7 Tips for Building Powerful Digital Employee Experiences

It’s no secret that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the nature of how work gets done. Not only has it amplified the importance of the digital workplace, it has also cast a glaring spotlight on what’s working and what isn’t - especially since everyone from frontline workers to the CEO is now impacted.


But while companies are rapidly redesigning every aspect of their businesses to adapt to this shift and make the digital experience a primary focus, their efforts are unintentionally creating more problems than they’re solving.

Pointed solutions being individually rolled out with the intent of making employees’ lives easier have actually made the digital workplace more complex – and frustrating – than ever before. Productivity is hindered by cloud apps that don’t integrate or communicate well together, employees are confused about what apps are used for which function, there are often overlaps in functionality, and shadow IT adds additional complexity. There are no systems to bring disparate services together and each has a distinctly different user experience, which burdens IT with training and support requirements.


Now that we’ve reacted and responded to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, it’s time to take a step back. Organizations need to assess their current digital workplace and understand how they can make it better. This means simplifying the work day and eliminating the frustration points that get in the way of meaningful work. Doing this will require a total shift in mindset, moving away from the traditional approach of delivering services to meet employees’ needs to one that focuses on their holistic digital experience instead.

So how do you manage this shift? Here are 7 tips to get you started…

Tip 1 – Establish formal ownership of the employee experience

Someone needs to have formal responsibility for how your employees engage with enterprise technology, it’s as simple as that.

Yes, it’s an idea that flies directly in the face of how things are usually done. Typically, the concept of “ownership” is relegated to a narrow focus on digital tools or end user computing, but experience has proven that isn’t enough. , The digital workplace has become cluttered with a series of individual experiences that don’t work well together because technology decisions are now made in silos based on each department’s unique objectives, projects, and budgets.

Take this common scenario for example: HR decides to implement measures aimed at improving the employee experience by revamping the onboarding process. Separately, IT chooses to focus on the employee experience by rolling out a chatbot for its service center, and finance rolls out a new mobile expense tool to make submitting expenses easier. Those initiatives are good improvements, but if they require employees to use an increasing number of systems that offer different user experiences, the overall employee experience is going to be fragmented and frustrating.

Establishing formal ownership ensures that a shared vision of the employee experience is established across the organization. This vision should transcend the typical assumption that employee experience is only an issue for HR to be concerned with. The experience owner, ideally an employee experience officer or product owner, would work directly with stakeholders, including employees and specific teams across the enterprise. Using a product management approach, they would build a road map, identify stakeholders' priorities and needs, collect user feedback, and so on. Ownership ensures a common vision is delivered and all stakeholders are represented.

Tip 2: Adopting a modern, employee-focused mindset

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Operating under the status quo is simply not going to generate the experience improvements that are needed to meet today’s digital workplace challenges. Big change will require a new mindset and approach, one that views employees like consumers and focuses on delivering experiences instead of systems and services.

Basically, it means treating the employee experience with the same deliberate, end-to-end consideration you’d give your customer experience. This is especially important for eliminating any friction points that distract employees from their goals, namely the meaningful work that drives business value.

The good news is, we can leverage tactics that are used in customer experience practices to replicate the same quality and consistency of experience for employees. There are several best practices that organizations should consider putting to use…

Leverage Customer Experience Practices

  1. Building out personas to make sure the needs of every employee type is represented

  2. Employing design thinking – a process of empathizing with the people you’re designing for - to make sure you’re designing experiences that meet employees’ needs.

  3. Understanding what has the greatest impact on the employee experience, specifically every moment that matters to employees. This includes everything from big rites of passage like onboarding, anniversaries, and promotions, to smaller daily activities that nevertheless still have a tremendous impact on the daily experience.

(Source: Nielsen Norman Group)

Tip 3: Support for multi-channel & multi-experience

The way users experience the digital world is undergoing a significant shift. Aside from having numerous channels to operate in, technologies like conversational platforms, AI, virtual reality, etc., have opened a whole new world of power and possibility for the digital workplace. But they’ve also made it more challenging to create a consistent user experience for employees across those various touchpoints.

(Source: Gartner)

As organizations add new technological touchpoints, such as voice and wearable tech to the digital workplace, they need to be cognizant of the fact that creating multi-experiences isn’t as simple as copying functionality from one channel to another. It’s about adapting experiences to cater to each device or touchpoint and then connecting those experiences across touchpoints to deliver a seamless interaction.

Consider employees managing inventory in a warehouse. They likely need a different set of touchpoints than customer service representatives who work in an office or field sales executives who spend most of their time on the road. Another example is employees using a variety of different devices throughout the workday, starting tasks on one (their desktop) and completing them on another (their phone).

Organizations need to be aware of those differing needs and usage patterns so they can meet employees where they are in the moment. It’s all about providing the holistic, channel-specific experiences that are best-suited for employees’ specific needs.

