What is the digital employee experience – and why should businesses care?
Also, how does it differ from the “employee experience” in general?
In this article, we’ll explore these concepts in detail, including:
- A definition of the digital employee experience
- The digital employee experience vs. the employee experience
- The organizational benefits of a great digital employee experience
- How to design and manage the digital employee experience
- Best practices for designing good experiences – and pitfalls to watch out for
Among many other things.
Let’s start with the fundamentals – what “digital employee experience” means, why it matters, and other frequently asked questions.
The Digital Employee Experience at a Glance
According to Salesforce, customers aren’t the only ones who expect great experiences from their companies … employees do too.
Salesforce research says that:
- 71% of employees want the company they work for to provide the same level of technology as they use in their personal lives
- 78% of IT leaders say that projects related to the digital employee experience are a higher priority than two years previous
- High-performing companies are 4.4X more likely to rate improving the employee experience as a critical priority
The employee’s digital experience, in other words, is becoming more and more relevant to business growth and development.
Below, we will cover exactly why this is … and what companies can do about it.
Digital Employee Experience: FAQ
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the employee’s digital experience (with answers):
What is the digital employee experience?
The digital employee experience refers to an employee’s digital interactions within their work environment.
These interactions include:
- Employees’ digital workflows
- Workers’ interactions, proficiency, and productivity with their tools and technologies
- Digital adoption of new technology, including onboarding and training
- The usability of digital tools
And, ultimately, how factors such as these contribute to employees’ value and profitability in the workplace.
The employee experience vs. the digital employee experience – what’s the difference?
Is there a difference between “the digital employee experience” and “the employee experience”?
The difference is subtle, but yes, there is a difference.
The digital employee experience focuses on workers’ interactions with their digital tools and the digital workplace.
The employee experience, however, revolves around a brand’s interactions with its workers.
These interactions cover the entire employee life cycle, including:
- Pre-hire communications
- Orientation and onboarding
- Daily work duties
As well as post-exit interactions, such as exit surveys or interviews.
The emphasis in this case, clearly, is on employees and their interactions with the company.
However, it is important to note that all experiences have a digital component – this should be considered when managing the general workforce experience.
Why should businesses care about the digital employee experience?
As we will discover below, there are many reasons to improve the digital workplace experience.
A better digital experience offers many benefits, such as:
- Improved worker satisfaction
- Increased longevity and retention
- Greater productivity
- A streamlined workplace
- More efficient business processes
See below for more reasons to create stellar digital employee experiences.
What makes a great digital employee experience?
Given the elements covered above, what can organizations do to improve their employees’ digital work environment?
Here are a few ways that organizations can enhance the digital experience for their workers:
- Adopt modern tools and technology that are usable, user-friendly, and productive
- Ensure workers are proficient and productive with their tools
- Adopt new tools efficiently and quickly, minimizing onboarding friction
To name just a few.
Below, we will discuss these concepts in much more detail.
What are the pros and cons of investing in the digital employee experience?
As with any other business process, the digital employee experience is an investment.
And, as with any investment, businesses should weigh potential costs against potential downsides.
We have already seen many of the benefits of good employee experiences.
But what costs are involved?
Organizations should consider:
- The cost of the digital tools
- Training costs, as well as productivity lags that occur during digital adoption
- Management costs, such as those associated with change management and employee experience management
- The costs associated with organizational change
And so forth.
Clearly, there are a number of expenses associated with digital employee experience management.
In today’s fast-changing digital environment, however, it is vital that businesses stay modern and digital – and the digital employee experience is a crucial piece of that puzzle.
The Biggest Problems with Today’s Digital Employee Experience
Some may wonder why the “digital employee experience” is even an issue at all.
In the modern enterprise, the digital experience has become a concern for several reasons:
- Digital workplaces are becoming more complex by the day. Every year, enterprises introduce new digital tools into the workplace. Each tool comes with its own learning curve. And when we consider that employees must learn to use many new tools simultaneously, then it becomes clear that this complexity can quickly become a roadblock to productivity.
