A screenshot from the Digital Workplace Experience virtual conference presentation of Wells Fargo Digital Workplace VP Christy Punch.
Wells Fargo Digital Workplace VP Christy Punch.

An overwhelming majority of organizations said the shift to remote work this year went pretty well. Nearly 60% of organizations are extremely satisfied with their shift to remote work, and another 35% are moderately satisfied, according to findings from Reworked’s 2020 State of the Digital Workplace Report.

Siobhan Fagan, managing editor of Reworked, and Sarah Kimmel, vice president of research for Reworked, presented those findings during this week’s two-day Digital Workplace Experience conference held virtually. (Editor’s note: all sessions are available for free on-demand. Simpler Media Group, which runs Reworked.co and CMSWire.com, produced the conference.)

The research also showed nearly half of organizations were “moderately prepared” for the sudden shift to remote work while almost 40% were “extremely prepared.” 

“They said it went a lot smoother than they expected," said Kimmel during her Wednesday morning presentation with Fagan. "That it was blazing fast. That everyone pulled together. That tools that they've been trying to get people to use for years were suddenly and completely adopted overnight. And we have solid evidence that the experience of the pandemic has significantly moved the needle on digital workplace maturity.”

Here are five more takeaways from the two-day virtual event.

Embrace a Remote-First Workplace Culture

So that’s it? We’ve mastered the shift to the digital workplace and dialed in our employee experience. Not quite, of course.

Reworked’s research showed that although digital workplace maturity has seen significant growth, still only 26% of organizations say they are fully mature. Most (51%) say they are “midway” there and another 23% say they are at an early phase.

So what’s the reality for 2021 and beyond? Organizations need to prepare for a hybrid workplace while embracing a “remote-first” mentality, according to Dion Hinchcliffe, chief technology officer of Optimal Disruption.

“The argument I've been making to a lot of CIOs lately is you really should focus on remote-first, and then have a physical work experience," said Hinchcliffe, whose keynote on Wednesday closed the two-day conference. "And the reason ... is if you look at all the data, look at the Gallup polling, we're not going to go back to the way that we were. We're going to go back to a hybrid workplace, where people come into the office when they have to, when there's a really good reason to.”

Hinchcliffe’s research shows productivity for line workers is "way up," and businesses will not want to walk away from that. However, the physical office will still serve a purpose for things like establishing connections and onboarding, when it makes sense for employees to spend the first few weeks on the job in a physical office before returning to remote.

“This is a more hybrid model, it's more distributed, more physical-optional,” Hinchcliffe said. “And all that means that remote-first has to be the design stance. We have to optimize for what most people are going to do most of the time. And that's going to be a remote or distributed workplace. That’s why digital employee experience is so darn important.”

Connecting Employee and Customer Experience

Kristine Dery, research scientist for the Center for Information Systems Research (MIT CISR) at MIT Sloan School of Management, discussed the connection between customer experience and employee experience in her keynote address Tuesday morning. She cited MIT research that included a case study about Royal Phillips, the multi-billion dollar medical equipment manufacturer out of Amsterdam.

“Continuing to only focus on separate products — here is an MRI scanner, here is a CT scanner, here are pathology scanners — doesn’t solve the problem for the customer,” CEO Frans van Houten said in the MIT research. “It’s not how much better you make a product, it’s how much better you make the system. So we take a holistic systems and solutions approach.”

The CEO said his company had to change the way it worked. “It means that, in terms of culture and behavior, you need to make sure that people [are] prepared to work together for a bigger goal with the customer as the driving force of all we do," van Houten said.

Changing the way people work and the culture within an organization is “one of the hardest things to do," Dery said, adding, "bringing this employee experience and aligning it with the customer experience so that they're able to generate new opportunities to delight and inspire customers is one of our biggest challenges that we have.”

The good news? Companies that are focused on delivering innovation for customers are spending dollar for dollar on innovation around customers and employees. “So they're really understanding that this connection is important to be able to deliver the value that we're looking for in a digital world,” Dery said.

According to Dery, organizations must focus on:

  • Digitization of work: At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations focused on providing infrastructure and standards and automation to get employees up and running. Now it’s about leveraging all those digital capabilities and "componentizing" them and applying them in new ways.
  • Creating an employee experience: Leveraging data on the digitization of work and using that to create better employee experiences. Inspiring greater “digital fitness” across the organization and building digital muscles to empower employees to work more fluidly.
  • Learning to build a better way of working: Creating a future-ready workforce and what will be focus areas for new digital opportunities for employees and customers alike.

