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5 ways to deliver exceptional digital work experiences

Laura Butler Profile picture for user Laura Butler January 11, 2021
Your employees expect their digital work experience to match what they're used to as consumers. Workfront's Laura Butler shares five ways to empower and engage today's workforce

Female employee on video chat with colleagues © Roman Samborskyi - Shutterstock
(© Roman Samborskyi - Shutterstock)

In 2021 and beyond, one of the top priorities for organizations of all types and sizes will be to optimize their digital work experiences. As digital working has proliferated and with 'digital natives' comprising an increasingly larger share of the workforce, this goal was already on many companies' radars. But the arrival of a worldwide pandemic and a marked shift to distributed working has greatly accelerated the need to create collaborative, engaging, and effective digital environments that empower individuals and teams to do their best work — no matter where those teams are located.

With more and more employees working remotely, a superior digital environment is a competitive advantage in the competition for talent. Already, research has shown that even among managers, directors, and executives — who are more likely to be from Gen X or older — 34% have turned down a job because the technology was out of date or hard to use. This is clearly not just a generational thing, although it should be noted that Millennial leaders are up to 18% more likely to turn down a job because of bad tech.

So how do we avoid losing our best and brightest, not to mention attracting top candidates in the first place? Here are five tips, from my perspective as a senior vice president of people and culture at a tech company with a workforce that's 78% Millennial and younger, and 100% working from home globally.

1. Acknowledge the Amazon effect

Employees of any age and background are bound to be frustrated by a digital work experience that's considerably clunkier than the technology they use to manage their personal lives. Many call it the "Amazon effect." We're used to getting what we want, when we want it, in the easiest way possible. We expect same day or next day delivery. We expect to be able to take a ride on a scooter after a few quick swipes on our smartphones. Our consumer experience has become so intuitive that it's exponentially more frustrating when the tech at work can't keep up with what we need it to do.

Company leaders are used to thinking of efficiency, speed, and scale as customer demands, but we need to remember that our employees demand those things too. Modern work management tools are essential for connecting team members seamlessly, acting as a central nervous system for work, and enabling rapid feedback loops that encourage individual learning and team progress. Bonus — if your email server goes down at a critical moment, as happened to one of our clients, the communication channels inside your work management app can see you through.

2. Think beyond Zoom

In the early days of the pandemic, Zoom saved the day as our digital conference room, and Slack swooped in to take care of our chat-around-the-water-cooler needs. But as this involuntary remote work experience has dragged on, the limitations of these tools to keep our teams connected and cohesive have become clearer. What we needed was a platform for work that connected team members and acted as a central nervous system for work. We wanted to enable rapid feedback loops to fuel team progress and decrease everyone's reliance on communication platforms — like Zoom and Slack — to get work done. Those tools were useful to a point — but we saw diminishing returns, especially when it came to project tracking over time. We saw firsthand how work management technology can free your team members up from the very real phenomenon of Zoom fatigue.

To elevate your team's online experience, look to up-and-coming apps like Donut and RandomCoffee, which add a sense of spontaneity to the digital workday and offer opportunities to socialize and meet those you work with, outside of the structured format of a video meeting.

Solutions like Wonder (formerly Yotribe) offer an alternative to the passive participation that often happens in Zoom, making it possible to move freely between smaller groups. And Sococo is an ingenious platform that creates an interactive, online office floor plan of sorts, allowing you to see everyone else who is "at work" and where their avatars are at any given moment. You can see groups of people in conference rooms or break rooms. You can see who is currently free, or at least not in a meeting. You can "knock'' on doors or easily be invited to a meeting in-progress.

Expect more innovative solutions like these to come onto the market in the months and years to come, especially given that up to 30% of the workforce is expected to continue working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. In the meantime, keep looking for ways to disrupt the overly structured, isolated nature of at-home work-like getting back on the phone and doing "walks and talks." We swung the pendulum too far, from video always off to video always on.

3. Consider the employee experience in decision-making

When adding new solutions to your tech stack, remember that the employee interface is a vital part of the equation. Don't just look for tech that serves a specific business need; also look at how it impacts those who will be using it in their day-to-day work. Otherwise, adoption will remain low and employee frustration will rise. It's a waste of precious resources to onboard expensive solutions that don't ultimately work for your internal team.

By way of example, we recently decided to replace one particular finance solution with something that we felt would better meet the company needs, but because we didn't make the employee experience an important criterion in our decision-making, we weren't able to make a clean switch. We ended up needing to keep both solutions, resulting in a process that's not as seamless as it could be, all because we didn't elevate the employee experience in our vetting process.

4. Evangelize your tech stack

Too many organizations end up overbuying — investing in multiple software solutions that serve overlapping functions — or even having multiple different teams purchase the exact same solution, when a centralized license would make more sense. This is often because of a lack of transparency, organization-wide, of what tools are already available. To help address this concern at Workfront, we've posted a list of all of the technology tools we use on our internal communication platform, which we encourage everyone to consult before any new tech spend.

But beyond a list of names, you have to let people know what each solution is capable of and what else it could be used for. We recently had a team go through the process of researching whiteboarding and mindmapping tools, without realizing we already had licenses to tools with those capabilities. So that time spent researching was wasted and would have been even worse had we implemented yet another system. To avoid this problem, take the time to educate your teams about what's in your tech stack, through awareness campaigns, training sessions, or even an internal tech fair, so everyone can see the tools and technology available for them to leverage in their work.

I also love the idea of holding innovation awards on a regular basis, maybe semi-annually or quarterly. Publicly recognize those who are using and integrating your existing tech in innovative ways. This not only teaches other teams what your available tech solutions are capable of, it also demonstrates what "good" looks like and incentivizes others to break out of a technology or process ruts.

5. Refresh your employee value proposition for digital

Tech platforms inevitably come up during the recruitment process, but it's usually in a casual or reactive way. If you're a company that uses Marketo, for example, you'll look for that to show up on resumes, and candidates will often ask about tech during an interview.

But there are benefits to making your digital environment a more prominent part of your recruitment marketing. If you use the absolute, top-of-the-line solutions at your organization, from Workday to Salesforce to Gitlab, say so. Many companies have used their beautiful facilities to attract candidates, but there are more advantages to featuring the digital experience. Candidates who have that experience or are seeking it will be attracted to your organization. If you have advantages such as regular equipment refresh programs, internet and mobile stipends, and allowances for creating a great space for digital work, then message that. Further, ensure you are hiring folks that are fluent in technology. 

At the same time, emphasize that it's not just about aligning your company with the latest and greatest tech names; it's about enabling people to work together seamlessly, using the best possible tech, to create optimal experiences for customers and employees alike.

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