- The employee experience impacts their contributions to the organization. Employees are people, and their workplace experience directly affects their output. As we touched upon above, the better the employee experience, the more they contribute to an organization.
- Poor digital experiences hinder digital growth efforts. Digital disruption and transformation are driving organizational change across nearly every industry. But if employees’ digital experiences aren’t managed well, they can hinder digital growth instead of enhance it.
Problems such as these can quickly build up, cascading into even greater problems for an organization, including:
- Inability to fully utilize their digital tools. “Deploying” software is not the same as fully utilizing it. Fragmented digital experiences, poor onboarding, and ineffective training, for instance, prevent organizations from fully utilizing their software investments.
- Inability to maintain a productive workforce. Employees are under constant pressure to learn new tools and processes. However, in such an ever-changing work environment, it is all to easy to forget new techniques and processes. This, in turn, keeps workers from achieving full productivity.
- Failure to achieve organizational objectives. Inefficient digital employee experiences, as we have seen, can hinder organizational productivity and growth. Ultimately, this can result in a failure to achieve business aims and objectives.
In short, the digital employee experience is critical for businesses to function effectively in the digital economy.
Benefits of Improving the Digital Workplace Experience
Above, we briefly reviewed a few reasons to invest in the digital employee experience.
But let’s explore some of those benefits in more detail:
- More satisfied, happy workers. Employees who enjoy their work experience – digital or otherwise – will be more satisfied. This will, as a consequence, positively affect longevity, loyalty, and many of the other metrics covered below.
- Greater employee productivity. Better digital employee experiences keep workers engaged. And engaged workers will be more proficient, skilled, and productive.
- Less frustration and friction with digital tools. Users who have better experiences (through better employee training, for instance) will become less frustrated. This, in turn, will positively impact every area of their work life, from their day-to-day work duties to their interactions with coworkers.
- More bottom-line profits. Ultimately, good digital employee experiences will positively impact an organization’s bottom line. All of the reasons covered so far – from heightened employee productivity to increased retention – help an organization both save and make more money.
Clearly, there are a number of reasons why an organization should consider investing in the employee experience.
However, what areas affect the digital employee experience?
Key Factors that Impact the Digital Employee Experience: A Deeper Dive
Connected, digital employee experiences significantly impact worker productivity, business process outcomes, and ultimately an organization’s bottom-line results.
In other words, a good digital experience is essential to helping employees do their jobs.
Here are a few key factors that directly affect the employee digital experience:
Digital Tools and Technology
Digital tools themselves are one of the most important elements of the digital work experience.
Good tools should be both profitable and usable.
After all, if employees can’t use a tool, they will become more frustrated, less motivated, and less productive.
Employee Skills and Proficiency
For the reasons just mentioned, employee onboarding and training should remain a top priority.
Efficient training helps increase user productivity, software ROI, as well as enhancing the overall worker’s experience.
After all, workers who are more productive will be more satisfied and engaged with their day-to-day jobs.
Workflows and Business Processes
How tools are used is another important element of the digital experience.
Digital workflows, for example, can be more or less connected to core business processes.
The more integrated the tools, the workers, and the processes, the more streamlined the digital employee experience.
Organizational Culture and Climate
An organization’s culture, as we will soon see, also plays an important role in the digital experience.
Culture determines how employees behave, respond, and react to new digital tools.
This, in turn, affects their experience and their contributions in the workplace.
Next, we will look at some of the best ways to improve these areas, so organizations can produce a workforce that is more productive, profitable, and prepared for the future.
The Digital Employee Experience and Preparing for the Future of Work
The nature of work is changing, and some claim we are undergoing another industrial revolution.
Deloitte calls this “Industry 4.0,” for example.
Understanding the digital transformation revolution will help us grasp:
- The future benefits of crafting excellent, consistent employee experiences
- How these digital experiences will prepare employees and organizations for the future economy
- What “good” employee experiences should consist of
In other words, unless we know what’s in store in the coming years, organizations won’t be able to align their experiences with the demands of tomorrow’s economy.
