The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 23

Why is the Digital Employee Experience so important?

​James Robertson
Managing Director at Step Two​​

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On this episode of the Intelligent Workplace, we discuss the digital employee experience. DEX comprises three elements, how employees work, what tools and technology they use, and the culture they exist within.

While DEX is not a new concept, the focus has increased on it in recent years. An Australian company, Step Two has even begun conducting an annual survey on the topic. Managing Director of Step Two, James Robertson, joins me on this episode to share his DEX insights.


Chris:                     Welcome to The Intelligent Workplace podcast, James Robertson.

James:                  Good morning, lovely to be here as part of this marvelous podcast.

Chris:                     Thank you, mate. So, mate, look, as I mentioned in the opener, you describe the Digital Employee Experience, we’ll just call it DEX for now, so we don’t get too tongue-tied. You describe it as the sum of the total of the digital interactions between a staff member and their organization. Can you please just paint the picture for the listeners, as to what types of technologies and interactions you are referring to?

James:                  Yeah, I think the power of DEX is that it’s holistic. So, historically, we’ve had intranets as a solution, we have the HR solution, we have the finance solution, we have collaboration tools, and the like.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  And, each of those individual tools is going through its own evolution. Whether that’s a modern intranet, an Office 365, or whether that’s a shift to ServiceNow, or to Workday, or whatever. And, certainly, from a technology perspective, you can look at that as saying, “Well, look, those tools, well that’s your digital workplace.” Okay? So, that’s from a tool perspective. Where digital employee experience is powerful, is that it takes the perspective of the person. So, it’s the, the person, and how they interact as a whole, not just with all of those tools, but actually with other staff, as well, digitally. And, that gives a cross-cutting perspective. Because, I think, one of the really big challenges is that, we’re delivering a massive, massively better functionality into organizations. Hugely better, modern tools. But what we’re delivering in the process, by default, is complexity.

Chris:                     Yes.

James:                  We are adding more tools. We’re not taking any away. We’re adding more features, more buttons, more capabilities. So, how do we ensure that we don’t lose sight of the fact, that there’s a human and this equation? And, that may-

Chris:                     It can be a little bit overwhelming, can’t it?

James:                  Yeah, that’s right. I think, we’ve understood, all of us in this industry, that users want simplicity. That’s not proved to be easy to get.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  There’s a lot of hard work around that.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  And look, it can be kind of a second thought, in terms of, well we’ll deliver the capabilities, and look, we’ll do some user experience, some UX work to try and make it easier to find the policy, or to complete the form. And we’ll do change management, right?

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  So, we’ll do this adoption piece. But, where’s that strategic view, that says, “We’re here to help people get work done better, and to have a more enjoyable, more engaging, more productive experience”?

Chris:                     Absolutely.

James:                  And that’s, I think, where DEX is providing, as you say, not a new concept, but I think a new way of articulating the need.

Chris:                     So, effectively, if those elements aren’t able to be accessed and interacted with in an easy way, the DEX is not great, is it?

James:                  Yeah, that’s right. And so, we can look at this from a bottom up perspective, as I said, from a… designing, and refining, and user testing every feature that we deliver, and my goodness, we need to do a lot more of that. And, it’s still understandable, but frustrating, that, how much UX work is focused on the customer, and how little is focused on the employee.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  So, if that’s the bottom up view, then there’s also a top down view, that says, “Look, we need to have a strategic view on what we’re going to deliver. We need to have a rallying cry that says, ‘Okay, we know that employee engagement is important, we know satisfaction is important, we know productivity is important, but how do we articulate that in a way that senior leaders can get behind, and then really tackle, in a productive fashion?'”

Chris:                     And, is that the key to this? You’ve got productivity, you’ve got engagement, you’ve got employee satisfaction, is that the reason why DEX matters?

James:                  Well, there’s a couple of reasons, and I think what’s interesting is that, there’s a different answer for different areas of the organization. And that, again, is one of the powers of it. So, if you look at it from an IT perspective, then it’s about making sure that staff are productive in tools, that they’re making sure that adoption is quick, effective, complete.

