above getting together to redefine that new social contract under the new conditions under which we are all operating now, in the midst- and post- COVID-19.

  2. Pingback: Homeoffice-Allerlei aus den USA: Kein Dogmen bitte, stattdessen scheint es Richtung hybride Arbeitsplatzmodelle zu gehen – StefanPfeiffer.Blog

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