In the end, most organizations delivered an adequate job during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of providing their workers with their basic needs when it came to safety, security, and a transition to virtual work. However, those needs have continued to evolve rapidly, and the technology industry has stepped up significantly to respond with potent new capabilities that can rapidly address many outstanding requirements. Finally, what organizations need from their workers, and vice versa, has shifted steadily as well.
The trends are clear: A recently conducted Constellation Research CIO Outlook Report found that organizations have been profoundly challenged to both support and enable their workers long term, as well as to maintain a strong connection with them over time as their work remains virtual month after month.
These two gaps in needs are strategic and have long-term consequences to the health and vitality of organizations and their workers. The situation calls for a more sophisticated and concerted approach as organizations enter the next phase of the pandemic.
Data confirms the challenging situation with remote work today. For example, well-known management consultancy McKinsey & Company recently surveyed a cross section of workers on a variety of topics related to today’s almost entirely remote employee experience. They found that employees working remotely saw more positive effects on their daily work, are more engaged, and complete more work. Indeed, the chief information officers (CIOs) and chief human resource officers (CHROs) Constellation Research has sampled widely over the last year universally report higher worker productivity during the pandemic, although productivity is not always the best measure of effectiveness. (In fact, most organizations actually have had a poor ability to quantify worker productivity, until recently.)
Remote work, at least on the basis of raw output, seems to be a broad success. Yet output is far from the only or leading measure of an employee experience.
Some news is good: Workers do report having a stronger sense of well-being than is reported by those in nonremote jobs that offer less safety and little flexibility. Parents who work from home appear to be faring better than those who are more isolated. Fathers working remotely are much more positive about the experience than mothers are. Most knowledge workers in general are finding ways to cope with massive changes in their immediate work experience over the last year.
But these vignettes miss the more fundamental truth about employee experience, which has become almost entirely digital today: Even when faced with similar circumstances, more than 80% say the crisis is substantially affecting their daily work lives—reporting widely varied experiences, perspectives, and outcomes, both positive and negative. Constellation’s CIO survey returned a clear signal that the health of workers, physically and mentally, is being challenged both by physical isolation and by a lack of connection with their colleagues and the organization.
The fact is that yesterday’s employee-experience and digital-workplace tools simply weren’t designed as a response to the current environment or to address its leading issues. Along the way, the digital experience of workers and the physical experience of workers fused into a single journey that has to be better designed and managed. There is a large gap between what most organizations have and what they actually need.
This, then, is the backdrop of and business case for a dramatically transformed and improved employee experience in 2021.