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On the quest for a modern and meaningful work experience

Chris Pope Profile picture for user Chris Pope November 18, 2019
Modern work experience is all about purpose and fulfilment - and reducing the admin burden. ServiceNow's Chris Pope explains how enterprises can start making changes

Happy business woman giving excellent rating for customer or work experience survey © pathdoc - shutterstock
(© pathdoc - shutterstock)

The term ‘work experience’ used to refer to the placement of 16-year old students in companies that were willing to accept an intern for a fortnight in order to put them through the rigors and realities of day-to-day office life. Today, the definition has moved on, and applies to everyone in the modern workforce.

People now use the term to describe the quality of life that an individual has when she, he or they carry out the duties that they’re employed to execute. Work experience now symbolizes not just job satisfaction, it also embodies personal fulfilment and the degree to which a worker can find a sense of purpose in the job they do.

That’s just the way it isn’t

Where the Baby Boomers and Generation X put up with repetitive drudgery in the workplace, the Millennials — who are now entering management — showed signs of unrest about the old ways of the past. As Generation Z now leaves university and starts work, these digital natives refuse to do things the old way, especially if they’re told it’s ‘because that’s the way things have always been done’.

Today’s workforce — and, crucially, tomorrow’s workforce — puts an emphasis on prioritizing meaningful work. But there’s a problem. Many of those manual, repetitive, admin-based, process-led tasks still exist. So, as a consequence, many staff focus on their most meaningful work items during work hours. They then use unpaid personal time to shoulder their administrative burden.

Independent research carried out with workers in the UK and Germany, commissioned by ServiceNow in September this year, showed that the top two most important elements of work for employees are a) doing their job well and b) doing work they enjoy. But, disappointingly, nearly half of UK workers carry out admin tasks outside office hours.

Is work broken?

This brings us to the point where we must stand back and ask whether the mechanics of modern work itself are broken? I would probably hesitate to go that far, but I would say that we have some serious dents in the bodywork and that it might be time to change the engine.

Company processes that should be easy are time-consuming and troublesome to perform. For example, the typical company onboarding process is not easy for 54% of employees in Germany; and 60% in the UK. Similar stats have been observed for employees ordering new hardware. This type of workflow cadence isn’t going to sustain us. This is the age of always-on computing where users expect to be able to connect immediately, anywhere. These same users expect a similar level of immediacy from their work services.

We can see that in many organizations, workplace processes and tools are lagging behind expectations, often remaining complex and technologically dated. As another example, only half of workers are able to use their smartphone or tablet to access workplace tools from HR and other departments: 49% UK; 51% Germany.

None of this is good for productivity and none of this is good for the work-life balance of the individuals who have to work with outdated tools and processes. So how do we move forward?

The way forward

We can change things. We have to change things. Generation Z expects it and contemporary cloud-native businesses won’t accept archaic work methods, so those that fail to evolve will ultimately fail to survive. But rip-and-replace isn’t a good idea either. So it’s a question of strategically analyzing individual lines of business, work processes and legacy applications that we can start to digitize one at a time.

A good starting block is a form of workflow audit or process mining exercise to assess that ‘state of the work nation’ inside any given organisation. This provides a solid foundation upon which a business can begin to understand where it is now, and potentially how far it needs to go to get to where it wants to be. Knowing the scale of the mountain in front of us enables us to plan a route, sharpen our tools and establish milestones.

The journey ahead of us has challenges. Companies will need to introspectively ask themselves which legacy technologies and work systems they will seek to replace first. Many times these systems can’t be replaced for technical, logistical or just plain practical reasons. It’s not just a question of build vs. buy systems. Today it’s a question of build vs. buy vs. consume — and appreciating that change of innovation cadence is fundamental.

Size really IS important

The size of an organisation is important as it dramatically affects the scale of any change. It also impacts the associated risks involved. Speed becomes a factor and ‘change fatigue’ can set in if the commotion factor is high enough. Things start to slow down, and adoption rates and enthusiasm levels for new platforms can drain away. The situation can become clumsy when, really, everything was supposed to be fluid, seamless and connected.

On the way to better work experiences there is the somewhat essential question of working out just how much of a mobile-first approach to work your company will embrace. Before any project of this kind, it’s important to think about what additional mobility will mean in practice. Your company is not just introducing new mobile devices and tools, you are also shifting to a new style of work processes and changing the way tasks are carried out. A successful move to embrace mobile platforms means you design with the mobile user experience as the default. Where tasks are not inherently suited to mobile, it’s often a question of asking why those tasks exist in the first place.

As a parting thought, it’s worth thinking about the fact that work experiences are different for every person. Experiences are personal, sometimes peculiar, but above all, they’re experiential, so you can’t ‘cookie-cutter’ your way to digital transformation unless you go back to basics and talk to people face-to-face. Cloud-native mobile-optimized innovation starts with human beings — who’d a thunk it, eh?

Read more from Chris Pope here.

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