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Tech and EX Trends Shaping the Digital Workplace

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Image: Vanessa Nunes - Alamy Stock Photo
At Unily's Unite 22 hybrid show last week, Cheryl McKinnon, principal analyst at Forrester, shared recent insights during her session, "Top Tech Trends Shaping the Digital Workplace," all of which centered around the idea of the employee experience. She identified three components that must cohere with one another: the digital employee experience team, enterprise leadership's increased interest in employee experience, and employee experience as a key driver in supporting anywhere work.
McKinnon then unpacked the data demonstrating what these digital workplace technology trends mean for your employee experience, communications, and collaboration strategies.
Employee Experience Rises in Priority
Forrester has noticed a rise in employee experience in terms of executive priority. When examining customer experience over the last decade, McKinnon cited The Employee Experience Index, launched in 2019, and described what these findings mean for employees.
Many organizations pivoted to improving customer experience through technologies, management strategies, and process investments —rules that govern investors' behavior so they can stick to the principles of their investment strategy. But then, McKinnon said, organizations started to realize, “hey, we need to turn this back on employees—we’ve got to create the same level of upskilling, investments, and fresh technologies available to our internal teams.”

Three characteristics Forrester looked at when measuring employee experience: Empower, Inspire, Enable.

Forrester uses three characteristics to measure its employee experience. The first is empowerment, i.e., how organizations define how employees can best do their job. She asked, "How can your organization use this new level of employee empowerment to help them focus on serving their customers?”
Inspiration, Forrester’s second characteristic, plays a major role in a top down managerial style in distributing recognition,” sharing results, or being transparent about goals and outcomes.
Enablement — the third and final measure — assures that employees have the right information available at the right time and place. “It’s also ensuring this information is trusted, authoritative, and employees have the confidence to make decisions and serve customers with that information.”
Growing Interest in Digital Employee Experience Will Shape Our Next-Gen Workforce
McKinnon emphasized that digital employee experience isn’t necessarily a tool or a strategy. “It’s the sum of all the little perceptions we have during the course of our day.”
Those perceptions shape where people work and how productive they are. For example, employees use excessive amounts of technology daily—physical devices, mobile apps, desktop apps, and web apps. "If we don't internally [have] coordination and synchronization on how these leaders come together, this is where we risk delivering a poor user experience to those using them all at once, McKinnon explained. She then advised executives in charge of the future workforce to remove the cognitive burden in this era of workforce volatility—including application switching, having too many open tabs, or too many tools that don’t work together well.
This simplification of employee experience is independent of location. Forrester asked decision-makers if they had expectations of supporting or anticipating remote employees. Data demonstrated that 62% of business and technology decision-makers expect their organization to have a (permanently) higher level of remote workers. “We saw that innovative companies are coming together and creating cross-functional teams to deliver on the best employee experiences possible,” McKinnon explained. Similarly, IT, end-user computing specialists, internal communications teams, HR leaders, plus VPs of collaboration efforts are uniting to break down silos negatively affecting employee experience.
Employee Experience: The Primary Motivator Supporting Anywhere Work
When contemplating “anywhere work,” Forrester shared four components (below) to help executives understand how workforce habits and the underpinning technologies that support anywhere work will be required: Fundamentals, goals, tech, and culture.

In terms of fundamentals, McKinnon noted, you must identify the issues that can drive or inhibit the idea of anywhere work. It could be everything from business processes, to technology, to culture. What new goals must you establish to measure and encourage new forms of work? “Track these over time to make sure it’s working or if adjustments need to be made.”
To support a digital workplace strategy from a technology point of view, home, hybrid, and remote workers all require a level playing field, which technology provides to support and sustain anywhere work. McKinnon explained why technology is becoming a key enabler in anywhere work. “Whether I’m in the home office one day, in my headquarters the next, or working on a plane—I know I’ve got the right level of information, a common set of tools, where my experience as an employee is going to be maintainable, supportive, and consistent.
McKinnon added that this is particularly important. Because when you think about the employees who are the most highly engaged—what they value most—she explained—is the access they have to the information they need to do their job, plus the ability to collaborate with their peers. McKinnon said to consider the combination of the frontline facing tools, whether it’s a mobile app, web app, integrated exposure in an enterprise application, in addition to the operating systems, the devices—all the infrastructure serving those apps to help employees get their job done. “Both have to be in sync and need to be consistent.”
Digital Employee Experience Starting Points
When decision-makers think about the digital employee experience and where to begin in their approach to defining and optimizing their employee experience, McKinnon described three areas worth exploring in terms of starting points. They are:
  • Skill and Staffing: Begin by asking: What are the skills and staff you have today? What are the potential gaps you may need to fill? Organizations must marry their technical and employee experience teams, communicators, and HR professionals. McKinnon noted that business analysts are one of the roles that help connect these two worlds.
  • Scope: Use an employee journey approach and prioritize mapping out the most common, repeatable, or inefficient employee journeys. There may be measurements, pain points that have already been observed, and where dissatisfaction levels are highest. Identify the bottlenecks and where to fix them.
  • Goals and Metrics: Forrester has begun to see a rise in experience-level agreements (XLA). IT and help-desk teams historically established service level agreements (SLAs), I.e., percentage of up-time and how fast an employee closes a problem ticket. The focus needs to shift from how IT and the help desk would measure themselves to how we’re measuring the success and outcomes of the employees themselves. An employee may close a trouble ticket quickly, but if they’re still stuck trying to access an application—the job isn’t finished. The XLA focuses more on employee goals and outcomes and less on help-desk metrics.
McKinnon advised attendees to take a holistic view of the technology elements that affect employee experience and think about the capabilities depended on in this area. These include the orchestration layers, integration layers, analytics surrounding it, surveys and feedback, employee and corporate communications, and the content that serves the work-from-anywhere workforce.
McKinnon reminded digital employee experience decision-makers to consider these related concepts and recognize that the workforce and communication tools are at the heart of any employee experience.