person with headset sitting at a desk

Employee experience: shaping new work practices

May 13, 2020

Managing employee experience helps us find a way out of the endless loop of trying to catch up with the latest HR trends and helps come up with our own solutions. This article introduces to the concept of employee experience, how to bring it into action, and what we – as humans and organizations – can get out of it.

We use the focus topic of working remotely as an example and show how to improve employee experience by using service design tools.

In this article we will cover the following questions:

  1. What is employee experience? And why is it important?
  2. What are the different concepts of employee experience?
  3. How can you research and improve employee experience?
  4. How to evaluate employee experience?
The experience journey an employee has when working in an office consists of all the steps and connected emotions from getting to the office, having meetings, lunch until the end of their day.
Ana’s employee experience journey in the office

When we scroll through our LinkedIn timeline, our favorite blogs, or flick through our monthly subscribed magazines, we read countless posts and articles on new promising management trends. We read the multiple articles on the pros and cons of working remotely, and see a lot of advice on how to work most efficiently or how to attract the best talent.

We constantly try to catch up on all the latest management trends, only to notice that most of them don’t really work for our organization, or don’t really show the intended effect.

It’s possible that we spend so much time trying to adapt to the latest trends, that we forget to look inward and understand the unique needs of our organization. There’s no question that these articles can be inspiring, but while we are busy trying to catch up, we might miss the opportunity to actively shape the development of new working practices ourselves and to find what actually works for our organization.

Let’s talk about the powerful role of employee experience (EX). Since there are various definitions of  EX, this article will explain how we understand it and how we make use of it. It will introduce you to the mindset of EX and how to manage employee experience in your organization. It will sensitize you to how it can eventually help you adapt to and actively contribute to shaping new working practices. For example, how might we best support both our organization and its employees when parts of the team are now working remotely?

What is employee experience? And why is it important?

As you might guess from the term, employee experience is about creating great experiences for our employees. When thinking EX, we understand employees not as a resource but as people, as humans. And, to us humans, it is the whole experience that matters and helps us thrive.

Let’s take the example of a simple beach, it is not the beach itself that sticks in our memory but rather with whom we have been there, what it meant to us being there, what time or weather it was, or what we brought with us. It is the whole experience that matters to us and that we value most. It is these little and often basic aspects that come together as a whole and make the moment an experience that we thrive on, and that we also want to experience at work.

Employee experience is therefore a mindset to empower our employees by making work a valuable experience. By doing this, it is not only about coming up with the most special and innovative ideas and highlights, but it is especially about finding our employee’s pain points and fixing them. These pain points are often surprisingly basic but can have an immense influence on the individual as well as on the organizational level. Employee experience management is therefore not only about taking care of our employees but about taking care of our organization. It is the foundation for a great customer experience.

Understanding the diverse concepts of employee experience

If you are new to this topic or are looking for some inspiration, it might be useful to get a first understanding of employees’ needs. Luckily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel since there are already many research findings on employee’s needs we can easily make use of. Here are some basic concepts we can use for a first understanding and inspiration, using working remotely as an example:

Culture

Three colleagues having lunch together as a symbol for a company's culture.
A company’s culture has a strong influence on the employee experience

Culture is an extremely rich part of the employees’ experience and is valued as the most important aspect to employees. Culture is the vibe of our company, the team spirit, the simple feeling we have when we are at work. When focusing on culture, we study how members are included, their feeling of belonging and their sense-making. It is about the feeling of being valued, trusted, and treated fairly. So now when we have a team working remotely, the cultural aspect deserves even more attention since interpersonal relations are facing new pain points. These are some questions we can ask when analyzing the culture:

  • How are all team members equally involved in daily happenings?
  • How can we align remote and office workers?
  • How can we check upon one another when we cannot sense  the vibe of your team members as we do in real life?
  • How can we create a community digitally?
  • How can we create trust or value digitally?

There are many answers and ideas floating around, but not everything will work for our team. We will get to that a little later on.

Workflow

Icon of an employee following his own workflow and working on his laptop
Analyzing your employee’s workflow helps you to better understand your employee’s experience

Let’s have a look at the individual workflow. All our employees have different workflows depending on their role, their daily tasks, how much they rely on the information of their coworkers or other stakeholders, when our private life allows us to be available, or when we simply feel most productive. Especially when working remotely, workflows can get easily interrupted or are just simply very diverse due to the fine line between work and  our private life. Here are some questions you can ask when analyzing the workflow:

  • How much do our employees depend on one another?
  • To what degree are they allowed or enabled to self manage their work?
  • How many calls or meetings are they involved in on a daily basis?
  • What are disturbing distractions and what distractions are welcomed?
  • Do they actually have access  to the relevant information  they need to do their work?

Physical workspace

Icons of different employees working together in front of a whiteboard.
The physical workspace is an important factor when it comes to employee experience

The physical workspace seems to be an easy fix because it seems to be all visible. However, even if the workspace is visible, we might miss a few essential pain points of our employees that are not explicitly visible on the first glance. Since the physical experience is not restricted to what we see but also to what we hear, smell, and feel, we need to study the location, dimension, the physical equipment of their workspace based on all our senses. When analyzing our remote team’s workspace, it is a bit more challenging since we are not exactly aware of what  their physical location looks like nor can we easily redesign their workspace. However, that doesn’t mean that their pain points cannot be fixed on an organizational level. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • If they are working from home, what kind of household are they in?
  • Do they have good quality furniture and equipment?
  • Do they have a private place where they can retreat?
  • Does it have a comfortable climate?
  • What kind of lighting is installed?
  • How is the overall cleanliness?

