The COVID-19 pandemic has changed remote work from something that was still seen as a new and innovative idea to an accepted new normal. One recent HP survey found that 96% of office employees are now working from home—and 63% are doing it without any kind of dedicated workspace. This proves the old adage, “where there is a will, there is a way.”
This swift and dramatic change has unintentionally caused a bit of a crisis when it comes to employee experience (EX), which, as Gartner defines it, is the employee’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with their employer’s customers, partners, leaders, teams, processes, policies, tools and overall work environment. Gartner reports that currently only 13% of employees are largely satisﬁed with their work experiences. Worse yet, 46% of surveyed employees report they are largely dissatisﬁed with their overall experience at their organization. Fortunately, employee experience has become a top priority for many companies considering the new remote workplace needs.
But what does IT have to do with employee experience? Many IT departments report that they view HR as responsible for EX. Paradoxically, many HR departments view IT as holding the purse strings to enable a delightful experience. The result of this confusion is that at many companies, there isn’t a truly accountable owner of EX. One area of common agreement, though, is that the CIO is generally responsible for the perception of the digital workplace experience of employees.
Historically, IT has focused on the digital workplace experience and analytics of users in the office but has taken a hands-off approach for remote workers. The paradigm shift to a workforce that is primarily remote due to COVID-19 has created an opportunity for IT professionals to be heroes of EX by influencing and leading this important change.
But supporting remote work isn’t just about ensuring employees’ hardware and software are running smoothly from an IT perspective. It requires a whole new attitude towards workplace engagement—a culture of collaboration. Creating a culture of collaboration is about listening closely to the voice of the employee, identifying what your users need for a positive collaboration experience, and then delivering it in a rapid and agile manner. This may sound like a big responsibility (and it is!), but we’ve identified five key steps IT leaders can take to support a positive experience for their employees during the pandemic and beyond.
#1 — Embrace the Cloud Once and For All
The future (and much of the present) of collaboration is enabled by cloud technology, with Gartner projecting that public cloud services will grow worldwide by 6.3% in 2020 alone. With remote work, the new norm, positive employee experience is now largely dependent on constant access to a comprehensive unified communications (UC) platform. Unlike pre-pandemic experiences, the decision-makers and influencers are no longer in the conference room.
If you aren’t currently using unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solution, chances are your team is heading down the Shadow IT path to implement a consumer solution on their own—or even worse, already has. Technology solutions implemented without IT sponsorship may meet the needs of end-users but can lead to serious security vulnerabilities for the company, from insecure file sharing to an inability to track guest access to company chats and meetings that bypass key company controls.
You can quickly enable your users to do their best work by embracing cloud solutions for collaboration. By implementing cloud-based workstream collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack on an enterprise level, end users get access to features like synchronous file storage so they feel like they work locally but share data globally, utilize the device they prefer so that they can work wherever and whenever they need while collaborating with others, seamlessly share key information with customers and partners beyond the ubiquitous email attachment, and integrations with other company software solutions. These types of platforms also allow IT to do baseline monitoring regarding where and how they are being used. The obvious upside for IT is that they can use this data to proactively address potential issues. Win-win. Which brings us to our next point. . .
#2 — Monitor and Measure to Improve Performance
IT teams shouldn’t take a “set it and forget it” approach to UC and workstream collaboration (WSC). Instead, proactive monitoring should be implemented so potential issues can be identified and resolved before the experience of end-users is impacted. A 2019 Gartner survey found that 76% of employees turn to the IT group when they have a technical problem. By addressing these issues ahead of time, IT can help reduce helpdesk tickets while creating a positive employee experience.
Knowing what to monitor, which users are having issues, and how to measure performance makes all the difference for an already overtaxed IT team. Looking back only 12 to 18 months ago the KPIs for UC measurement centered around voice and tuning the server to accomplish performance improvements. Today, the focus has shifted away from infrastructure and onto the end-user. Just as we have created an experience level agreement (XLA) between our PowerSuite managed services team and our customers, so too should you set up an IT to employee contract. Your XLA should set expectations, define objective measurements, and ensure the perspective of end-users is getting priority focus.
Workplace analytics metrics centered on the collaborative experience should be your targeted starting point. A KPI guidepost for these metrics should be a focus on the overall collaboration effectiveness (CE) for your organization. Such CE scoring incorporates an algorithm integrating response rates, chat reciprocity, message volume and velocity, and other factors. Naturally, there are also other key usage and adoption metrics, as well as collaboration risk assessment metrics, which should be evaluated as part of the discovery process to set up your overall governance structure for collaboration.
Many companies have implemented a myriad of UC and WSC platform solutions to fit their various business needs, making monitoring and measuring the success of these platforms much more difficult. While sourcing baseline metrics from individual platform dashboards is relatively straightforward, understanding how UC and WSC platforms are being used as a whole is another story. A digital experience monitoring software solution can simplify the process by aggregating data from all platform sources, and even provide actionable insights powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
#3 — Create and Enforce Your Remote Work Culture
COVID-19 significantly accelerated the shift to remote work, and much of that change is expected to stick. According to Gartner, the number of workers worldwide who have at least a partial entitlement to work at home is expected to increase to 48% post-COVID-19. Because of this swift change, many companies have not yet created a culture—grounded and shaped in part by IT policies—around the remote work lifestyle. As a result, many employees are left wondering what the new expectations may be. IT teams have traditionally stopped at the corporate edge, but now is the time to extend and manage that last mile experience for and with the user.
