In the last few years, the world of work has experienced a dramatic shift to hybrid environments. We’re also seeing a renewed awareness of all the different ways people work. Field workers, frontline workers and deskless employees are not new, but their needs are finally gaining more attention. Companies are getting serious about investing in technology to connect and engage employees wherever they work, and those that do are seeing the benefits.If you’re just starting on this journey, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the field of apps and digital tools available and left wondering which ones are worth the investment. Every organization has unique needs and goals, so what works for one company might not work for yours. It’s important to understand your employees’ workplace experiences in-depth, as well as consider your technology roadmap and overarching business strategy and goals.
That being said, some technologies are emerging as leaders in the area of digitized employee experiences. In this post, I’ll share three technologies that we believe have the potential to deliver better employee experiences and big returns on your investment.
1. Robotic process automation (RPA)
A Gartner report published in July 2021 reported robotic process automation as the fastest growing software market stating, "RPA is one of the most popular choices for improving operational efficiency with tactical automation." With robotic process automation, software handles the mundane, repetitive computer-based tasks that take up employees’ time and energy. Using a combination of automation, computer vision and machine learning, bots follow a set of defined instructions to carry out tasks error-free and at high volumes and speeds.
When you order goods online, RPA is likely working in the back end to update stock and send out your order. RPA software platforms typically use a combination of user interface (UI) interactions and application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate different enterprise applications, such as ERP applications, client/server systems, mainframes and other applications.
From the company’s perspective, leveraging robotic process automation means automating repetitive, lower value human tasks by emulating the transaction steps traditionally taken by humans, freeing them up to focus on complex, higher value work that has a greater impact. Employees gain capacity and a greater sense of fulfillment working on higher value work. It’s not just about being more productive; RPA has the potential to create efficiencies that make peoples’ lives better.
To automate or not
To determine if a process could benefit from automation, consider what kind of experience it will create. Some interactions are transactional by nature and employees or customers might prefer an automated solution. When people are looking for a quick piece of information, picking up the phone or drafting an email can present a barrier, whereas a chatbot feels like a low-effort action. In this case, being able to get a quick answer to their question any time of day or night is convenient; in that context, it’s actually a better experience. This automation also means the company doesn’t have to staff a help desk 24/7 and that employees don’t have to spend time answering the same questions over and over again. According to The Enterprisers Project, there are four basic checkpoints that can help you determine if a process would benefit from RPA:
- The process must be rule-based.
- The process must be repeated at regular intervals or have a pre-defined trigger.
- The process must have defined inputs and outputs.
- The task should have sufficient volume.
There are many ways RPA can be used in the workplace to increase productivity and efficiency reduce costs and make employees’ lives easier. For example, hiring can be a time-consuming process comprising many rules-based, repeatable tasks. With RPA, organizations can use digital forms that securely store data to automate follow-on tasks for new hires, such as account setup, benefits enrolment, computer setup and network access.
How RPA is changing the game
RPA has the potential to reshape the workforce, as employees shift from repeatable tasks to high-value, meaningful work. Here are some of the ways employees and organizations can benefit from RPA:
Identifying opportunities for standardization
The process of implementing RPA is an opportunity for organizations to review and assess their processes and workflows. Before automating, it’s worth considering whether a process needs to exist. If it does, what parts of it could be standardized to create better experiences for everyone.
Reducing complexity in a rapidly changing tech world
With technology advancing at an accelerated pace, organizations are starting to face the pitfalls of over-customization. By standardizing and automating some of the key points in a process, they are able to reduce complexity and keep up with evolving tech. Change is a constant in today's world of cloud platforms and technologies. When organizations update between instances or releases, over customization can become a barrier. Taking a configuration-first mentality that leverages standardized workflows with opportunities for automation helps organizations better prepare for and move through the inevitable changes to come.
Optimizing data and insight
With RPA, organizations can track the efficacy and efficiency of workflows to identify what’s working and what’s falling short. This provides powerful insight that can be shared across the organization to improve processes and results.
Supporting organizational change
When people are used to doing things a certain way, change can be disruptive and difficult. Bots don’t have the same attachment to their processes and workflows, so their low-value tasks are more adaptable to change. Using RPA to automate processes helps reduce the challenges that come with organizational change and allows organization to adopt a more agile, responsive approach.
Creating better employee and customer experiences
By standardizing processes, tracking progress and gathering valuable feedback, organizations are able to make incremental changes to the way they operate in ways that deliver high-value results. All of this adds up to better experiences for employees and customers.
2. Mobile-enabled workplace experiences
It’s hard to imagine going anywhere without our phones these days. A 2021 survey found that Americans check their phones an average of 262 times per day, or once every 5.5 minutes. Whatever your task, you can probably do it from your phone.
