June 8, 2022

Dara Fontein

Digital Employee Experience & the Future of Work

13 minutes

Picture this: You’re getting ready for the first day of your new remote job when you realize you don’t have access to any of the onboarding tools required. Unfortunately, your organization’s People Team hasn’t provided you with the right software, and you can’t figure out who you’re supposed to reach out to for support. Not only does this type of IT issue slow productivity down, but it creates a negative digital employee experience (DEX).

Today’s employee experience includes their day-to-day interactions at work and access to the right technology and tools. While IT teams and HR departments do their best to ensure employees have a positive overall experience, it can be tough. With rapidly evolving technologies, digital transformation, and more hybrid and remote workers than ever, companies need to work hard not just to keep up—but to stay ahead.

In this post, we’ll walk you through an explanation of digital employee experience, show why it's important to all businesses, discuss the digital employee experience when it comes to new employee onboarding, and look forward to the future of work.

What is digital employee experience?

While you’ve probably heard of employee experience on its own, you might not be totally sure what digital employee experience is—or how it contributes to overall employee satisfaction.

Digital employee experience is the impact that a company’s technology offerings have on the worker. For example, if your workplace IT team is hard to track down, or your company requires employees to use more than 10 different digital tools—and none of them are simple to use, and all require extensive onboarding—chances are your digital employee experience isn’t great. And with 78 percent of workers sharing that they use 6 to 10 digital tools just to communicate at work, this example isn’t farfetched.

However, if employees feel comfortable with the tools required to work, rarely have issues with their day-to-day tech, and actually feel as if the technology available to them is improving their overall time at work, the digital employee experience would probably be pretty positive.

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Here are some common contributions the digital employee experience:

  • The tools available to them
  • How easy it is to use these tools
  • How the business’ tech ecosystem is set up
  • How reliable the company’s technology is
  • How straightforward it is to get IT support
  • Accessibility
  • Anything else related to technology and tools.
The digital employee experience is impacted by how all of these factors come together holistically, rather than one component. If the tech your organization uses isn’t up to speed, or your IT team can’t keep up with all of the support requests, there’s a widespread issue that needs to be addressed. Here’s why.

Why positive digital employee experience is important

While addressing gaps in your organization’s digital employee experience might feel overwhelming, there are several significant reasons why this is important for businesses of any size. Here are some of the key benefits of a healthy digital employee experience.

It increases productivity and revenue

Unfortunately, the technology meant to make things easier at work can sometimes cause more challenges. For example, a study from Wakefield Research and Elastic found that more than 50 percent of office workers surveyed spend more time searching for files in cluttered digital systems than actually working. The study warns, “companies need to figure out content management (and fast) if they want to keep employees productive and win in the work-from-home world.”

By focusing on the digital employee experience, employers can expect a rise in productivity levels. As a report from The McKinsey Institute found, “By using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent.” Not only that, but this increased productivity, driven by the right technology and tools, could potentially add up to $1.3 trillion in annual value across four key industries (consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional services).

Instead of figuring out complex technologies, chasing down IT support, or searching for the files or programs they need, workers with a positive digital employee experience can dedicate their time to completing their projects and tasks.

It boosts employee engagement and satisfaction

As part of the overall employee experience, DEX can seriously impact worker satisfaction and happiness. With “digital natives” projected to make up more than 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, today’s workers have grown up with technology—and they expect it to work.

Just as it's incredibly frustrating to have your WiFi constantly cut out when you’re playing a game on your laptop at home, having problems with workplace technology can cause negative feelings. When it's an everyday issue, chances are your frustration will only grow as time goes on and you become more and more disgruntled with your organization.

According to research from Forbes, 55 percent of knowledge workers surveyed shared that having “best-of-breed business apps makes an organization a more desirable place to work, beyond compensation and benefits.” The idea is simple: If employees have the tools, technology, and IT support they need to get their jobs done, they’ll be happier. When HR and IT teams work together to create a better digital employee experience, they foster a highly-engaged workforce—and give themselves a competitive advantage in the job market.

