Dan Schawbel
Author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence

There's been a lot of talk about what employee experience means for companies right now. But how will EX evolve in the future? Our guest writer Dan Schawbel takes a look.

There’s never been a more important moment for leaders to make the employee experience a burning priority. Due to the pandemic, both the workplace and workplace culture have endured a seismic shift, and employees are demanding more from the companies they work for.

For the first time in the history of work, money is not the primary motivating driver. Instead, workers long to feel engaged, included, and connected. They want to feel inspired by their company’s leaders and feel they are being listened to as well. They want to have access to the technological tools they need to succeed, and they want to enjoy their work and feel connected to a bigger purpose.

Is this a tall order? Yes, but it’s worth it! Get employee experience right, and your people will want to stick around at your company and help it thrive. Your company will enjoy higher rates of retention, productivity, and employee engagement. But in order to achieve these outcomes, your company may need to redesign and transform its very DNA, quickly evolving into an organization that truly puts its workers first.

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There's been a lot of talk about what employee experience means for companies today. However, not as much thought has gone into how it looks set to evolve over the longer term. But that needs to change, particularly as several new considerations have come into the spotlight over the past two years.

First, there’s the issue of how best to support employee wellbeing, especially for those in challenging roles (for example frontline workers). Businesses are also navigating the difficulties of the new remote or hybrid work reality, with many struggling to create a remote experience that’s just as effective and engaging as the office worker experience.

Let’s examine these issues as well as other trends shaping the future of employee experience for today’s workers.

1. Human-centric employee experience

1. Human-centric employee experience

By now we’ve all seen that mental health problems skyrocketed during the pandemic,1 and the effects of this crisis continue to impact the workplace in unprecedented ways. Last year, an average of nearly 4 million workers quit their jobs each month, in what’s being called the Great Resignation. Although there are many factors behind the spiraling quit rates, the negative impact that people’s jobs can have on their wellbeing has played a significant role.

Fortunately, many companies recognized the emerging mental health crisis and ramped up their benefits in response. Some provided additional time off for their workers, and most offered greater flexibility or remote work options. Others added or expanded their family-friendly benefits, including child care benefits and parental leave. And of course, wellness support was front and center, with nearly 40% of organizations improving their mental health benefits.

Companies have also responded to the crisis by making their workplaces kinder, gentler places to work — doing away with the always-on, “hustle culture,”2 and moving toward a more compassionate leadership model. Leaders are rewarding collaboration over competition, they’re prioritizing their own wellbeing, and they’re encouraging their employees to set boundaries between their professional and personal lives.

In tomorrow’s workplace, there will be an even greater focus on designing an employee experience that improves people’s lives and supports the wellbeing of their families. We've already seen many companies adopt practices like creating “core hours” for meetings so that work doesn’t trickle into all times of the day. In the future, we’ll likely see organizations implement a 4-day workweek, ban after-hours emailing, require their workforce to use all of their vacation time, and continue to expand their benefits.

The employee experience will be human centric
2. Remote-first approach to employee experience

2. Remote-first approach to employee experience

Although 79% of companies plan to adopt a hybrid working model,3 this approach may not benefit all workers equally. In fact, some employees have already experienced a bias favoring office workers over those who work remotely. But how and why does this happen? In short, it occurs through a lack of planning coupled with an outdated culture. After all, there’s a big difference between a workplace that tolerates remote work and a remote-first workplace.4

In a remote-first culture, remote work is the default mode — one that truly puts all workers on a level playing field. To create this type of workplace, leaders need to review all of their systems and processes to ensure that no aspects of their employee experience favor office workers over remote staff. As a first step, managers should place all communications and company information in one easy-to-search knowledge base that everyone has access to.

Employers should also revisit their performance review process to ensure that promotions and raises are being awarded based on merit, not based on who goes into the office. Another idea is to encourage managers to hold meetings via video conference if even one employee is working remotely, so no one misses out on any in-person conversations. Finally, it’s critical that employers look for ways to encourage virtual socialization so that remote workers feel just as included as their on-site counterparts.

Of course, technology can play a hugely important role in creating a more inclusive workplace. Tools supported by the Metaverse, like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), will enable leaders to create highly realistic work spaces that unlock collaboration and connection across dispersed teams like never before. Imagine a virtual office that you can step inside, where it truly feels that you and your co-workers are sharing the same room. For many employees, this vision could soon become a reality.

3. A more connected workplace

3. A more connected workplace

While remote work offers many advantages, one of the major drawbacks is that employees may feel more isolated — not just from each other, but from their organization as a whole. The unfortunate reality is that for many workers, their sense of connection has been severed, and perhaps latently, everyone has started to realize the social and cultural benefits that the old office life provided.

With the 'Great Resignation' showing no signs of slowing down, leaders of remote and hybrid organizations are taking steps to bring their dispersed teams closer together. Having the right collaboration technologies is key, but companies are also discovering that these technologies should support socialization as well. In fact, research from my company, Workplace Intelligence, and Kahoot! finds that 72% of workers say it’s important for them to have fun with their colleagues during the workday.

And it’s not just their colleagues that employees want to feel more connected to. The remote work reality has caused many people to feel disassociated from their company culture and lacking a sense of purpose and meaning in their work.

But that’s set to change in 2022, as more and more businesses tackle environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because enabling people to align their personal values with their company's purpose is an essential way to attract and retain top talent.

Looking to the future, it’s clear that good pay and benefits won’t be enough. People desperately want to feel a sense of purpose and connection, and the ideal employee experience will be with a company that contributes to the greater good and helps workers feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Organizations that can provide this type of environment will prosper, and those that don’t may find themselves left behind.

4. The time to design tomorrow’s employee experience is now

4. The time to design tomorrow’s employee experience is now

Although organizations have come a long way over the past two years, there’s still room for growth and improvement when it comes to the employee experience. Many companies (and their employees) are still adapting to the new world of remote or hybrid work. Others are recognizing that while wellbeing benefits are important, broader cultural shifts need to take place for people to truly feel supported at work. And employees and employers alike are recognizing just how important it is for the workplace to foster true connection and purpose.

No matter where you begin, there’s never been a better or more critical time to adapt your employee experience than right now.

With thanks to Dan Schawbel, Author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence.

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1 'COVID-19 and your mental health', Mayo Clinic, 2021.
2 'We Shouldn’t Celebrate Hustle Culture (It’s Toxic And Counterproductive)', AllWork, 2021
3 'The future of work is hybrid—here’s what that will look like', Wework, 2021.
4 'What makes a remote-first company culture?' Memory.ai, 2021.
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