From our research, we see employees interacting across three primary spheres: the Social Sphere, the Physical Sphere and the Work Sphere.
During an employee’s work day, these spheres of interaction often overlap, creating six facets of the employee experience (see Figure 2).
Throughout our discussions, experts mentioned the configuration and design of individual and team workspaces as a critical component of employee experience. Organizations can enhance their workspaces by providing reconfigurable furniture and equipment to accommodate flexible work teams, communal spaces that facilitate information flow, quiet spaces for concentration and places where serendipitous interaction can occur.
For example, IBM has been developing “design studios,” where project teams of designers, business architects and programmers can come together to develop faster, more innovative client solutions. Physical workspace design can also impact employee wellness, as properly designed ergonomics can reduce employee stress and limit physical injury.
Not only do organizations need to focus on the design and configuration of workplace furniture, but they also need to consider other environmental factors. Ambient lighting, temperature control, noise, ventilation and even office location can notably impact employee productivity and experience. For example, research has shown that human error rates increase when ambient temperatures are set too low or too high for comfort levels.
Virtually all of us depend to some degree on interaction with others. It is therefore not surprising that the relationships we create and sustain can influence our individual effectiveness and our perceptions of our organizations as a whole. The goodwill that we generate through these relationships, often referred to as “social capital,” impacts a number of important factors — from facilitating cross-organizational knowledge sharing to boosting individual employee satisfaction.
Digital capabilities —such as mobile computing and the Internet of Things —have changed the way we access information, tap into experts, make decisions, and ultimately deliver and consume goods and services. Not only have these new technologies changed where we do our work, they have changed the very nature of how work gets accomplished.
With this greater reliance on software-based tools comes a host of issues that, left unaddressed, can increase employee frustration and reduce productivity. The design of the physical equipment that houses the software is key. Is it easy to access and use under daily work conditions? Software design can also have a lasting impact on satisfaction and productivity. How easy it is to sign on to a system? How may clicks does it take to get to the right screen? What is the duration between screen refreshes? Employees expect frictionless and intuitive technology. They want to spend their time doing their work, not figuring out how to use the technology behind it.
Finally, do the tools enable users to address particular preferences or physical challenges? Given the aging workforce and the desire of many companies to provide more diverse, inclusive environments, tools that can accommodate potential visual, auditory and mobility challenges are taking on greater importance.
A major component of employee experience is the extent to which individuals feel they can influence their work, build mastery and understand their work’s overall purpose.
Our discussions revealed a number of factors that influence successful completion of work- related tasks. An understanding of how the task fits into the work-unit’s goals and the larger organization’s mission, possession of relevant knowledge or expertise, access to additional information or experts as needed, and availability of timely feedback – either from managers or automated systems —can significantly shape the employee experience. As Daniel Pink, author of Drive, has noted, “The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive —our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our ability and to live a life of purpose.
Increasingly, companies are using internal social platforms to support organizational innovation, expertise location and knowledge sharing, and to help employees connect to others across the globe. These social platforms provide a common environment where employees can find relevant insights. What’s more, the analytics derived from the use of these tools can help identify hidden pockets of expertise or emerging employee morale issues.
For social platforms to truly influence employee experience, a number of issues must be considered. Organizations need to create a critical mass of users to sustain the necessary level of content and attract other users. Also, they must establish rules of engagement that clarify what can be said and how the organization intends to use data shared on the platform. Leaders need to publically support the use of the platform and recognize those who make substantive contributions.
Strategy and culture
An organization must consider each of these six facets of employee experience in light of overall business goals and culture. The business goals and objectives of a software company may be quite different from those of a retailer, while the culture of an entrepreneurial startup may differ from that of a large multinational corporation. For a hospitality company, the need to provide high-quality guest services may serve as a guiding principle in the design of employee experience; for an oil company, the emphasis may be on occupational safety. Clearly defining these underlying tenets is necessary to designing experiences that not only match the needs of the individual, but are aligned with organizational priorities.
Likewise, once a company defines its strategy, it must help ensure that leadership behaviors, people practices and management systems —formal drivers of organizational culture — consistently support the employee experience. Informal practices matter too; if the culture is fear-based or hierarchical, employees may struggle to collaborate on open, social platforms.