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Redefining employee experience: How to create a "new normal"


Illustration COVID-19 has swept through workplaces like a hurricane, scattering employees in every direction, exposing many to new risks, and redefining what workers need to do their jobs safely, efficiently, and effectively. At the same time, customers’ needs and expectations have changed drastically, too. As interactions have moved online and economic pressure has made revenue a matter of brand survival, the touch points where the customer journey and employee journey intersect — moments when a brand can create (or lose) value — have become even more critical than they already were, both in ways that can easily be counted, such as revenue, and in ways that cannot, such as emotional connections.

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As your focus as a business leader shifts from survival and resilience to recovery and the long-term health of your company, redesigning your employee experience (EX) will be paramount. The business imperative is clear: According to a June 15 global PwC survey, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of CFOs are looking to generate revenue Focusing on three key actions for building the EX of the future — one that’s digitally enabled and deeply collaborative — and using design thinking to unleash creativity and innovation, will help set you up for future success.

1. Go deep on employee safety and well-being

No business strategy can be effective if it doesn’t embed employee health, safety, and well-being into its DNA. You’ve made a foundational promise to your workers to take care of them, and now it’s time to explore what that really means.

A good employee experience leads to a good customer experience, which then feeds back to your employees a sense of purpose and satisfaction, creating a virtuous circle.

For customer-facing, factory, or field workers, you’ll probably have to make structural changes: rethinking processes, physical setups, and safety measures. For remote workers, it will require you to radically reimagine the virtual workplace in two ways. First, you’ll have to address the conditions your people need to work harmoniously from their home base indefinitely. Second, you’ll have to give them all the tools and support they need to transition real-time collaboration to the cloud and the screen, long-term. Many organizations are already well on their way, with redesigned workspaces (including factories and retail outlets) and processes that embed the requisite distancing at work sites. And some are offering remote workers tools and benefits — including office furniture, fast Wi-Fi, and help with childcare — that address their needs. Overall, according to PwC’s CFO Pulse survey, more than seven in 10 business leaders are strongly confident in their ability to provide a safe working environment for their people.

Design thinking — a holistic process based on open listening, dialogue, co-creating and testing — is fundamental to this effort, as it forces you to pursue change with your employees, not for them. You go into the field to observe the expectations, needs, and pain points of employees, using ethnographic tools such as active listening interviews, and then ask them to define with you the ways that you can improve their current situation.

Employers should also recognize that the stresses inherent in this difficult time — worrying about the health and well-being of loved ones, juggling domestic and work responsibilities under one roof, finding food and supplies — are amplified The pandemic is temporary, but the changes we are seeing now are not likely to be: In PwC’s CFO survey, more than five in 10 respondents (52 percent) said they plan to make remote work a permanent option where possible. Sudden status as remote workers may lead employees to question the whole notion of belonging to an organization. So, it’s important to double down on a strong and positive culture, one that demonstrates connection to and care for employees in every possible way. Tap those within your organization who wield influence — your authentic informal leaders — who can model and teach key cultural behaviors, those who are good at connecting people, and those who are able to build organizational pride And be transparent with your employees to build and reinforce a more trusting relationship and a deeper bond. For instance, it could be that large-scale, face-to-face meetings of the pre-COVID-19 era will be relegated to the history books to be replaced As the digitization of the workplace continues to accelerate, lines between employees and “gig workers” might blur further, especially given the churn in the workforce due to layoffs and furloughs. Contractors serve a vital role in times of economic uncertainty, and making sure they feel connected to your business will benefit both you and them.

Design thinking can help you deepen your bond with your people If the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate how we work, it must also make us reevaluate how we measure employee performance and success. Almost every organization is taking hits to income and adjusting expectations downward. Similarly, you can’t expect both more productivity and more well-being from a workforce that’s still coping with the disruptions of remote working and worrying about what the future may hold for their own careers, their families, and their loved ones.

Something has to give — and that something is the two-dimensional way companies have traditionally measured cost and profitability. For instance, if companies break down the workforce into cohorts and understand what moments matter to them and what drives their experiences, they can tailor investments to targeted areas of transformation (e.g., operating model, culture, technology), drive specific outcomes, and get a more holistic view of how employee experience influences customer experience. This then helps establish a framework to measure the return on investments in improving those experiences (which we call “return on experience,” or ROX).

Apply design thinking principles to this new measurement effort If you can do these three things — going deep on employee safety and well-being, deepening your connection with those who work for you, and reconsidering how you’re defining success — you’ll strengthen the infinite loop of experiences that flow from employees to customers and back again, and you’ll be in a better position for the “new normal” that will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.


PwC UK partner Prasun Shah and PwC France senior associate Maxime Renard also contributed to this column.


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