James:                  If that’s the IT view, then the HR view is very much around employee engagement, employee satisfaction, onboarding, retention, stuff like that. There’s also a view, though, and this is perhaps the strongest perspective, that says, “You can’t deliver a better customer experience than your employee experience.”

Chris:                     I like that.

James:                  Yeah, because it says, “The customer experience, we get. And, everyone knows how important it is, and if you’re a big bank, or insurance company, or even a local council, whatever it happens to be, you have a strategy for improving customer experience. And, if you’re a large organization, you have a whole team of people, who started by fixing the company’s website, and then delivered a better mobile experience of the website, and then improved the apps that are delivered to customers, and went all the way to redesigning the physical branch of, the bank, say, and the paperwork that’s given to people.

James:                  And, senior leaders know that there’s the differentiating factor, the competitive advantage is better customer experience. And, if that’s then that definition, customer experiences, the sum total of interaction between organizations and the customers, then it immediately says, “Well, mirror image, internally,” then surely, we must be also needing to look at it in the employee.

Chris:                     So, is that an issue with DEX, is that it’s not seen as business-critical, and so therefore companies fail at it?

James:                  Look, I do think so. I mean, in a survey last year, it showed that it was very early days, and that DEX was still very much the domain of the early movers and early adopters. That being said, organizations are recognizing that a bunch of things internally, our business-critical, even if they’re not necessarily yet associating those with DEX.

James:                  So, for example, we’re working with a organization at the moment, and they’re going off, and they provide healthcare services to aged and disabled people out in their homes, as well as running retirement homes, and the like. Now, if you look at that job, that’s a hard job to do. It’s in a very challenging environment. There’s a lot of customer interaction, that requires a lot of knowledge, and a changing body of knowledge.

James:                  But also, it’s a highly risky environment. So, we know in Australia, there’s been Royal Commissions, the top level government investigations, into the failings of aged care and the failings of healthcare delivery. Organizations like this are really starting to wake up to the fact that, “My goodness, how our employees work, we really shouldn’t take this as an assumed thing. We really need to be thinking about, these customer-facing staff, we really do need to be helping them do a great job. And, we also need to make sure that they’re doing the job in a way that mitigates our business risks.”

Chris:                     Yeah, sure.

James:                  And, those are fundamental drivers, the DEX, amongst other things. But, DEX is the concept that best targets how to plan, design, deliver solutions that tackle those particular business priorities.

Chris:                     So, have you got some kind of high-level, five immediate dot points for what an amazing DEX is?

James:                  We’re putting shape, at the moment, around some guiding principles. And look, there’s some obvious ones, I guess, no less powerful for it, deliver simplicity.

Chris:                     Yes.

James:                  Well, okay, put a full stop at the end of that. And, that’s something that we actually can check, right? But, it’s also about some more challenging ideas. So, we talk about organizations needing to strive for equity access. So, what I mean by that is, if you look at a lot of frontline roles in organizations, and whether that’s insurance brokers out on the road, or engineers in a factory, or for that matter, workers in a bank branch, or in a call or contact center, if you actually go and spend time with them, and you discover that, in way too many cases, these are staff that, well, maybe don’t even have access to the intranet, let alone to, well, an online payslip-

Chris:                     Yeah, okay.

James:                  … or an online leave form. You know? The thing that corporate workers have had for a decade. And, if you’d look at their access to tools, they don’t have modern collaboration tools, they don’t have good access to knowledge sources. It’s easy for people in the corporate office to think about rolling out whatever, you know? Office 365, Workplace by Facebook, whatever, and put all of those frontline staff in the phase two bucket.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  Because, too hard to in phase one.

Chris:                     Too hard, yeah.

James:                  And, I think that’s a tactical mistake, but I think it’s a strategic mistake, because there’s both an ethical responsibility of organizations to ensure that, well, if we are employing people, we should give them a minimum standard of capabilities.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  But also, a strategic thing, how exactly are they supposed to do a great job, if all I’ve got is the printouts they took when they were last in the office, that’s in the boot of their car, and an email that they get to check in the occasional break?