Different research firms each have their own views on what the future of work will look like.
But they also share many common themes, such as:
- Continued disruption from new technologies. AI, IoT, automation, and mixed reality are just a few examples of technologies that have yet to hit the mainstream. Yet when they do, we can expect large-scale disruptions as big – if not bigger – than those we have already seen.
- Data-driven design. The value of data is indisputable. It has become increasingly central to the design of everything from products to business models. McKinsey has even claimed that data should become integrated into organizational culture.
- Real-time insights. Real-time data and insights will come from every direction – customers, competitors, and the Internet of Things, to name just a few examples. Increasingly, businesses will need to digest, understand, and react to that data in real-time. This will require, among other things, a workforce that is ready and able to act on those insights.
- New business models, revenue models, and value models. Tomorrow’s business structures will look different from those we are used to. Today’s most innovative companies, from Tesla to Amazon, have become so dominant precisely because they have innovated with technology and focused on the end user experience. For the workforce, this often requires a fundamental shift in the way business value is perceived and delivered.
- Increased integration between humans and workers. The truly digital workplace requires a seamless integration between workers and their tools. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the complexity and learning curves involved often create large gaps between employees and their tools. In the future, the most efficient organizations will keep this gap as narrow as possible, enabling a workforce that is efficient, effective, and adaptable.
Trends such as these will define the future of work, business, and the individual worker’s experience.
This picture of the future business world should act as a guide when creating the digital work experience.
Understanding these future trends, after all, will help a business create a workforce that is more suited to operate in that future ecosystem.
But practically speaking, what should an organization do to prepare its workforce for the future?
One of the best ways is to design digital employee experiences that help to shape and guide workers towards that future.
How to Enhance and Streamline the Digital Workplace Experience
Here are a few steps that businesses can take to improve the digital experience:
- Develop a goal-oriented strategy. The very first step is to understand the value that an enhanced employee experience can bring. That value can then be translated into hard, achievable goals … and a strategy for achieving those goals.
- Create a roadmap for change. Organizational change is common for many organizations today. And any business that wants to improve its digital employees’ experiences should create an action plan and a roadmap, based on the strategy developed above.
- Improve each stage of the employee life cycle. The employee life cycle, as mentioned, covers an employee’s interaction with a brand from start to finish. One method for improving the digital experience is to evaluate the digital component of each stage, find pain points, then make improvements.
- Enhance digital onboarding and training. Proficiency and productivity, because they are so crucial to efficient workflows, should be a top priority. The right employee training approach can accelerate employee learning, improve employee satisfaction, and so forth.
- Initiate employee well-being programs. Employee well-being programs, or corporate well-being programs, help workers stay healthier and happier at work. These programs can range in scope, including everything from workplace yoga classes to regular corporate retreats. For employees immersed in a digital workplace, well-being programs can offer much-needed balance.
- Adjust the organization’s culture. Organizational cultures can help businesses seamlessly integrate workers with their workplace … or they can do the opposite. A culture that is digitally-friendly, open to change, and agile can help improve the digital employee experience. Cultures that resist change and digital ideas, however, can have the opposite effect.
- Maintain consistency. When the workplace experience is overly complex, fragmented, and inconsistent, inefficiency is a natural consequence. To maximize efficiency, businesses should maintain consistency around the digital experience, expectations, workflows, processes, and so forth.
- Decrease complexity as much as possible. In today’s complex digital work environment, this can certainly be a challenge. Each year, the number of digital tools is continuing to grow, making the digital work experience more complex, intimidating, and even overwhelming. The right tools – such as Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) – however, can simplify that complexity and keep employees more engaged.
These are just a few approaches for improving the digital employee experience.
One underlying theme that runs through these ideas is reducing complexity.
Deloitte offers one compelling solution on how to do just that:
Transforming and Unifying the Digital Workforce with Unified Engagement Platforms
According to Deloitte, developing a digital workforce should be an approach that is “worker-centric” rather than “process-driven.”
