In a Hybrid World, Your Tech Defines Employee Experience – HBR.org Daily

One of the big questions many leaders are facing now is: how can we meaningfully communicate, collaborate, and connect in a hybrid (or remote) environment? As companies compete for talent and adapt to new ways of working, the technology they use has become the dominant feature of the employee experience — a place where many companies are falling short. Employers should start by asking employees if they have the right tools and technology to do their jobs, especially in a hybrid or remote work environment. Once employers understand opportunities to improve digital experiences, it’s key they also take action toward closing any gaps, and let employees know that they’re being heard. Finally, it’s critical employers keep pace by giving employees a forum to provide feedback, continually understanding how they are engaging with the tools offered to them and where to make improvements.
Over the past half decade, executives and leaders have thrown around the phrase “every company is a tech company.” In 2022, this statement hits even closer to home as the digital employee experience becomes just as important as the physical one; with the pandemic putting more pressure on aspects of work like well-being, culture and training, at a time when the competition for talent is fierce.
Last year, The Great Reshuffle came into focus and put the employee experience at the top of many corporate priorities this year. In January, the Labor Department shared that workers quit at a record level in November 2021. They are now searching for the right job at the right company with no rush to go back. Contrast this against more than 10 million job openings, and it’s clear that companies need to place more emphasis on culture and employee experience.
One of the big questions many leaders are facing now is: how can we meaningfully communicate, collaborate, and connect in a hybrid (or remote) environment?
These new needs are driving the creation of new technology categories to support workers — that go beyond the video call. And while technology isn’t the only solution, it will have an important role to play as companies look for new ways to win the competition for talent and create a workplace where well-being and culture thrive.
This technological transition will require a mindset shift for IT and business leaders alike — to consider how existing and emerging technology can be used to rebuild culture in a remote and hybrid world.
As hybrid work becomes more prevalent, and employees become less physically centralized, the traditional emphasis placed on in-office perks is quickly diminishing. This dynamic is reshaping how companies operate. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that 46% of the workforce is relocating because they can now work remotely. And employees feel so strongly about remote work that Qualtrics research has shown that 35% of employees would be more likely to search for a new job if they were required to return to the office full-time — further putting pressure on employers to adapt accordingly.
As this trend persists, the technology experiences that employers provide will more or less define the employee experience — technology and workplace tools are, for all intents and purposes, the new workplace. As such, they’re becoming central in attracting and retaining new talent, fostering workplace culture, creating productivity, and more.
Yet, many employees are underwhelmed by their current technology and remote work experiences. Qualtrics research found only 30% of employees say their experience with their company’s technology exceeds their expectations. Microsoft found that after a year of working from home, 42% of employees say they lack essential office supplies at home, and 1 in 10 don’t have an adequate internet connection to do their job.
How employees communicate, collaborate, and connect are fundamental qualities of the employee experience, and it’s critical that employers get it right when it comes to how they facilitate these interactions with technology. Employees are 230% more engaged and 85% more likely to stay beyond three years in their jobs if they feel they have the technology that supports them at work, according to Qualtrics. There is a range of downstream benefits that come from implementing the right technology in the workplace, including fostering a culture of inclusion, enabling organizations to adapt, and retaining top talent.
So where should employers begin their journey for improving digital workplace experiences?
Experience data — measuring and understanding how employees feel about a range of topics — is essential to building a productive and attractive workplace in this new era. By pairing privacy-protected operational data, such as time spent in meetings per week or number of messages sent, with experience data, employers can better understand the full scope of the employee experience to make informed decisions about how to improve the overall workplace experience. This approach applies to digital experiences, too.
The first step is to understand what is impacting employee productivity and collaboration.
Employers should start by asking employees if they have the right tools and technology to do their jobs, especially in a hybrid or remote work environment. Never assume. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index showed that over 46% of employees say their companies do not help them with remote work expenses — which should be a fundamental step in helping employees be productive.
IT leaders should collaborate with HR on regular employee sentiment pulses that are conducted at least quarterly. Add questions into these pulses to ask what people think about the tools and software they use to do their jobs effectively, and what other technology can help them be more productive, whether from home or in an office. Once that experience data is analyzed, there could be opportunities to modify existing resources or processes, or invest in new ones that help different teams feel more connected and engaged.
In addition to making sure employees have the right tools and tech, it’s also important that companies understand if employees are at risk of virtual meeting fatigue or burnout. An employee experience platform can be used in this scenario to surface and analyze aggregate operational and experience data to help leaders encourage healthy work habits, and nudge employees to take action like incorporating more focus time throughout the workweek.
A key finding of Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index report highlighting insights from frontline workers is that most say culture and communication need to be better prioritized from the top. All employees have valuable insights and feedback to share that could improve the collective workplace experience, so it’s critical leaders look at the complete picture rather than making decisions in a silo.
Employees want to know their feedback is valued and actively considered, and they notice when employers are “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.” Therefore, once employers understand opportunities to improve digital experiences, it’s key they also take action toward closing any gaps. Furthermore, they need to be transparent on priorities and progress along the way. Together, communication and transparency create a positive feedback loop moving forward.
To accomplish this, consider leveraging an employee experience platform that seamlessly integrates with existing tools to digitally reimagine company culture — creating connections, surfacing knowledge and insights, capturing feedback, and providing recommendations (and nudges to take action) — all in employees’ natural flow of work. Employee experience platforms, while not the only answer, play a vital role in communicating culture across the organization, increasing access to learning and supporting workers’ well-being.
It’s important to recognize that whatever changes are made likely won’t be permanent. As the pandemic has shown us many times, change is fluid and flexibility is key. Employers should continue to listen to what their employees want and need — what’s working and what isn’t — and adjust accordingly.
The technology we use changes frequently, so it’s critical employers keep pace by giving employees a forum to provide feedback, continually understanding how they are engaging with the tools offered to them, and where to make improvements.
By showing employees that leaders consistently follow through on opportunities to improve their digital workplace experiences, employers set themselves apart as a great place to work amidst the war for talent, thus improving recruiting and retention efforts.
If the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it’s that the future truly is uncertain. But, by following the data, listening to our employees and customers, and incorporating flexibility into everything we do, we believe we can build a world of work that is better than any that’s come before.

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