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  I mean, that’s… So, that’s not enough. So, I do think there are a set of emerging guiding principles, that certainly we’ll be talking and writing more about, that do help to shape DEX, but it’s still early days for this whole space.

Chris:                     And so, on that topic, are you sort of working towards key business outcomes that can be driven by a good DEX?

James:                  Yeah. Yeah, I do think so. I mean, there’s some obvious ones.

Chris:                     Engagement, I’m assuming.

James:                  Yeah, absolutely. And, what’s powerful about engagement is, that most medium to large organizations measure it.

Chris:                     Yes, yeah.

James:                  And, they measure it in a fairly rich way.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  And so, if you looks at things like, “Do you feel like you are well informed about what’s happening in the organization?”

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  “Ah, no.” “Do you understand the overall strategy of the organization?” “Yeah… No.” You know? “Do you feel like you’re able to be productive?” “Well, kind of.” So, I think there are some clear levers there, around the employee engagement, and that culture survey.

James:                  And again, it’s about saying, you give things like Officer 365 as a really strong example, that these tools are being introduced to support new ways of working. But, we need to have a view of what those new ways should be-

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  … that it’s bigger than the technology, and to have a reason for doing this.

Chris:                     I agree.

James:                  And so, employee engagement is one of those-

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  … because, collaboration tools are about connecting people.

Chris:                     For sure. Do you think that, maybe a good DEX could ultimately be a tool to recruit employees, as well?

James:                  Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think, if you’re looking at places like the US, and other places, there’s websites like Glassdoor, which-

Chris:                     Yes, yep.

James:                  Which-

Chris:                     Familiar with that, yes. The good and the bad.

James:                  Yes, a lot of the bad, though.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  A unfiltered, anonymous comments-

Chris:                     Yes.

James:                  … are made about organizations. And, a lot of what they talk about is culture.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  There’s poor management culture, there’s ineffective support for people, there’s all sorts of other problematic aspects. So, I do think that a lot of the work that we do as an industry, is about taking away pain. And that’s okay. We want it to be easier to find that leave form, we want it to be easier to do your time sheet. And, that’s about getting rid of negatives, to get maybe up to, I don’t know, zero. I find the experience okay.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  But, actually, I think what DEX allows us to say is, “Well, what does great DEX look like for our organization?” And, I’m confident, that if we start to deliver that within organizations, not all at once, but progressively, where we start to deliver a net positive experience, where it’s not just about, is the office got wood paneled walls, and sufficient number of plot plants? But maybe, actually, we deliver an experience where people are productive from day one, and that they are connected effectively with staff, and they do feel engaged with the wider organization. Then, surely, that has got to be reflected into things like Glassdoor. And, I think, ultimately yes, I think that is something that can help with recruitment and talent acquisition.

Chris:                     Yeah. What about demographics? How do they affect DEX? I mean, the way that all I like to work, and the pieces of technology that I feel comfortable working with, is probably quite different to many of the younger employees throughout our business.

James:                  Well, look, yes and no. I mean, all staff are not the same.

Chris:                     No.

James:                  But, the demographic thing… Look, I’m sorry, I just don’t buy into it. It’s not well supported by research.

Chris:                     Okay.

James:                  It shows that there are graded differences within a demographic, than there are between the demographic groups.

Chris:                     Oh, wow.

James:                  So, that is to say, there’s a broad cross section of people, from introverts to extroverts, to people who like technology, and people who hate it, to people who are more adventurous, or more risk averse. So, your better way of saying is, “How do we best support the diverse workforce we have? Recognizing that we need to support different ways of interacting, we need to help people to different degrees, we need to recognize that the goal isn’t to get all tools used by all people. So, how do we target the right tools to the right people?”

James:                  Because, for example, we’ve worked in, say, our local councils, and actually, often, it’s the old people who were the drivers of new technology.

Chris:                     Oh, really?