It encourages collaboration

The right technologies and tools are essential for collaboration and communication—something that’s become even more significant since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as many employees switched to remote or hybrid working models.

According to Forrester research, collaboration platforms specifically can raise employee productivity 10 percent alone. When organizations use collaboration technologies successfully, they can help cut down on time spent in meetings, hours spent searching for information, and energy spent scouring emails for data. To drive home this point, a study from Microsoft found that 85 percent of surveyed workers said that having access to the right technology can make or break their ability to collaborate effectively.

Collaboration and communication come easily with a good digital employee experience, as teams have access to the right tools, the best support, and seamless processes and workflows.

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How to improve the digital employee experience

Use the right tools and technology

It may seem like common sense, but countless businesses introduce new tools and technology without fully considering why they’re doing so—or if it's the best choice for their team. For example, a business may have heard that a new and expensive AI project management platform is the most innovative tool to hit the market and quickly jump on that in the interest of being ahead of their competition. However, if they had asked their employees, they would’ve known that people love the current project management tool and that it fits within their operating budget.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to tools and technology for DEX. The “right” tool for one business may not be the best tool for another. To determine whether certain technology works for your business, you need to go straight to the people who will be using it: your employees.

To find out where your employees currently stand on the technology they use every day at work, you could introduce an easy-to-use tool like ThoughtExchange to ask them about their DEX anonymously.

Some potential questions to ask:

  • How do you feel about the tools and technology you use at work? 
  • What tool is the most difficult to use? 
  • What tool is the most helpful? 
  • What do you feel is missing from your tech stack? 
  • How do you feel about accessing tech support for help using any available tools?
When you understand how your employees currently feel about their DEX, it’s easier to pinpoint any issues with existing technologies, learn about the tools that could make their jobs easier, and find the right tools for your unique team.

Provide employees with the training they need

The DEX isn’t just about how much technology is available to a worker; it’s about how easy it is to use. Suppose an organization offered their workforce access to their choice of thousands of digital tools, yet none of them were intuitive, and they didn’t integrate seamlessly with one another. In that case, the DEX is going to be negatively affected.

To set your teams up for success, develop a structured rollout and launch of any new technologies, along with the necessary support and training. Ensure you set deadlines so that your employees know when they’ll need to have completed the training, but it’s important to give them enough time and not rush the process.

With this in mind, it’s also crucial to provide employees with dedicated training time. If projects and tasks are still causing your employees to run at full capacity, they won’t have the time to learn and get comfortable with new programs and tools. Set aside blocks of time for all employees to complete their required training and make sure managers across the organization are aware of these expectations.

Streamline digital company systems

As mentioned above, knowledge workers spend a significant amount of time searching for the information they need, whether this is in the form of digital files, research data, old Slack messages with the relevant Google Doc attached, or email messages. A 2018 report from IDC found that, as an example, “data professionals are wasting an average of 30 percent of their time because they cannot find the information they need.”

To improve this part of the DEX, companies need to prioritize the way their employees use technology to store, locate, and access data. For example, if employees are constantly trying to find the newest version of the company logo or key messaging, leaders should explore creating a Digital Asset Management system (DAM).

Or, if HR and People Teams are spending a ton of time asking questions about HR-related issues (ie. holiday pay, sick leave policies, or recent company-wide announcements), a designated organization-wide Intranet could be a solution. By streamlining the way employees and leaders organize and find the data they need, businesses can boost the DEX and improve productivity and their bottom line.

Have a clear DEX roadmap

When creating a strategy around DEX, it’s important to have your organization’s endgame in mind. Without clear and measurable goals, implementing better digital processes or new technologies can feel like a fragmented and aimless effort.

Consider how your DEX will impact your business as a whole—and why every decision is being made. Your organization needs to understand what tools and technologies are being used (or will be used) and the purpose of each. Think about the business’s goals and how certain technologies and processes can support these goals, plus how these tools will influence your overall DEX strategy.

