Designing for your employees

Today, you can ask Alexa for a taxi and it will arrive outside your home within a few minutes. You can enter a misspelt search and Google will understand what you are trying to ask. Our consumer experiences are so intuitive that our brains rarely need to get out of first gear, in fact, they let us multi-task. So it can feel jarring when our workplace experiences feel complex and arduous.

Completing simple administration at work can be mentally taxing. It requires our full attention. Left uncompleted, these tasks can disrupt business operations yet we often actively avoid doing them until chased. When we start we have to put down everything else we are working on to ensure we are capable of completing them. The outcome is a frustrating few hours for the individual and a negative impact on productivity. Multiplied across a workforce the impact to the business is significant.

What is going wrong?

Billions have been sunk into digital transformation programmes to move organisations from the analogue past into the digital present. These programmes have helped consolidate sprawling systems but when the work is completed the employee experience has taken a small step forward. The systems are a little better. The organisation has stumbled forward, not leapt. The employees still have to use mentally taxing systems that require their full attention.

Our brains are powerful processors but we all have a limited capacity for attention. When faced with a task our brains look for shortcuts. Psychologists describe this as thinking fast and thinking slow, or, System 1 and System 2. System 1 is our brain’s automatic and unconscious mode. Our instinct. It requires little energy or attention. System 2 is a slow, controlled, and analytical method of thinking where reason dominates. Unlike system 1, it requires our energy and attention. Our brain divides labour between the two systems to allow us to navigate our day-to-day. We physically feel the difference when we are using the two systems. Imagine ordering an Uber. Now imagine completing an administrational task at work. Which one would feel more deliberate?

Complex experiences that require system 2 thinking increase frustration, exhaustion and the likelihood of errors. Citibank recently experienced this to the tune of $500 million. Whilst events of this size are rare, they demonstrate the issues employees face on a daily basis. When we evaluate an employee experience we first observe the current landscape to identify each task in context. We combine this with historic data to predict the likelihood of errors, average time-lost and the mental toll this takes on the employee. We then multiply this across a workforce to show the real cost to a business.

Three pointers for success

1. Mandate change

The single largest blocker in transforming end outcomes is an organisation’s willingness to mandate real change. Business operations are predominantly risk-averse and this mindset keeps digital transformation locked within the existing status-quo. You need to be willing to reimagine how you deliver your employee experience. Booking time off is a simple task yet often requires time out of our day. Picture an experience where you book time off work by asking Alexa to add it to your diary. You have brought the service to where the employee needs it, we predominantly plan holidays from our living rooms, not the office. You have also made the interaction so simple the employee does not need to move out of system 1 thinking. Their time in the office now becomes more focused on the job you have hired them for. The technology already exists to achieve this type of experience. By mandating the change you can move away from optimising the existing landscape, to designing a new one.

2. Understand context of use

Businesses strive to be customer-centric but often forget this mentality when designing internally. I have attended sessions where teams pour over a solution without considering how, and under what circumstance, the solution will be used. Change is dictated top-down from executives who rarely use the systems themselves and are departed from the day-to-day employee experience. Without understanding the context we struggle to make valuable design decisions. Go to the frontline and find where the employee is completing the task. Is there a lot of noise? What are the distractions? In a world where workforces are becoming more dispersed this becomes even more relevant. If you can’t control the environment your employee is working in then you need to design for their environment.

3. Assemble the right team

Employee experience is traditionally led by HR SME’s, Management Consultants and I.T. The team brings together extensive knowledge but they are inhibited by their understanding of the status quo and a process first mindset. The programme finishes and they have faithfully recreated instead of reinvented. Expertise in the current landscape needs to be complimented with original thinking and customer-centric service design. Your team needs to be willing to challenge how the function works today to reimagine how it will work tomorrow.

Why do it properly?

Customer experience is developing at pace. In the fight to keep talent, employee experience demands a seat at the table. Your organisation’s ability to answer their needs in a timely and effective manner is intrinsic to enabling them to be productive. By designing your employee experience, you’ll save cost, time and empower your employees.

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