The pace of technological innovation shows no signs of slowing down, and it’s rapidly shifting how, where, and when we work.
New technology not only enables employees to work more flexibly, it also makes the work smarter, faster, and more efficient. For example, real-time data is more accessible and accurate than ever, which helps people make better decisions at every level.
Some may question whether technology is living up to the promise of connecting us in a world that at times feels increasingly disconnected, especially during a global pandemic accompanied
by social and political turmoil.
But we should also ask whether organisations are fully leveraging technology to improve the thousands of micro-experiences employees have at work. Because there’s one thing we know for certain: bad experiences with technology can create or exacerbate disconnection, isolation, and burnout in the workplace—especially when the workplace is remote.
So how does an organisation effectively integrate technology everywhere it can make a difference without negatively impacting the employee experience? Ideally, different technologies would seamlessly connect and complement one another, creating a cohesive network of tools and interactions. Futurists and researchers1 often portray a fully integrated workplace with dystopian images of artificial intelligence and robots replacing humans. But it’s just as easy to imagine advanced technology implemented in ways that improve culture.
Contrary to dystopian predictions, most employees feel good about the future of technology in the workplace. A full 77% believe advanced technology will improve their work experience, even in organisations where jobs have been eliminated by it. What’s more, 65% of employees are “hopeful,” and 62% are “excited” about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
This means less than one-third of employees are afraid of how technology could impact them in the future, which is very different from the popular narrative that workers think AI will steal their jobs. Interestingly, of the third who were fearful, individual contributors were about twice as worried or skeptical of AI and machine learning as leaders. That difference is even more pronounced in industries most likely to be changed by these types of technologies: banking/finance, communications, energy, construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, IT, and transportation. Millennials are the least worried about new technology. Baby Boomers are the most fearful.
Recruitment: Hilton Hotels uses AI to help source, screen, and interview candidates, so hiring managers can focus on courting the right people, rather than on the search process. As a result, the speed of hiring has increased 85%.3
Learning and Development: GE Healthcare tested augmented reality (AR) for their on-the-job training. With “smart glasses” that transpose enhanced instructions and visualise steps on the assembly line, newly trained workers completed jobs 46% faster.
Great Work: Boeing’s wearable technology includes a voice-activated search function, so employees such as electrical engineers can quickly filter through the diagrams in dozens of manuals. It also overlays schematics to take them through every process, step by step.
HR: More and more functions use bots to help answer frequently asked questions about policies and benefits. These bots quickly provide accurate answers and help assess the employee experience. Genpact, the global professional services firm, uses them to promote self-service, but they can also identify patterns in employee communications with HR to predict performance issues or attrition.4
AI technologies are, in fact, already impacting different areas, including recruiting and training, performance management, workplace safety, and data protection. Deloitte found that 41% of employees are using automation “extensively” across many areas of their organisation, while only 38% expect AI to eliminate their jobs in the future completely.2.
Furthermore, 26% of organisations are planning to introduce this technology soon. And 82% of those who have already implemented report that it has impacted their employee experience positively.
Our research also indicates employees are optimistic about their organisation’s ability to implement future technologies well. About two-thirds of employees feel their organisation will keep up with the latest technology and achieve seamless integration of new tools.
Organisations are in the early stages of adopting advanced technologies, and the good news is that employees don’t view them with a critical or fearful eye. Most are excited because they’ve already seen a positive impact, and they’re hopeful their organisations will implement them successfully. Employees are ready, but are their organisations?
For nearly six years, MD Anderson Cancer Center has used AI to improve patient care, patient experience, and employee engagement. The health histories of patients update in real time as the technology learns and remembers their preferences and behaviors, and integrates with medical information taken during office visits. This helps their doctors and nurses prescribe more personalised, up-to-date recommendations at the most opportune times.5
While employees anticipate new technologies will change work for the better, their employers may not be ready to deliver. We found technological readiness is strongly tied to an organisation’s culture, and the culture largely determines how successful new technology will be. In addition, employees who are more positive about their culture are more open to changes in their employee experience, including technological changes. Our research identifies four critical factors that we call the Cultural Technology Innovation Readiness (CTIR) Index:
Figure 4. CULTURAL TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION READINESS (CTIR) INDEX
Four factors connected to culture and success.
Unfortunately, we found only 32% of organisations scored well. Similarly, Deloitte found that only 26% of employees said their organisations were “ready or very ready” to address the impact of new technologies.6
Leaders and employees have differing opinions on whether their organisations consider the employee experience when making decisions about technology. A study by PWC shows 90% of C-suite executives believe their company assesses employee needs when implementing new technology, but only 53% of employees agree. And while 92% of senior leaders are satisfied with the technology experience their organisation provides for making progress on their most important work, only 68% of staff agree.7
Organisations may think new technology serves the needs of employees, yet they may overlook some crucial steps in the process. Asking for employee input when considering technology, involving employees when vetting providers, and soliciting feedback after technology is implemented can help employees feel they have a voice. Including them in technology decisions also demonstrates leaders care about how the new tools affect them. All of this is important to remember because the experience employees have with technology will ultimately determine its success or failure.