James:                  And, that’s for two reasons. One is, they really understand the points of pain. I mean, they’ve been frustrated for 20 years on this. They’ve talked to management, and nothing’s happened. So, they understand where the problems are, that a newbie doesn’t. But also, they’re more secure in their jobs. So, they’re actually more up for taking risks, because, I’m only working for another five or 10 years, so, what do I care? Whereas, actually, if you think about a new starter, this idea that new starters are going to transform organizations, is kind of ridiculous.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  If you think back to your first day at work, and I think back to mine, actually, what you want to do is fit in.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  You desperately want to fit in.

Chris:                     Absolutely.

James:                  It’s, scared as heck. And so, you want to learn how the organization works, and you’re going to try and match that. Not transform it.

Chris:                     Yes.

James:                  So yes, diversity. Absolutely.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  We need to support that. Demographics. Yeah, not so much.

Chris:                     Yeah, sure. So, it’s a multilayered approach, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all, which is what I was hoping to get from you, that maybe there was like, yeah, this magic wand! And we’re going to have a great DEX!

James:                  No, no it’s not. I mean, I think there’s a power in having an overall vision.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  So, I think, while you’re never going to line everything up in an organization at any given point, I do think there does need to be a consensus view of where we want to be heading.

Chris:                     Sure.

James:                  And, that’s often most powerfully done as narrative. So, personas, and day-in-the-life, journey maps, stuff like this. And, if that’s the vision, then, look, there does need to be a set of guiding principles within any given organization. It will help to shape decision making. And then, there’s going to be a series of projects, but hopefully, relatively carefully chosen ones, and it’s a lifetime journey.

Chris:                     Yeah, for sure. So, what about analytics? Through this lifetime journey that you’re talking of, what kind of things should we be looking at for, to improve our DEX?

James:                  Yeah, I think there’s the existing analytics, which you’ve talked about, things like staff engagement and the like, there’s the new analytics, there’s some really good solutions in the market at the moment, that give really meaningful insights into the way people are using collaboration tools, for example. So, more than just, how many active users do I have this month? But, they actually look at, what is the patterns of interaction within groups and between groups? And, if our goal is to break down silos, although I don’t really necessarily buy into that one either, but if you want to certainly help to encourage the spread of ideas across an organization, then actually, there’s some analytics you can look at the tells you that, now.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  And, I think that’s some of the really interesting stuff that we can help to shape. But also, just not to forget, that it’s not just internal analytics. If we look at at your contact center, then yes he can manage… how you can monitor call handling time, and the percentage of first call resolution, et cetera. But actually, well, you already measure customer satisfaction for a call center, and net promoter score, and the like. Well, how many times have you, and have I, rung up a bank three times, and got three different answers.?

Chris:                     Yes. Just recently, in fact.

James:                  Now, why is that? Yeah. Now, why is that? Well, it’s not because the staff is stupid, it’s because they’re poorly supported.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  And so, we, as internal-focused folk, can absolutely aim to turn the dial up for customer-facing outcomes. And, that’s often where the most powerful-

Chris:                     I like it. Yeah.

James:                  … matchings come from. And, having spent a lot of time in call centers over the last 20 years, they are really well-managed, in terms of shifts and rosters, and stuff like this. They are terribly managed, in terms of knowledge.

Chris:                     Yeah, okay.

James:                  And so, actually, there’s heaps of opportunities to make that stuff better. And so, that’s, I think, where we need to maintain a sense of ambition about the kinds of outcomes we want. Again, being aware that DEX is powerful at a senior leader level, not just at a doer level, like you and I. And, that’s what we should be exploiting.

Chris:                     So, as we said before, this DEX thing is sort of evolving, it’s fairly new, but what are some of the emerging and future trends you’re seeing with it?

James:                  I think there’s a few things. I do see that it’s starting to become understood as a key component when rolling out a substantial new capability. And, whether that’s SAP, or Oracle, or Workday, or Office 365, I do think the word “experience” in many different forms, including digital employee experience, but the word “experience” is starting to pop up, in all sorts of projects. Which I find incredibly encouraging, because it starts to say that, actually the strategic thing is not the platform. Even Office 365, right? I mean, yes, it’s new, it’s amazingly powerful, lots of people are going to use it. And, are organization’s going to have it for life? Well, no. Look, they’ll have it for 5, 10, 15, something else will come along and replace it, or actually the platform itself will have changed, out of all recognition, by then.

