What future work skills will your company need to thrive in the future workplace?
It's no exaggeration to say the application of design thinking to customer experience has transformed our world. Now, finally, that thinking is finding its way into HR departments in the form of employee experience (EX) design. As organizations consider what the future of work looks like, it's more important than ever to apply a problem-solving mentality to the entire spectrum of experience on the job.
Attracting top talent has always been tough. Keeping them happy, engaged, and productive has gotten even harder in today's rapidly transforming workplace. And employee satisfaction is more important than ever for retention, with some 40% of workers considering changing jobs in the coming year. No wonder employee experience design is having its moment. Now's the time for savvy HR departments to embrace this new role and build the future of remote working on a firm foundation.
Employee experience? What does that mean?
The short answer: the entirety of every employee's experience around their job. The long answer: EX breaks down into three major areas, each one equally crucial.
Relationships. No employee is an island. Think about jobs you've loved. Better yet, think about jobs you stuck with despite not loving the work itself. Chances are, your co-workers were a huge reason why. Survey after survey shows strong relationships with co-workers is one of the most reliable indicators of job satisfaction.
But it's a double-edged sword. While we've all heard that "people don't quit their jobs, they quit their boss", more than 25% of respondents to a recent survey said they had left a position because of a co-worker. It all points to one conclusion: the social side of work is a neglected but enormously influential driver of employee experience.
Setting. Not too long ago, most people would just consider this synonymous with "the office". Check off some boxes on an ergonomic checklist, set temperature and lighting to optimal levels for productivity, done. It's not that simple anymore, and it never really was. EX design in the virtual workplace includes not only the wildly diverse physical spaces where work gets done, but the digital platforms, tools, and security systems that enable that work.
It also demands recognition of the individual capacities and preferences of each individual human within an organization: an EX designer might ask how you can set up remote workers with kids for success. Modern workplace transformation is already an uphill battle. Companies with remote management solutions that don't take employee experience into account are going to have an even steeper climb.
Work. More than ever, workers today value a sense of purpose. The COVID pandemic has sparked deep reflection into the nature of our lives, and fewer and fewer of us are content to waste our time for a paycheck. Put simply, people want to feel like they're doing their work for a reason. A McKinsey study finds that employees who feel purpose in their work score higher across every measure of fulfillment in work and in life.
Companies can't control what an individual finds meaningful. But sometimes, even employees who believe in an organization's purpose aren't seeing how their work contributes to it, so efficiency improvement ideas can have a big impact. Or they're unclear on how to evolve to be more effective toward that purpose, which means a more robust employee development program could help. EX design can identify whether these are communication problems, evaluation problems, or wider structural issues, and create solutions to bolster that ever-more-crucial sense of purpose.
Transforming Your Workplace: Your First EX Design Project
OK, so you're convinced. Or at least curious. You're ready to give EX design a try... but whoa, this feels like a big undertaking. Where do you start? Don't you need a full-blown EX strategy? Shouldn't you invest in some expensive platforms? Or maybe hire a digital transformation firm?
First, understand that you're at the beginning of a journey. Employee experience design itself is a new field, and the kinds of tools, metrics, and processes that underpin more mature disciplines are still emerging. In a larger sense, though, design thinking is always a journey. It's not about a set of rules carved into stone tablets; it's about constant evolution guided by data and testing.
So don't let it feel daunting. Start where you are. Look at what data you have right now. Satisfaction surveys. Employee referrals. Turnover and retention. Digital platform usage data. Chances are your existing people work data already paints a vivid picture of where the immediate opportunities are to uplevel your employee experience.
Then put empathy into action to really flesh out those pain points and ideate solutions. Treat your employees like customers. This means listening, collaborating, and assembling cross-functional teams with a wide range of focuses. Don't put too many limits on the discussion at this point. Practicalities will have their say. They always do. Design ideation is about big ideas and fresh thinking. That can only happen when minds are free to roam. Treat every contribution with the same respect you would if it were coming from a customer.
Then choose a potential solution that your organization can test quickly, without too much disruption or investment of resources. Decide the parameters of the test (the whole organization or a control group? And how long: a week, a month, a quarter?) and how you're going to measure the results (via survey, or will the project generate its own data, or both?). Put it into action. Learn. Repeat.
Every baby step helps build the EX design muscle in your organization. If you can start shifting your own team's mindset now, stay flexible, and keep listening, you'll know when it's time to map out the strategy, find the new tools, and connect with the digital transformation partners that can elevate your employee experience—and finally transform that corner of the world where work gets done.