Technology

Icon of a person using a laptop
Nowadays, the technology your employees are working with is extremely important for a good employee experience

The last and very important concept that I want to point out is technology. It has a major influence on how we do our work and how we experience it. It influences how easily we can get things done, how we can communicate with one another, and to what information we have access to. Remote workers are especially dependent on the right technology, so make sure you understand what technology your people are working with:

  • Does the technology provide access to the relevant information?
  • Is the technology equally accessible?
  • Can your team members easily connect and communicate with one another or their stakeholders?
  • Can the technology equally cover real life actions and processes?
  • Is the technology actually beneficial to the process?
  • Is the process itself still up-to-date?

These are just a few questions we can ask when analyzing remote work. However, when looking at different areas i.e., attracting, hiring or onboarding employees, we might also focus on different aspects and come up with different questions. Nevertheless, It is important to understand these areas  not as being separated from another but as highly interconnected and dependent.

So now that we’ve collected some inspiration, let’s do our field work and find out our employees’ real pain points!

Researching and improving employee experience – asking and listening to your employees

Now that we understand some first thoughts on the reasoning and relevance of employee experience, how do we actually improve it? How can we create exceptional experiences for our employees?

The idea is actually quite simple. To come up with individual solutions and create great experiences, we need to understand our employees’ real needs and pain points. Only then we can come up with the right solutions. There is simply one best way to go about this: We need to talk and listen to them.

The key point here is to base our ideas, measures, projects, etc not on our assumptions (what we think our employees need), but on our people’s real experiences (what our employees really need). Like everything in life, good outcomes demand good efforts, so we will need to do real research. When working on EX, we make use of the service design approach and methodology, which means that we do research, ideation, prototyping and constant iteration. For now, let’s start with some research!

Evaluating employee experience

There are quantitative and qualitative approaches to researching experiences. The more qualitative we approach our research, the richer our findings will be. However, depending on our company’s size and capacities, we might want to channel our research and start with quantitative research such as conducting a survey. We can then dig deeper into one or two more specific topics with qualitative research methods.

When conducting the research, we make use a variety of qualitative methods recommended by service design.  Here are just some methods that we can use to explore your employee’s experiences: desk research, ethnography, mobile ethnography, classic interviews or (non-) participative observation. Feel free to try out multiple ones, see what is working and what data you can get out of it! Using several methods will make your data richer and more valid.

Finding these pain points

Now with all the data we collected, we can become easily overwhelmed by its richness. Our goal is to give the data some structure and to find out the pain points of our employees. To do that, service design tools such as personas and journey maps can be a great help.

The experience journey an employee has when working in an office consists of all the steps and connected emotions from getting to the office, having meetings, lunch until the end of their day.

For big organizations and teams, personas can be a helpful tool to get to know our employees better, and most importantly, to help us empathize  with them. Personas cluster and represent a specific group of our employees, i.e., Marie represents the technology enthusiasts; John represents the single households; Stephanie represents part-timers; millennials, remote workers, office workers etc.

By using personas, we personalize our employees and learn more about their background, their life situation and their interests which will eventually help us to find out and understand their individual needs and pain points.

When we want to look more into our employees’ actual work experience, we create journey maps. Journey maps visualize our employees’ journey from A to Z. These journeys can be on a high-level, looking at i.e. their employment journey from onboarding to leaving the company, or on a more detailed level, looking at one full work day, from the morning coffee to the afterwork drinks. Thinking through their whole journey and visualizing it will help us spot many of our employees pain points.

Example journey map for employee experience

To consider the shift from office to remote work and to highlight the different challenges that our employees are facing when working within these two different environments, we came up with an example of two personas on their regular work journey, one working remotely, the other one onsite.

View example journey map on employee experience

In this example, our persona Ana just moved from Morocco to Munich to join her new team onsite as a Backend Developer. She loves coding, chatting and good food, especially vegan. Pedro is in Ana’s team but works remotely as a Frontend Developer from Colombia. He is also an enthusiastic coder, loves socializing and a good team spirit. He lives in a shared flat with his cat and a friend who is studying at the university of Bogotá.

A persona is the protagonist of an employee journey map and includes her characteristics, values and a description of her role.
Create personas for your different employees

Ana starts her day under stress since she needs to use the public transport during rush hour. While Ana enjoys the social interaction with the team in the office, she also gets easily distracted and interrupted during work. Pedro, on the other hand, feels a bit isolated from the team and would wish to be more involved in the team stories and the daily happenings. While the isolation would help him focus on work, he still gets distracted by his flatmate and his cat that tries to get his attention. Waiting for replies from his team mates or having to do many calls for simple fixes, delays his workflow.

Visualizing Ana’s and Pedro’s journeys highlights the different challenges, both are facing during a regular work day.

Even though both work within the same team, have a similar workflow as developers and share a similar personality, their pain points are very diverging due to the different environments they are working in. Based on these pain points, we can now come up with the right solutions and create a better employee experience.

These are just a few approaches and tools that you can use to explore your employees’ experiences. Independent of the tools you choose, you should always involve your employees in the process – during data collection, data structuring, ideation, prototyping and implementing. Involving them in the process is the essential part of thinking EX and the key to an exceptional EX!

Conclusion

When we want to talk about good business performance, we need to talk about our employees. EX is therefore a mindset to empower our employees by fixing their pain points and treating them as what they are, humans. Making use of Service Design methods and tool, it focuses on understanding our employees’ real needs, finding their pain points, and fixing them. EX is not only an approach conducted by management but relies on the involvement of employees throughout the process. Through this collaboration, we are enabled to come up with effective measures, solutions or innovations. EX – as high flying as it may sound – is a very down-to-earth approach that puts the human first and bases decision-making on  real research.

How does all of this relate to actually shaping new working practices?

Along the way, we will discover many new and hidden pain points of our employees, which will help us come up with tailor-made and – if you want to call it – innovative solutions that can contribute to new working practices.

Create an employee journey map