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Channeling Your Employees’ Inner Digital Being (Part 1)


To attract, empower and retain the best talent, human resources must improve the digital experience delivered to employees. Here’s what’s driving the pivotal movement and what stakeholders must understand. (First of two parts)

As the digitization of business and society intensifies, a new generation of employees is rapidly overtaking the workforce. From the last fringes of Gen X, all of Gen Y (aka “millennials”) and the start of Gen Z, this segment of the population was significantly molded by digital technology. Consequently, the pressure is on human resource departments to optimize the work environment in ways that cater to and synthesize the virtual virtues that digital natives bring to 21st century business.   

Key components of this shift include a willingness to embrace digital communications, comfort with a virtual work environment, and often performance-based (as opposed to hourly-based) incentives. Furthermore, organizations increasingly expect digital natives to facilitate a faster-paced and more collaborative workplace, one in which self-expression is encouraged, autonomy is a given, and recognition and goodwill are core assumptions.  

Consequently, HR finds itself at one of its biggest crossroads in decades: Should organizations a) fight change; b) pay lip service to it; or c) fully embrace it? Getting to the correct answer – C — requires total executive buy-in.

What Is “Work”?

Over the last five years, new technologies and mindsets have changed the world of work. Today, employees are welcome to “bring their own devices”— hardware, collaborative apps, software hacks and other digital tools — to execute their jobs more efficiently and according to their individual tastes. As such, HR and IT do not always have the control they once exercised over the computing environment. 

To make a digital workplace standards-based, large organizations usually can’t allow employees to randomly download or acquire any tool they want without some oversight. On the other hand, a fully functioning digital workplace cannot be realized with a restrictive silo of corporate-sanctioned tools. An organization’s vetted list represents only a small portion of the digital assets at an employee’s disposal. For example, marketing organizations commonly conduct Twitter campaigns, urging executives to regularly tweet, with the help of scheduling software that creates posts around busy schedules. Likewise, marketing, training and recruiting departments often use sites such as LinkedIn to find opportunities and make valuable connections. 

The fact is, many elements of an employee’s digital work profile now intersect with the employee’s personal experience. The lines have been blurred. For instance, posting on Facebook, buying clothes on Amazon, or planning a birthday party from ideas on Pinterest might exclusively be considered “personal time.” Conversely, taking work home to create a Prezi presentation or answer e-mails on a home computer is undoubtedly “work time.” Because both scenarios cross the lines between work and home, what boundaries can and should HR set?

Considering the distinctions, disparities and overlaps of the digital work and home environments, it’s important to approach the concept of creating a formal digital work experience with both environments in mind. In our experience, this goal can be accomplished through the use of a corporate intranet. Serving as an employee engagement portal and Web interface for vetted websites and collaboration channels — such as SharePoint, Yammer, Jam, Jive or other approved applications — a properly configured and monitored corporate intranet can support the digital overlap that companies need to leverage today’s blended workplace. 

In fact, many organizations are already moving toward a collaborative solution that consolidates all the channels into one engagement portal, having recognized the result: improved work performance and employee satisfaction. 

Better Living through Technology

Within best-practice organizations, the ways in which employees capture, share knowledge and connect is a growing topic of conversation. Smart companies are now assigning IT architects and analysts to design user-centric digital work environments. These teams work closely with HR to establish practical and enforceable digital policies that encourage compliance. For instance, if an organization disavows “bring your own device,” research shows employees will circumvent the policy anyway. 

Further, to encourage employee buy-in, the digital employee experience must be easy to use, meaningful and contextually relevant to individual employee needs. With assets in the cloud, for example, mobile workers can check-in any time, provide feedback via surveys, communicate with managers and access personalized content in a documented format. As a result, employees can share a common talent development experience, regardless of geographical location, with all data on a single system. 

We worked recently with a leading technology company to re-define its talent development process by enabling faster, specific and actionable feedback from employees. Using an analytics-based approach, we worked with key stakeholders to understand how progress would be measured using the new talent development model. Melding the strategy and metrics with cloud-based technology allowed us to create a set of processes that reflect a truly personalized worker experience. Combined with purpose-built digital tools, the new interface provides managers and employees with faster and more accurate feedback and better communication between mixed environments. 

Putting the “Experience” in “Digital Customer Experience”

To succeed, digital employee experience requires two things: smart tools and invested leadership. Managers must actively help employees understand their development paths and learn the concepts required to progress in line with the company’s evolving mission. If employees are not engaged, if buy-in is not established, if system investments don’t result in practical application, if managers don’t consistently and intentionally leverage their assets to advance employees along clearly defined paths, the business won’t get the traction it needs. 

Tomorrow’s Workforce

To assess today’s employee compensation and rewards, it’s important to review how it has evolved and where it’s headed in light of the changing workforce. In The Motivation to Work, Frederick Herzberg argued that money was only one driver of job performance. Others included achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, personal growth and the work itself.

More recently, a Futurestep study revealed that millennials choose an employer based on “buy-in to the mission/vision of the organization” and a “clear path for advancement” more than other factors. The best way to recruit these workers is through social media (42%) or word-of-mouth networking (28%). The take-away: Are you simply throwing money at employees without acknowledging their real needs? Obviously, money is still a big factor, but secondary carrots have dramatically changed this century. 

To stay competitive, HR executives must not only effectively compensate and reward employees, but also engage and rally them. That’s why “human capital management,” “digital workplace” and “digital employee experience” have become trending HR topics. 

In part two of this report, we’ll examine six key ingredients of digital employee experiences and offer actionable guidance on creating a modern workplace that protects the organization’s best interests, enhances productivity and meets important HR and employee concerns.

To learn more, read Elevating the Digital Employee Experience or visit our human capital practice.

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Channeling Your Employees’ Inner Digital Being (Part 1)