Solving the People Conundrum for an Effective Intranet

Kristy Hesketh, knowledge management specialist at Shopify, and Kathleen Cauley, knowledge management projects lead at Shopify, discussed improving the intranet experience at their company. They learned it wasn’t exactly a smooth process but it had to be done. Their company grew from 75 to 5,000-plus employees in a span of five years, and that meant turning a Wiki into a holistic intranet that would support rapid growth.

The intranet was “full of broken links, old and out-of-date content and a janky user experience that can make it difficult for users to contribute content,” Cauley said. “Any knowledge tool is only as good as the knowledge that goes into it. But it doesn't help adoption if the technology is getting in the way of contributing and maintaining the knowledge.”

Effective organizational change is done through a happy marriage of people, process and technology, according to Cauley. But the people part? That was tough, Shopify digital workplace officials learned fast. Despite original excitement, the project never quite got up and running because it lacked clear leadership and roles.

“Our original call to action was big and not specific to individual responsibility,” she said. “... Cleanup was spread out across the whole company and a result became no one's responsibility.”

Screenshot from Digital Workplace Experience 2020 presentation from Kathleen Cauley, knowledge management projects lead at Shopify.

The lessons learned came in change management. The teams at Shopify quickly identified a small group to get the intranet project up and running and included members representing teams from across the company. They identified super users and created a diverse team that ultimately got the project going. They created communication channels.

Ultimately, this new process led to success because it focused on information architecture development, a clear content migration strategy and integrated change management practices. The teams also measured success, the metrics tracked and how this approach, while built internally, can be applied to any intranet-like project.

“Overall,” Hesketh said, “our internet rebuild was a success. We built a team based on the people process and technology trifecta. We engaged our users and listened to their feedback. And we've continued to iterate and improve on the vault over the past year.”

Google It: Create a Better Workspace for UX Designers

Speaking of the connection between employee experience and customer experience, user experience leaders at Google presented during the conference about the need to redesign workspaces at the search giant in order to inspire collaboration, creativity and innovation. The goal was to redesign workspaces based on data, collaboration and the needs of UX designers. They wanted to promote integrated technology that connected people and work.

Ultimately, the new space would foster better collaboration and enable UX designers to do what they do best: help design products for customers.

Dawn Herman, head of UX infrastructure at Google, discussed how UX designers would constantly battle anxiety over things like the scarcity of conference rooms and having to move around meeting after meeting.

“With a variety of use cases not met by our current workplace, we knew it was time for an overhaul,” Herman said. “So we embarked on a journey to design the first UX hub of its kind. And this space is really drawing people together and allowing ... teams to connect in ways that they haven't before."

Amy Badersnider, lead for UX Spaces at Google, said the physical space redesign wasn’t going to stand on its own for product better development. “As a UX group, we needed effective means for collaborating wherever possible,” Badersnider said. “And so we explored many different technologies, many different surfaces and annotation devices to incorporate into key moments throughout the floor.”

They needed to:

  • Transform to meet different use cases.
  • Serve as a canvas.
  • Use materials, color and light as intentional cues.
  • Protect but connect.
  • Support a variety of ecosystems.
  • Provide compact, efficient and dynamic storage.
  • Bring people together in flexible tribes.

The end result? Here is part of Google's new UX design space:

Screenshot of a presentation at Digital Workplace Experience 2020 by Dawn Herman, head of UX infrastructure at Google.

Related Article: Takeaways from the Digital Workplace Experience 2018

Leveraging Microservices for Employee Digital Experience

Wells Fargo had a digital workplace problem common to many other organizations: a poor employee portal/intranet experience. It needed to move from platform dependency to microservices efficiencies, and that’s exactly what it did under the leadership of Christy Punch, digital workplace vice president at the financial services company.

The earlier problems included long upgrades for old software that kept what Punch called an “upgrade carousel.” The teams needed a modern design and employees were using too many applications to get work done.

It was ultimately a three-year effort that began by listening to employees. They implemented an iterative design approach that included concepts, feedback and action, and they didn’t stop until they got to a portal design that was supported by stakeholders.

The end result was a new digital employee experience rooted in the foundation of microservices, an architecture model where features and functionalities are treated like mini applications rather than one behemoth platform. That meant improved, personalized experiences for employees and those who managed content for the new portal. It didn’t take manual updates to 51 home pages like before.

“We introduced a personalization,” Punch said. It included tailoring content experiences for employees.

The big lessons learned? Iterative design helps balance employee and stakeholder needs.

“We still have to continue to listen and continue to evolve, and iterate," Punch said. "We also learned that there's no one size fits all approach. … So rather than trying to meet every individual need, we are instead building in flexibility to allow other groups to build to their needs, or to allow the flexibility with customization so that employees can make things relevant for their needs.”