Chris:                     Yeah.

James:                  And so, maybe it’s not the functionality, the platform, that’s strategic. Maybe the strategic thing is, what is the experience that we deliver to employees?

Chris:                     I like that, because, even with all of the technology, it’s still coming back to the people. I love it.

James:                  Yeah, it is. And, I still think, it’s at the pointy end of things where it’s most obvious. So, mobility.

Chris:                     Yes.

James:                  This is understood, that, it’s super important. Even for office workers, because, when’s the only time you get a chance to check internal news? Well, it’s in the lift, it’s on the bus, on the way to work, or it’s when you’re sitting and waiting for a late meeting to start, and you just have a quick glance at stuff.

James:                  But, if you look at the mobility, then okay, look, we can now deliver an intranet that’s responsive. And that’s fine. But actually, then, there’s an app for the collaboration tool. In fact, actually, there’s three apps for each of the three different collaboration tools, and there’s an app for the HR self-service, and then there’s an IT self-service app, and then there’s a app for capturing customer problems, that you can take photos and put stuff into. And suddenly, now, I’ve got 5, 10, 15, 20 apps on my phone, most of which were turned on, and I was just, sent an email about, here’s this new thing, good luck.

Chris:                     Now, if only there was a company that we knew of, that could deliver all of those different elements together, in one single pane of glass. I’m scratching my head on this one.

James:                  I hear you. And look, and I don’t want to make light of the role of vendors, in helping with this, because they’re going to have to.

Chris:                     Sure.

James:                  Because, this does have to be made easy for customers. But, I always have to say, DEX is not a product.

Chris:                     No, no, I agree with you.

James:                  And, DEX is not a project.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  So, DEX is a vision, and an objective, and ultimately, it is about organizations saying, “Well, wait a moment. Well, what do we want the mobile experience to be? Today, where we’re going to make some compromises. Tomorrow, where we’re going to use a new tool to make a chunk of it better. But actually, in two years, how good do we want it to be, then? What does that look like?”

James:                  And then, that shapes all sorts of fundamental IT architecture questions about micro services, about integration, about systems delivery. Which, then it becomes really important, because otherwise, look, what are we on track to doing? Well, we’re on track to replicating the Windows desktop, with the 40 icons on it. That we hated that, that’s why we delivered a web-based intranet.

Chris:                     Yep.

James:                  And, why we’ve worked on the desktop to try and integrate that experience, to deliver simplicity, and then we just seemed to have given up on mobile. So, I do think that’s where some of the focus needs to be. And, that’s, I think, where some of the emerging activity is, and that’s exciting.

Chris:                     Now, the best way to work out what our focus should be, is to, I want to say survey people, which is a beautiful segue into the fact that your company, Step Two, is a leading voice in this space, and actually do conduct an annual survey on DEX. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about this survey?

James:                  Yeah. So, this is really a state of the nation survey, with a wide participation across the globe, with the results released in the usual fashion, for the benefit for all. And, it really is about tracking where things are at. Both, to help all of us understand where the activities are, but also, all of us to have pragmatic view on which problems are getting solved, and which problems are still in the too hard basket. So, it’s open for entries now. Only takes about 10 minutes. It’s open till Christmas.

Chris:                     Great.

James:                  And you can get to it at www.steptwo S-T-E-P-T-W-O C-O-L-U-M-N-T-W-O, and you’ll find it, one of the most recent blog posts, and that’ll take you to the SurveyMonkey form. It’s a great thing. I mean, we’re really excited to be part of a community focus on this, it’s something, while we, in part, started this whole thing, we are seeing it being picked up by so many hands around the globe-

Chris:                     That’s great.

James:                  … and that is so exciting.

Chris:                     It’s a really interesting topic. I’ve absolutely loved finding more out about it, with you, today. Mate, thank you very much for your time. Look forward to seeing the results of the survey, which will be released sort of when?

James:                  Probably February, I would say, next year.

Chris:                     Nice. So, have a look out for that, heat to, and James Robertson, thank you very much for your time, today.

James:  It’s a pleasure being on, thank you so much.

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