It took a pandemic to make employee experience a priority.

In a span of weeks, companies rolled out modern workplace programs that had been scheduled to unfold over two to three years. The abrupt shift to remote work catalyzed cloud migration and standardization on collaborative applications like Microsoft Teams and Slack. Upgrades of enterprise content management platforms happened more quickly than most companies thought possible.

In the aftermath, many companies learned that making work possible is distinctly different from making work easier and more productive. Whereas many businesses used to equate “employee experience” with managing benefits and human resource capabilities, it’s now morphed into a more nuanced view of the relationship between experience and work.

The distinction is key – and impacts the bottom line: When our team revamped the employee experience for 12,000 sales professionals at a multinational food and beverage company, sales volume rose 12%.

Immediate Insights from Months of Remote Work

Until now, business leaders typically considered the main levers of productivity to be organization, automation and processes. But after months of enforced remote work, they now see the cumulative impact of the many impediments that present themselves throughout the virtual work day, from difficulties sharing documents and searching for product content, to the mystery of getting audio to work in a videoconference.

Combined with the extraordinary social stress of coping with the pandemic, these glitches have produced worrying signs of burnout and reduced employee engagement. Companies that standardized on Microsoft Office 365 and Teams, for example, have access to the software’s workforce analytics – and they tell us the data is eye-opening.

Daily meetings have become both more frequent and shorter in duration, and people are multitasking throughout them, checking email, for example. Employees are also working long hours – without a clean separation between home and office, there’s the potential for an always-on work environment.

We’re seeing clients adapt supporting technologies to de-stress the remote work experience and make work more streamlined. For example, with the continuous flow of virtual meetings, it’s clunky to exit the collaborative platform every time you need to open another application to execute a task. We’re working with companies to integrate their collaborative platforms with productivity applications. The goal is to create a virtual workplace – a “remotopia” – that lets employees become more productive vs. just enabling them to “do stuff.”

We’re also working with companies to tap into artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to help people do their jobs better – and have a better time doing them. For example, we’re partnering with clients that use Microsoft Teams to develop topic-specific bots that let employees get not only fast answers to questions but also proactive directions on what to do next.

Long-Term Ramifications of a New Employee Experience

Other challenges of remote work have to do with keeping employees engaged and feeling connected. Team relationships that once formed organically now rely on virtual bonds. In the absence of in-person events to kick off initiatives or communicate changes in direction, how do you get people to buy in to your strategy or new direction? We’re starting to see companies pay a lot more attention to their internal communications.

Clients also tell us they’re less concerned about the day-to-day operational work getting done in a remote-work setting and more worried about innovation. Innovation occurs when people bring different perspectives to a problem, and remote work changes how that happens. Teams find it harder to express themselves fully through videoconferencing because whiteboarding over video is much more difficult. Because we’re rarely traveling or even co-locating, the growth of our social and workplace networks has slowed if not halted.

Turning Vision into Reality

Here are some examples of the work we’re doing in this area:

  • Rethinking a collaboration-first workforce. We’re partnering with a company that had relied on ad hoc collaborative processes like spreadsheets attached to emails. It worked well enough when people were co-located, but now the company is using Microsoft Teams and Office 365 to collaborate remotely.
  • Reimagining knowledge management so employees want to use it rather than have to. We’re working with a client to give knowledge management the same appeal as a YouTube channel: Just as viewers flock to YouTube because it’s where the great videos are, we want the company’s employees to look forward to going to the knowledge management database because it’s where all the great information is. We’re exploring how the company can develop and manage the content and also create algorithms to personalize search results for a “bingeable” experience – like watching all the content related to marketing or procurement. The idea is to make knowledge management an integral part of the employee experience because the content is enticing and high-impact.
  • Reinventing the customer space. We’re working with a banking partner to pioneer new ways to deliver personalized wealth management services. For example, we’re exploring the possibility of eliminating the in-person model in certain banking segments, like retirement, and adding insights and tools for employees to deliver a more personalized experience to clients, with much less administrative effort on the employee’s part.

For many companies, the employee experience they create today will define their business going forward. We see a willingness to take chances with the employee experience because companies need new possibilities now, not in a year or two.  They know that the new employee experience isn’t just about increasing efficiency but also growing as a company. It’s a key moment – and an opportunity for the future.

Chia Chen

Chia Chen

Chia Chen is a Leader of the Employee Experience Offering from Cognizant Interactive. He has worked with companies in a number of... Read more