Deloitte suggests that a unified engagement platform can act as an antidote to today’s complex digital workplace.
Unlike the consumer’s digital experience, the digital workplace experience is a complex array of systems, tools, and processes. They even cite a source that says 70% of workers have to enter the same data into multiple systems to get their jobs done.
On top of that, Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report found that:
- Only 49% of HR and business leaders believed their workers were satisfied or very satisfied with their job design
- 42% thought their workers were satisfied or very satisfied with their day-to-day work practices
- 38% thought their workers were satisfied with their work-related tools and technology
These statistics paint a picture of a disjointed employee experience.
Fortunately, though, Deloitte says that there is hope and a solution – a unified engagement platform.
The right engagement platform can “streamline and simplify transactions between the workforce and the enterprise, fostering greater engagement and driving more productivity.”
A unified engagement platform can decrease the increasing fragmentation of today’s digital workflows, helping brands create the same consistency for employees that they create for their customers.
Digital Adoption Platforms, covered in the next section, work much like unified engagement platforms, helping to create consistent, simplified digital experiences across business units and experiences.
How Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) Can Streamline the Digital Employee Experience
Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) can dramatically simplify and streamline the digital workplace.
DAPs are software training solutions that automate, accelerate, and improve employee training.
They are superior to many other training techniques, such as video courses, classroom training, and so on.
DAPs have a few features that help streamline employees’ digital experience:
- On-demand, contextualized assistance, delivered at the moment of need. Automated guidance is the first, most important feature of DAPs. Because this guidance is delivered immediately, employees can instantly apply that knowledge, and are more likely to retain what they have learned.
- Users are guided step by step through workflows and processes. Walkthroughs take users through each step of a process or task. This improves employee engagement, proficiency, and productivity.
- Analytics offer insight into user behavior and software usage. Training managers and digital adoption managers can analyze software usage. These insights can help them understand learning blocks, how software is being utilized, and what corrective action to take.
Features such as these deliver a number of benefits, such as:
- A simplified software experience. With automated guidance, the software experience quickly becomes simpler and less intimidating. Users are able to focus only on the task at hand, filtering out other software features that aren’t immediately relevant.
- Accelerated training timelines. DAPs greatly accelerate training timelines and help employees become more productive, starting from day one.
- Decreased user frustration and friction. By default, a more streamlined digital work experience decreases user frustration. They are less likely to give up, become frustrated, or burn out.
- Lowered technical support costs. DAPs also reduce the need for technical support calls. After all, when users can get context-based guidance at any time, they will be less likely to rely on human support.
- Greater returns on software investments. The entire purpose of a DAP is to unify, streamline, and improve a digital platform’s workflow. This, in turn, helps organizations reap greater returns on their software investments.
Today, DAPs are more relevant than ever.
After all, a business that invests in a new software platform – such as Salesforce or Workday – must ensure that its users can learn and use that software effectively.
If their experience and digital skills are lacking, then the organization’s returns on its software investment will suffer.
And, given the critical role played by enterprise-grade software, failure to utilize those platforms can hamper organizational progress.
Roles that Manage the Digital Employee Experience
There are a few departments that can take charge of employee experience improvements.
As we saw in the Salesforce research cited earlier, IT often plays a key role in the digital workplace experience.
However, there are a number of other business functions that can help craft and manage the digital workplace, including:
- IT – Naturally, IT will play a key role in anything digital. CIOs and other IT leaders work closely with business leadership to strategize, implement IT initiatives, train employees, and develop the digital workplace experience.
- HR – Because HR handles every aspect of the employee experience, they can also be important players in the digital employee experience. By working closely with employees and other business functions, HR professionals can help analyze employee sentiment, understand growth opportunities, and craft experiences that improve workforce metrics.
- Change Management – Change management is tasked with designing, executing, and managing organizational change projects. In many cases, changes to the employee experience involves some form of organizational change. Change managers can help reduce risk, overcome obstacles, improve efficiency, and optimize such changes.
