Most of us have now settled in to our eighth week of enforced remote work. We’ve adjusted our working hours. We’ve optimized our home offices, or the rooms that pass for them. We’re juggling collaboration apps to stay in touch with colleagues, customers, partners (and family). We’ve figured out how to balance work with the kids’ school. Yikes, what we do when school lets out for the summer?
Remote work is looking like the new normal, even after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. In a survey of 317 CFOs conducted on March 30, Gartner found that about 25 percent of those surveyed expect 10 percent of their employees will remain remote, 17 percent expect 20 percent will remain remote. With remote work gaining a new foothold in IT strategies, it’s time for fresh look at what that means for employee experience.
Employee experience matters – now more than ever
With the shift to remote work, companies are even more focused on employee experience to maintain business continuity and productivity. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were investing in employee experience to attract and retain top talent. Doing so is especially important, even now, given the changing dynamics of the corporate workforce.
Ten thousand baby boomers reach the retirement age of 65 in the United States every day. But that doesn’t mean they’re retiring. Given the uncertainty about the economy, more are likely to continue working. And this trend has been underway for years. A 2018 Gallup poll showed that 41% expect to work past age 65, up from only 13.5% in 1995. What’s driving them to hang on? The impact of two recessions, not including the one that just started. A decline in the value of Social Security benefits. Simple satisfaction from doing their job. And, for some industries, the difficulty that companies have in finding people with the skills to replace them.
Millennials (born between about 1980 and 1996) comprise 30 percent of the population. By 2025, they’ll represent 75 percent of the global workforce. What millennials seek most from their jobs is meaningful work, flexibility and autonomy, and connection and mentoring.
Generation Z (born between about 1996 and early 2000’s) are just now entering the workforce. They’re three times more likely to change jobs than other generations. 20% of them average 4 or more jobs over the short period of time they’ve been in the workforce, compared to Baby Boomers who average just 2 jobs in the past ten years.
Three factors of employee experience
It is commonly written that there are three factors of employee experience – culture, physical space, and technology. In an article from 2018 on the ROI of employee experience, World at Work estimated the contributions of these factors as 40% culture, 30% physical space, and 30% technology.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the strategic focus of companies on the digital workplace increased the importance of technology on employee experience. After all, the point of digital workplace strategies is to provide employees with secure, easy access to the business-critical applications on which they depend, so that they can do their work, wherever and whenever they want. Policies encouraging the use of BYOD, collaboration apps, and SaaS are key to the improvements in productivity, customer service, flexibility, and employee satisfaction made possible by digital workplaces.
Now, the mandatory shift to remote work as a result of COVID-19 social distancing policies further magnifies the importance of technology as the main driver of employee experience.
Well, things sure have changed for the physical spaces in which we find ourselves working these days. One of our local technology newsletters used to have a regular “office envy” column, in which they portrayed companies that competed for talent based on their office layouts. Amazing, open work spaces. Pool and foosball tables. Easy access to food trucks. Craft brews on tap. Pets at work etc. Well, all that is out the window for now, isn’t it?
Here’s my workspace. It doubles as a study and project room for my wife and kids. It gets the job done, but there’s no way that it still comprises 30% of my employee experience. The food here is great, and it doesn’t come from a truck. The beer is not on tap, and I have to go buy it myself.
It’s not scientific, but in today’s environment, I’d give physical space no more than 15% contribution to employee experience.
Maintaining a strong company culture is a real challenge in this era of remote work. Culture is key to the autonomy, connection and mentoring aspects that criteria that Millennials seek in meaningful work. It’s what will help keep Boomers and Gen Z employees on the job. Culture has to be more funny hats and virtual drinks with the team on the Friday 4:00PM Zoom call.
An article in Harvard Business Review discusses the communication challenges when collaborating with a remote team. A strong culture enables team leaders to foster the values, trust, and sense of interdependency that are necessary to effective collaboration across distances. There’s no playbook for HR and business leaders in how to maintain a strong corporate culture, let alone enhance it, with an abrupt shift to remote work. In this era, a generous estimate is that the role that culture plays in employee experience must be reduced by half. Call it 20%.
Technology is the third factor in employee experience, and this era of remote work, the most important. Given my estimates on the contribution of physical space and culture, technology comprises 65% of employee experience these days, up from 30%. This seems about right.
Millennials love technology, but Gen Z are the 1st digital natives. If they’re lucky enough to have been born to families of means, many got their first iPhones before they could walk. They personify the democratization of IT. They expect to use their own devices at work. They live on social media, so they won’t suffer in silence when a technology service doesn’t meet their needs.
With the shift to remote work, technology is even more important to employee experience, productivity, and business continuity. The laptops which employees are using from home need to be properly resourced with sufficient battery power, CPU, memory, etc. Some employees are booting up outside of a PC docking station for the very first time. And their laptops may not be performing adequately.
Collaboration app usage has sky-rocketed, both in the number of tools used within organizations, and in the overall increase in hours of use per day. Many of us feel overwhelmed in balancing the use of Slack, Teams, Zoom, Webex, Skype for Business, and more. There’s overlap between these tools, so it’s hard to know which to use. Learning how to leverage these tools to their fullest extent seems to be done on the job. As Gartner has written, in most companies neither HR nor IT feels ownership to help employees bridge the “Digital Dexterity Gap” – the gap between the availability of new technology and the ability and motivation of the workforce to take full advantage of it.
The pressure on IT to deliver on employee experience
Of course, it’s not just about the availability of technology. The performance of technology is what matters to employees attempting to do their jobs remotely. IT must ensure that employees experience fast response for the business-critical applications on which they depend. Collaboration tools must be reliable enough to foster effective communication. Device and connectivity performance must be reliable. IT must also keep pace with an increasing volume of end user issues, all at time when the pressure is on to control costs. In this era of remote work, technology performance plays an outsized role in employee experience. Companies need insights into where to invest and where to cut costs in order to maintain business continuity.