Creating policies that directly address new challenges posed by remote work can help your company culture carry over into the digital world and improve the employee experience by providing much-needed guidance. And IT’s work doesn’t end there. Enforcing these policies through tactics including permissions and compliance behavior workflows ensures that policies are being followed. The goal is to provide employees with a best-in-class experience. After all, what good are policies if they’re not adhered to?
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Some potential policies to consider include:
- Guest Access: Working with third parties like vendors and agencies is normal for any business. When workers use a unified communications solution like Microsoft Teams or Slack, allowing them to communicate with third parties on these same platforms can enhance the employee experience and increase productivity. But inviting third parties to join a UC or WSC platform can pose security risks. Creating a policy around guest access and enforcing it through permissions can mitigate these risks while still getting the benefits of unified communications.
- Workspace and Channel Naming Conventions and Owners: WSC platforms generally allow users to create workspaces or channels to meet their team needs. While this empowers teams to communicate more efficiently, without naming conventions and owners it can create confusion and a lack of accountability. Creating a policy for naming conventions allows everyone in the company to understand what a workspace or channel is used for, and clear rules on who owns a workspace or channel means there’s always someone accountable for how it’s used.
- Cloud Meeting Waiting Rooms and Passwords: Many meetings include external stakeholders that have been invited via an emailed link. But what if this link falls into the wrong hands? If an uninvited person makes it into a meeting, they could have unfiltered access to confidential company information. Implementing a policy around the use of waiting rooms and passwords for virtual meetings can help ensure that only the appropriate parties can join.
- Cloud-Based File Storage and Retention: Cloud-based file storage is a huge improvement to employee experience by allowing users to access files anytime, no matter where they are or what device they’re using. However, without an accompanying policy, this easy access can create security risks. A proactive policy should cover who users can share files with and how devices with access to files should be secured.
#4 — Outfit Employees with the Apps and Hardware They Need
There are “tools” of every trade, and when it comes to unified communications and collaboration these have historically included desk phones, whiteboards, and conference and huddle spaces equipped with room systems. While all these items can be found in your typical office, most employees don’t keep them readily on-hand at home. This has left many newly remote workers woefully ill-equipped for optimal communication and collaboration with their colleagues.
This need to outfit home offices with the appropriate equipment isn’t just an issue during the current pandemic. Gartner projects that by 2024, in-person meetings will drop from 60% of enterprise meetings to 25%, and only 10% of enterprise video meetings will take place in rooms, with the remaining 90% on personal computers or mobile devices. IT can support this transition to meetings whenever, wherever, and on whichever devices suit employees best by supplying equipment options like headsets, webcams, and even desk phones in the home. By providing this type of gear, IT can create a better employee experience while also having the ability to monitor and troubleshoot the user experience.
There’s one key thing to keep in mind when creating a work from home equipment program: the voice of the employee. We’ve all experienced the rollout of a stellar new technology or system just to see low adoption by employees. Why? Because there’s no point in providing new tools if they don’t meet the needs of the end-user. Before IT makes any decisions on what types of gear to make available to remote workers, take a step back and determine what your users are trying to accomplish with it. And remember, this applies to all tools—including your unified communications and collaboration platforms.
#5 — Enable Employees Through On-Going Training and Support
Has your IT team ever introduced a new technology only to find adoption is low and you still receive helpdesk tickets about basic features months (or even years) afterward? It’s not unusual for employees to request platforms and features that they already have access to—they just don’t realize it or know how to use them. Often, part of the problem is a lack of employee enablement around new technology.
In a recent Gartner study, 47% of CEOs surveyed said technology enablement is the absolute best approach which their organization will use to improve productivity and efficiency. On top of that, 41% of survey respondents said that shifting focus from supporting technology to enablement of employees is a primary driver of digital workplace transformation. That’s pretty strong support for employee enablement, which makes this next finding worrisome: only 24% of workers ask the IT group for help with best practices on how to use technology.
So why is this gap occurring? Too often the impetus is put on employees to learn how to use new technology themselves, with little (or sometimes no) support from IT. To top it off, many employees may not have time to proactively provide feedback to IT—they just want the technology to work. Providing training when onboarding new applications can help workers feel more confident with the resources at their disposal and in turn support higher productivity. On-going access to training through recorded videos, how-to guides, and knowledge bases can enable employees to help themselves while alleviating helpdesk bandwidth constraints.
This is another time when listening to the voice of the employee is of utmost importance, yet it can be difficult to get a sense of what issues workers may be facing in their day-to-day. Luckily, digital experience monitoring software can help with this by tacitly monitoring how employees engage with UC and WSC platforms and reporting on experience quality. And when employees do report an issue with the new technology to IT or helpdesk, the savvy IT team will try to resist the urge to write it off as growing pains. Instead, they compare the questions and issues employees have against the training that’s provided. Is there crucial information missing from the training? Is it written in industry jargon that may be difficult for others to understand? Can the training be reformatted into something that’s easier to follow?
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgency around remote work and improving employee experience, and now this new style of work is definitely here to stay. Incorporating cloud solutions, consistent monitoring and measurement (such as that available in our PowerSuite™ software) of EX, a defined remote work culture, a process for equipping employees with apps for remote meetings, and on-going enablement of employees through training can help set up your IT team for success both now and in the future.
Consider the quote by the former mayor of Chicago and Chief of Staff to President Obama, Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that, is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” With the pandemic currently besieging every organization worldwide, now is the perfect time to venture outside the box and try new software and services to delight your end-users.