- Business Leaders – Business leadership, such as senior management or the C-suite, should also play a role in digital experience management. At the very least, sponsorship is a necessity, and can make or break any employee experience initiatives.
In some cases, businesses may create a team dedicated entirely to the employee experience or the digital employee experience.
However, it often makes the most sense to tap into the expertise of a cross-functional team, composed of members from various departments.
Best Practices, Dos, and Don’ts
Here are some tips and techniques – as well as obstacles to avoid – that can help when optimizing the digital work experience.
Here are a few best practices to follow when designing and managing the digital employee experience.
Focus on employees first, technology second. The digital experience is driven by technology, but centered around humans. As we have seen throughout this article, the digital employee experience must be built to meet the needs of employees – not the technology.
Adopt software that is both profitable and usable. The right enterprise software can deliver massive advantages in the marketplace. However, it is also important to consider the usability of that software – if it is too complex, poorly supported, or too difficult to learn, employees won’t be able to make use of it productively.
Adopt effectively. DAPs, covered above, are one of the most effective ways to adopt and integrate software into the workplace. An effective digital adoption strategy makes a significant difference in how quickly, efficiently, and effectively employees can utilize software.
Implement modern business processes. The workplace experience is also affected by business processes and models. Today, for example, agile and lean have become popular because they are nimble, flexible, and responsive. It is important to recognize that business practices such as these also directly impact the workforce’s experience.
Cultivate a culture that is pro-learning. Lifelong learning is the new normal. Today’s workforce – and tomorrow’s – will need to continually learn new skills in order to succeed and stay productive. A culture that is pro-learning, therefore, will be more productive and adaptable than one that is not.
Ensure the workforce is digitally literate and fluent. Digital dexterity is another crucial trait of a successful workforce. Since the entire work environment is becoming digital, digital literacy is a baseline for competency and productivity.
Below are some pitfalls to avoid.
Treat the digital experience as “icing on the cake.” We have already seen the clear benefits of a good digital employee experience … as well as the drawbacks of poor experiences. If an organization treats the digital employee experience as an afterthought, then consequences can literally impact organizational outcomes and revenue growth.
View employee experience management as a cost center. Another mistake is viewing the digital employee experience as a cost center, rather than a revenue center or an investment. Hopefully, the arguments presented in this article demonstrate the clear business value of the digital employee experience.
Take a one-size-fits-all approach. Each business is unique. And each company should create an experience that is uniquely suited to its own situation. Though DAPs and unified engagement platforms can help create consistent experiences, this does not mean every business is the same. Experiences should be tailored to fit the specific climate of an organization.
Manage change poorly. The greater the change, the greater the need for change management. Managed organizational changes are more likely to achieve their objectives efficiently and cost-effectively. Unmanaged changes, on the other hand, are more likely to exceed budgets and timelines … or even fail completely.
Conclusion: The Future of Work Revolves Around the Digital Employee Experience
The nature of work is changing.
To successfully prepare for the future, organizations must focus extensively on the changing nature of the workforce.
If a business wants to design digital employee experiences that improve organizational outcomes, they should:
- Understand the true business value of the digital employee experience. The very first step, as covered earlier, is to understand that the digital employee experience is not a luxury. It is a real business investment that can generate real returns, when approached properly.
- Change the way they view the workplace. Organizations must reinvent their approach to employee engagement and the workplace itself. Today, digitalization is natural, normal, and required. To stay competitive, businesses must be able to adapt and shift the way that their workplace operates.
- Build a workforce – and a workplace – that is prepared for the future. Organizational cultures, training methods, business processes, and other factors all impact the workforce. Building a workforce that is adaptable, digitally literate, and pro-learning will help them stay agile in an era defined by change.
- Invest in their employees today, not tomorrow. Change takes time. If businesses wait too long to invest in the digital employee experience, then it could be too late. Organizations should invest in their employees today, rather than waiting until the ecosystem has already shifted under their feet.
With the right strategy, execution, and tools, organizations can design digital employee experiences that help them reap real, tangible rewards for their organization … as well as individual employees.