Ever since the outbreak of coronavirus and the consequent shift to remote and now hybrid working, there has been an upheaval in norms of communication between people, departments and locations. While organizations experiment and adopt strategies to build a seamless experience and maintain the connect across a distributed workforce, virtual collaboration has helped in breaking silos and improving communication between business functions. Organizations have over the last few months experimented with ad-hoc models in a bid to set up long term digitization service delivery models. These have, over time, evolved to be more employee-experience centric.
In an endeavour to understand these evolving models of employee experience and communication, People Matters, in partnership with ServiceNow, hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on the theme ‘Architecting sustainable collaboration for the hybrid workforce’. The VRT also witnessed industry leaders Bartek Sibilski - Head of HR Reporting and Analytics, APAC at JLL; Amit Bhatia, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research; and Gerald Pang– Employee Experience Solutions Consulting Lead, APJ, ServiceNow, come together for a panel discussion moderated by Drishti Pant, from the People Matters Editorial Team.
Here are key highlights from the session.
How have digital workflows evolved?
In the last decade, billions of dollars were spent on HR service centres and Centres of Excellence, according to Gerald Pang, Employee Experience Solutions, Consulting Lead, APJ ServiceNow. But today, employee journeys must be automated and instrumental, not just for solving HR problems, but to free up time for employees to focus on the most meaningful work for the business and where their skills can be best showcased.
Employees now expect a seamless experience across the enterprise whether they are working from home, office or both, but for many they are faced with managing multiple systems, tech, processes. These multiple touchpoints need to be more interconnected to be able to redefine services and give employees a seamless experience across the enterprise. Commenting on the need to architect a seamless experience, Amit Bhatia, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research outlined two realities related to the evolution of the digital workflows:
- Complexity around employee-related workflows has gone up due to the hybrid model. Diving deeper, Amit highlighted that under the hybrid work model, some employees are remote, some come to work – and for that, firms need new processes on controlling who comes in, when they come in, where they can sit, what gets recorded, etc, resulting in an increase in workflows. With the pandemic, many questions are afloat, such as “who comes in”, “who is allowed”, “how do we keep employees safe”, “how do you onboard talent” etc. Handling complexity is the key.
- Expectations from employees have skyrocketed i.e. employees want their experiences to become easier, consumer-grade, and personalized. Employees expect employers to make their lives easier.
This disruption is seen in a positive way, and companies need to figure out the challenge. Bhatia validates this thought, “There is an inherent tension with the massive increase in tech capability i.e. to make tech easier, faster and better”. On the other hand, the global regime adds to the complexity of organizations, making any change in the process itself a complex challenge.
As organizations rethink design and experience, a good strategy would be to aim to replicate the experience of consumer grade technologies at the workplace.
This would essentially mean making digital experience for employees at the workplace as seamless as that of their experience with technology in their personal lives.
Key steps for leaders navigating hybrid work strategy
Post-COVID, the employee experience paradigm has moved away from the conventional approach , with leaders leading the way, right from the top. To sustain this momentum of collaborative change:
- Organizations must talk about the employee experience vision: Leaders must define, “What should it feel like to work at my organization?” They must ask this question at the end of every touchpoint and build a concurrent vision and strategy to get there with employee voice at the centre.
- Organizations must curate an employee experience that is not just driven by HR or L&D, but is more rounded and impacts the daily experience such as day-to-day work with teams. If HR is leading the charge, it has to take care of non-HR elements.
- Organizations must redefine the role of people managers. After all, the biggest influence comes from the immediate manager. Incorporating elements of design such as journey mapping, design thinking will help leaders empathize with employees.
- Over and above these, making the business case for employee experience requires tying it to metrics like retention, attrition etc.
According to a survey by Indeed, 52% of employees are feeling burned out due to digitally transformed processes. In architecting a sustainable experience for the hybrid workspace, it is important to remember that employee experience is the sum of small daily interactions. The above measures contribute to making these interactions and the ecosystem around it more holistic.
How to evaluate technologies for fostering connection and collaboration?
“Leaders can drive employee experience from the top,” stated Gerald. Moreover, in a hybrid workforce, the responsibilities of employees have increased.
How organizations can help is by delivering a top-notch employee service experience.
In a hybrid workforce, targeted communication, helping employees find information they need easily, delivering employee services, etc. demands a high degree of agility.
Organizations also have to consider the different employee groups so it is therefore important to meet employees where they are.
For example, a great employee service is about ensuring remote employees have the necessary digital capabilities enabled, reaching the deskless workforce via mobility solutions and catering for the non-tech savvy by providing them simple ways of engaging the organization. And this experience cannot be silo-ed within individual departments. For this, technologies cannot be servicing a sole purpose; tech should be flexible to cater to different parts of the organization. This is because research says that connecting the enterprise is crucial to making work flow across different departments.
Retaining hybrid work culture
Most important for sustained cross functional collaboration is to stay authentic, constructive and productive. Bartek rightly noted that on a day to day basis, business leaders usually care about their clients and objectives, while peer-to-peer items are simply nice to have. Due to COVID, the culture suddenly changed and people started learning and working together.
COVID brought people together backed by genuine authenticity of leaders, and this is visible to employees.
Authentic versus design exercise matters to people. It is similar to what Amit talks about, “My children listen to what I do, rather than what I tell them to do”.
Leading from the top, walking the talk is authentic and essential. Employees recognize that this moves them in the right direction and ensures collaboration success. Hence, leaders must focus on two things to sustain digital collaborative behaviours:
- Point everyone in the same direction giving them a reason to collaborate
- Measure and incentivize people on joint team metrics to drive virtual collaborative behaviours
Showing authenticity and purpose to employees and creating awareness about teams working together, coupled with consistent repeated messaging about collaborative expectations shall ingrain productive collaboration as an automatic muscle. This automatic muscle combined with the power of digital will be key to shaping a sustainable and thriving hybrid work culture.