By taking a holistic look at DEX with a roadmap, your business will be better positioned to address any challenges that may occur. For example, suppose you know that one of your business's primary goals through DEX is to improve onboarding, and your newest employees are having trouble accessing the tools they need on their first day. In that case, you may want to evaluate whether a more accessible tool is available or if better instructions are required. Keeping your overall goals in mind makes it easier to make DEX decisions as your business matures and scales.

You’ve done your annual survey—now what?


The digital employee onboarding experience

An employee’s first day can significantly impact their overall experience with a company. Recent research finds that 64 percent of employees who left their job within the first year did so due to a negative onboarding experience.

Digital onboarding, which can refer to either the process of supplying and setting up the technology a new employee needs or the process of incorporating digital platforms and tools into the onboarding experience, can improve an employee’s first few months at a company—but only if done correctly. A study from Forbes found that only 17 percent of workers strongly agreed that new employees at their organization could access the tools and technology they needed on their first day.

While countless digital tools help automate and streamline the employee onboarding experience, HR and IT teams need to work together to ensure these programs improve the new employee’s experience instead of making it more complicated or overwhelming. As these teams develop the business’ onboarding strategy, they need to consider the different mediums available and how they’ll all fit together.

For example, perhaps in the weeks leading up to an employee’s first day, they are sent their new computer (preloaded with any tools or programs they’ll need), email address, and any passwords they might require. They’ll receive clear instructions on how to use everything and information about who to contact if they run into any tech issues. Once they have their computer and email, then they can start receiving email invites for onboarding activities; for example, an invitation for 9am on their first day to have a welcome Zoom call with their team or the cohort of other people starting the same day as them.

When it comes to digital onboarding, HR teams need to understand the flow of the new employee’s journey, and work with the IT team to create an experience that makes sense. It’s important to map out every single step and to understand what technology, tools, special access, or passwords might be required along the way. By putting themselves in their employees’ shoes and noting digital touchpoints along the way, the teams creating and managing onboarding experiences can set their new hires up for success.

The future of work

While many organizations had long-term ideas regarding the future of work, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated these plans. With the introduction of more and more hybrid and remote workers, organizations around the globe have had to quickly adapt and adjust to maintain and boost productivity and the overall employee experience.

To stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive recruitment industry, workplaces will need to enact employee-focused solutions for the future. Rather than a strictly top-down approach to their digital strategy, those leading organizations will need to commit to a collaborative process where they listen to and work with their employees. Just as people have a choice when it comes to the technology they use in their personal lives, more and more workplaces will prioritize the employee’s input and empower them to make their own decisions regarding the digital requirements of their day-to-day job.

With a discussion management tool like ThoughtExchange, organizations can ensure they’re centering their workers’ experiences and concerns as they prepare for the future. ThoughtExchange lets you check in with every team member, whether in-office or remote, to find out exactly how they’re feeling about their current digital employee experience. Thanks to anti-bias technology, responses are rated on merit and relevance rather than on who submitted them, so you can ensure you’re creating a safe and employee-led space—something that will become all the more critical in the future.

Harvard Business Review explains that as hybrid and remote jobs become the status quo, the tools employees use will “more or less define the employee experience—technology and workplace tools are, for all intents and purposes, the new workplace.” With digital transformation—including advances in technology, AI, web3, augmented reality, machine learning, and more—leading this change, it’s no longer a matter of “if” but “when” employers future-proof their digital employee experience. As new apps, tools, and advances in technology are introduced every day, the future of work and the digital employee experience depend on employers continuously communicating with the people who feel the impact the most—their team.

Dara Fontein
Dara is a copywriter and content creator born, raised, and currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s written for companies including Hootsuite, lululemon, Article, and ThoughtExchange. When not playing around with words, Dara can be found updating her cat's Instagram account and wandering the aisles of home decor stores.

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