While a mobile-enabled workplace might seem like a no-brainer, some organizations are still playing catchup. The benefits, though, are obvious. A recent survey compared the responses of employees who identified their organization as a “pioneer” in its use of mobile technology with those who described their organization’s use of mobile technology as “bad.” Results showed that organizations with effective mobile strategies had a greater ability to attract talented employees and were ranked higher for getting the best out of employees and for enabling creativity and innovation. The pioneers scored significantly higher in all domains:
- 16 percent higher for productivity
- 23 percent higher employee satisfaction
- 21 percent higher loyalty
A recent example from my own experience makes these stats more real. A few weeks ago, my hard drive died suddenly during an update. I wasn't able to get into my computer to make contact with IT and I had upcoming meetings. Fortunately, I also have the Teams app on my phone which allowed me to escalate my issue with IT right away. We both work remotely in different provinces, but we were able to troubleshoot together using the video and camera on my phone. After exhausting all our options, they prepared and shipped a new laptop to me the following day. This could have been a real productivity killer, but I was able to dust off an old personal laptop and take my Teams meetings while accessing all my files in the cloud. Without the mobile app, I wouldn’t have been able to get support and a resolution as quickly.
Make information accessible
Mobile access helps bring information, tools and resources to employees where they’re working. A sizeable share of the workforce at most organizations are either mobile or not working at permanent desks. In some industries, like retail or manufacturing, a large percentage of employees might be deskless. Frontline employees, such as healthcare workers, often spend most of their time providing one-on-one clinical care away from a terminal. Field employees, like those in the transport, travel or energy sectors, can often be travelling in remote or rural areas where access is limited. The hybrid work environments that are taking shape now mean that even office employees may find themselves without consistent desktop access, whether it’s because they’re moving around the building for meetings, travelling or visiting off-site locations.
Without a mobile-enabled workplace, each one of these scenarios can exclude employees from access to essential tools, resources and communications.
A workplace mobile app provides an integrated experience that brings information from multiple sources into a single access point that means employees don’t have to think twice about where to go to get what they need.
Communicate in real time
Mobile removes many of the barriers to communicating with employees. Organizations can use mobile to reach all employees with essential communications, solicit quick feedback or coordinate action.
Meet employees where they’re working
Mobile experiences have the power to connect frontline, field workers and deskless employees to essential tools and resources. This can be especially useful for employees who need to get or submit data while working in the field. Mobile-enabled tools mean they can communicate instantaneously with others, quickly refer to a policy when needed, or submit a form when performing off-site work.
3. Digital assistants
Actually a form of RPA, digital assistants are software programs, often voice-activated, that can carry out instructions, offer recommendations or answer questions. If you’re an iPhone user, you’ve probably called on Siri to check the weather, read your messages, or do your Googling for you. Other common digital assistants include Google Assistant, Mycroft (for Android phones), Amazon Echo, Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana.
Using Siri or most other digital assistants doesn’t require downloading an external app; they’re available through tools you already use. That makes them ideal for workplaces where ease of use is critical for adoption.
Benefits of digital assistants
Digital assistants provide a convenient single point of contact for employees and make services more accessible. Using AI and equipped with natural language capabilities, today’s digital assistants can perform a variety of business functions – from automating responses to service desk questions to onboarding new employees. Here are some of the benefits:
With a digital assistant, employees can perform tasks, like resetting their password when they need it, even if it’s outside of official business hours. They can also be confident they’ll receive critical updates, like system status notices or outage alerts, when they happen.
Many digital assistants learn from personal profiles, digital behaviours and other data to generate responses and recommendations tailored to an individual’s needs. And they can create personalized experiences on a large scale, serving millions of people at once.
Automated notifications and reminders
Digital assistants can anticipate events and send employees automated notifications about deadlines or reminders to take action on important items.
Digital assistants allow organizations to learn about the needs, habits and behaviours of their employees. These insights can be used to continually improve employee experiences.
Supporting exceptional digital service experiences
The impact of digitizing employee experience is clear. It offers exciting opportunities for increasing productivity and efficiency, as well as improving both employee and customer experiences. These outcomes aren’t guaranteed, however. We’ve all had experiences with digital tools that haven’t worked well — the bots that left you hanging without resolving your issue, the clunky mobile apps, or the once-simple processes disrupted by poor technology implementation. What was meant to help doesn’t always have that effect. To successfully digitize employee experiences, leaders need to think holistically about service design to understand how their company’s operations support customer journeys. Through this lens, technology becomes an enabler of workplace transformation, instead of just a tool for task automation.