There are many great consumer examples that companies can learn from as they strategize about the experiences they want to deliver. Pizza delivery chain Dominos is a particularly good one. They offer more than 15 ways to order pizza (who knew that could even be possible, right?). Customers can use whichever interaction is most convenient - voice on Google Home, messenger, text, smart TVs, etc. - and they can move seamlessly from one to the next, completing the task of ordering a meal quickly. Those are the kinds of experiences organizations need to be prepared to deliver in order to meet the future of work.

Tip 4: Build an open & extensible infrastructure

While the experience of ordering a pizza from Dominos might be simple for the customer, the back-end infrastructure that makes it possible is anything but – and that’s true for any great experience. The behind-the-scenes systems are complex, just like the enterprise systems that run and support your business. The difference is how they are architected.

Modern digital experiences are tailored to individual needs and preferences. But achieving those seamless, intuitive experiences we’ve all become accustomed to requires an open, extensible, and adaptable infrastructure, so businesses can adapt quickly to change and keep up with the pace of innovation.

Uber is the perfect example. The Uber app is easy to use, and the experience is tailored to each user based on their preferences, which are continuously being updated.

(Source: Uber)

But end users are completely removed from what’s happening behind the scenes – a massive
infrastructure that consists of thousands of services and enormous amounts of data, all of which are required to deliver that personalized experience.

(Source: Medium)

Now imagine if that complexity wasn’t hidden from customers. Imagine users were required to complete a whole host of complicated steps to arrange a ride. Far fewer people would bother using the service.

This is how we need to think about our enterprise systems – a seamless front-end experience that helps employees execute quickly on their intent, with all the backend systems of records, information, data, etc., in the background, where it belongs.

Ultimately, digital workplace success will come down to the ability to manage the experience as its own layer.

The need for insulating employees from the complexity of enterprise technology is evident in the increasing use of microapps and experience layers.

Experience layers give organizations the flexibility to control and design experiences that meet employees’ need - all while maintaining investments in the best-of-breed business applications that keep a business running. The result is a seamless, simplified front door to the digital workplace that helps employees be effective whenever its convenient for them.

Tip 5: Think twice about coupling the experience with a system of record

Now you may be thinking that a great way to eliminate complexity in your digital workplace is to couple the experience with an existing core enterprise system, such as your human capital management system or enterprise resources planning system. On paper that approach makes sense and many big vendors of traditional systems have already begun to announce “employee experience” products, especially in the HR space. Unfortunately, there a few reasons why putting all your eggs into this basket is a bad idea:

  1. These solutions often focus only on a single element of the experience, such as employee recognition, onboarding, or engagement.

  2. You will always be at the mercy of the vendor's roadmap. And odds are, they won't be able to satisfy the needs of every department with their integrations and functionality. It makes replacing core systems very difficult because you’re not only replacing your HCM or ERP but the entire experience you’ve wrapped up inside of it as well .

Ultimately, the best approach is a separate platform that can just manage the "experience.” Doing so enables you to essentially have your cake and eat it too. One platform for creating personalized and tailored experiences for employees, all while maintaining investments in the core systems that keep your business running.

Tip 6: Design based on intent and outcomes

With a solution in place to manage the overall experience, you can start designing based on user intent or outcome - something we have come to refer to as “outcome-driven design.”
Google is a master at outcome driven design, as evidenced by searching for a restaurant.

When you search for a restaurant, Google provides everything you need to make the best selection to suit your needs, such as reviews, directions, and the option to book a reservation through OpenTable. This seamless experience is possible because it was built to understand your intent and pull together the disparate resources you need, even if you didn’t ask for them.

Imagine if this kind of thinking was applied to requesting time off at work. Even if the process is digital, it's likely still a multi-step one that requires employees to login to a system, fill out a form, and then login to other systems to update their calendar or set out of office replies.

Outcome-driven design eliminates that complexity, letting back-end systems make every necessary update and deliver a faster, easier experience that gives employees more time to focus on important work that drives value for the business. Microapps are an invaluable tool for implementing an outcome-driven design approach because they help accomplish intents by integrating with existing systems to abstract only the information employees need to know or take action on.

Tip 7: Strive for unified, consistent experiences

While the time off example referenced above is great, it should come with a word of caution – watch out for a sprawl of function-specific apps or chatbots across the enterprise. These apps might individually deliver a better user experience, but they’ll create a splintered experience for employees that causes frustration and negatively impacts engagement.

The goal should be to bring these different experiences together into a unified digital workplace environment that enables employee to access all the tasks and information they need from multiple systems into a single experience available across multiple touchpoints.

This is where the experience layers we mentioned earlier come into play. A number of organizations, including Liberty Mutual Insurance, a Fortune 200 consumer goods company, and a Fortune 500 financial services company are using this approach with success and are great reference points for organizations that are beginning to build out their strategy.

For more details on these tips and how to build powerful digital experiences for employees at your organization, check out my on-demand webinar, “Experience – The Next Evolution of the Digital Workplace.”