Upgrading the employee experience in a hybrid world

The move by many companies to a mix of office and remote working brings a big opportunity to make improvements for staff, says Kirsty Graham

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Today, you can’t attend a technology conference without being bombarded by references to the customer experience (CX). And of course, CX is important as organisations strive to delight their customers and make it easier and attractive to consume more products and services. But there is a growing acceptance that it is the employee who will pass on your culture to the customer in the first instance. They are the torch carriers for your brand and, in a world where it’s almost impossible to compete on price, the service they provide both internally and externally will be one of your primary sources of success.

However, we live in a hugely disruptive time for the employer-employee relationship. Digitisation and flexible working mean the era of presenteeism, the commuting grind and the expectation of nine-to-five, five days per week are going, going, gone. And there are other disruptive effects: changes of leadership and mergers and acquisitions are occurring more rapidly than ever. No wonder people feel discomforted.

Employees need employers to step up. They want a balanced, healthy life but they also want to respect the soul of the organisation. Is it ethical and sustainable? Can it be relied on to do the right thing? Does it foster its people and pay attention to culture and nuance?

Giving people the right tools and environment to be effective will generate tangible benefits. A Gartner report states that “employees with a high-quality UX are at least 1.5 times more likely to have high levels of work effectiveness, productivity, intention to stay and discretionary effort.” Also, Gartner adds that “over half of employees (55 per cent) say that whether they can work flexibly will impact whether they stay at their organisations.”

The ongoing phenomenon of the ‘Great Resignation’, which has seen millions of people quit their jobs during the pandemic, has shown that we can’t take employee loyalty for granted. The annual review is dead; long live regular dialogue and discussion.

It’s also critical that managing people is a board-level issue. In its article, Improving the employee experience and internal mobility for workforce agility, Ventana Research stresses the particular importance of finance working in lockstep with HR to harmonise financial and people goals. 

EX and getting hybrid working right is a test of organisational resilience but an opportunity too. Startups addressing EX are attracting interest and money: look at funding for companies such as Leena AI, Whistle and Winningtemp. For organisations ready to reengineer there is scope to build teams of people that are fulfilled, able to give the best of themselves and provide positive referrals for others.

This is a golden age for employees who constantly upskill to make themselves even more attractive job candidates. The best employers won’t fear this and will encourage learning velocity while understanding the need for “skills within skills” and people with soft skills and ‘E-shaped’ all-rounders that offer experience, execution and expertise but are also willing to explore and learn.

Today at progressive organisations, the employee experience is being reimagined from hiring and onboarding onwards. An example: we are seeing the interviewing process reduced from a five- or six-stage process to two or three stages. More screening automation, AI and machine learning may hone this further soon.

We also need to understand that if people are underperforming or unfulfilled then internal mobility can work. Conversely, we know that many staff seek stability in such turbulent times, to feel part of the crew on the organisation’s journey and be treated as an individual. That means having line managers who spot when people are having bad times then react accordingly. Feedback and non-invasive monitoring can help us stay on track.

The onus will be on employers to go further than simple compensation and reward schemes. People need to be positively challenged and their enthusiasm piqued from job application to leaving day, where there remains vast scope for feedback, consultancy and alumni networks goodwill can be maintained. Technology is our friend here. We can set goals that both sides can see and simplify everyday tasks such as managing expenses, business travel and time off.

Change is never easy, but the alternative is far worse. So, consider how you bring more transparency to managing, and listening to, people. Run festivals of learning and ensure people know that not every project has to be successful, but it must be educational. Think about how you equip people with business skills but also the life skills that make them rounded individuals. Consider how leaders communicate and how you can best receive, and act on, feedback. Employees love being asked their point of view, but just as quickly disconnect when they feel they have not been heard and no changes materialise.

These are challenging times but exciting ones too. We are living through a revolution: choose to take advantage of that.

Kirsty Graham is interim chief people success officer at Unit4