As previously stated, the strength of an organisation’s culture determines its technology readiness. Some cultures are more agile and open to changes like new technology. Others are more fearful or slow to change and less willing to accept risk for innovation. Those with high trust in leaders or a strong belief that the organisation cares about employee wellbeing will be more likely to accept the uncertainty that comes with new technologies.
Cultures that excel in the six Talent Magnets (purpose, opportunity, success, recognition, wellbeing, and leadership) invariably have higher CTIR scores. When you have a strong culture that enables employees to thrive, they will be more likely to trust you have their best interests at heart and more open to your efforts to help them work better.
Notably, the inverse is also true: Technology can help you build your culture. According to Jordan Birnbaum, VP and Chief Behavioral Economist at ADP, “To the extent that you want certain principles to
be a bedrock of your organisational culture, that means you have to make them available to people every time. Technology offers an opportunity to make sure that the organisation’s intentions for the kind of culture it wants are communicated with regularity. If a company establishes that collaboration is important, how do you support it? What tools facilitate it?”8
Effective technology is technology that delivers great employee experiences.
Technology has traditionally functioned to keep organisations running. It has evolved with the workforce to help employees stay connected to their work and each other. Advances in technology over the past decade allow organisations to better interact, share information, and learn from one another. And they’ve helped build communities within work where employees can collaborate and thrive.
Think of existing and future technology as an ecosystem within an organisation, one where tools and programs benefit from interaction. Data, input, and feedback flow back and forth in a network that is continually transforming. In the best ecosystems, the elements work together to improve the interactions employees have with each other and with the organisation. This includes their HR needs, the tools and resources they use to do their work, communication to and from leaders, social experiences with peers, and connections with customers.
While a technology ecosystem is made up of hardware and software, even more important is the data that passes through it. This data allows the ecosystem to learn and provide insights to users, becoming almost a living, breathing part of the organisation. With these insights, leaders can understand and improve the experiences their employees have at work and build better cultures in very specific ways.
As in other ecosystems, old technologies become obsolete, requiring organisations to regularly re-evaluate and adjust tools to optimise the employee and customer experience.
If organisations implement technology into their ecosystem well, they will succeed in both the adoption of the technology and the overall employee experience. Our research found that, on average, 69% of employees are satisfied with the technology at their organisation. Every one-point increase in satisfaction yields an 11% increase in the odds of having an excellent employee experience.
During times of uncertainty, companies must assess their leadership practices and how they engage their people. Leaders who communicate decisions honestly, completely, and proactively build trust and reassure their employees.
Before purchasing or implementing any new technology, here are a few important questions to ask:
Seek employee input and take their feedback. Have them sit in during vendor demos and beta test new tools. Include them in the rollout and change management plans. Recruit them to be champions of new technology to help engage others.
Don’t forget to include all segments of your employee population, including remote workers, global locations, and contractors. A cross-functional look at employees of various levels, functions, and ages is important. If you treat employee experience and culture as the North Star, your choices will be clearer and your technology initiatives will be more successful.
The aspirational score is an empirically based target that best-practice companies strive for. When reached, organisations maximise benefits from a particular cultural element.
The Hershey Company wanted to implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, engaging every part of the organisation at the same time rather than iteratively. The ensuing chaos from every business process being revamped all at once cost Hershey $150 million in revenue and led to a 19% decrease in share price as well as a 12% loss in international market share.
Hershey didn’t consider the employee experience in its technology overhaul, which caused turmoil in all areas of the company when a new system was introduced. A perfect technology system cannot overcome a lack of foresight on how it will impact employees. 9
Focusing on the employee experience, it becomes clear that integration is as important as implementation. Why? Today’s work tools and the amount of associated information are overwhelming, the pace of work itself is accelerating, and employees are burning out. Every day, the average worker uses 11 different technological systems to do their job, and 27% of employees say they lose almost an entire day each week to irrelevant emails and messages.10
Employees need technology to improve how they work. They need tools that help them perform their jobs without adding complexity or requiring additional effort. So before providing additional tools, consider integrating new technology into existing workflows. Doing so creates a true technology ecosystem that brings efficiency and simplicity to the employee experience, as well as data and insights to improve it.
The best integrated experiences are intelligent, knowing the optimal timing, frequency, and method of a key activity to be performed. An integrated solution provides an encouraging nudge or a just-in-time moment of coaching within the flow of the processes employees already use to help them succeed in performing those key activities.
If employees perceive new technologies as useful and easy, those technologies can smoothly enter the flow of work within an organisation.
Every individual has a different personal level of technology acceptance in the workplace. Even those who trend towards very open acceptance may resist if it disrupts their flow of work. As we enter that flow of work, simplicity and familiarity are key to the acceptance and use of any given tool.
The goal is to become part of the ecosystem and enter the flow of work with minimal disruption to both the employee’s experience and their actual job. When this happens, organisations enable employees to seamlessly engage in the provided tools.
It’s equally important to remember that “in the flow of work” isn’t limited to just integrating with other types of technology. To be truly integrated, technology must be part of employees’ familiar use of tools, as well as their processes, environment, and interactions with coworkers.
Don’t assume employees will easily adopt new technology. Change management plans ensure employees have an optimal experience with new systems. Without such plans in place, adoption of the latest technology drops 51%, and the overall employee experience decreases by 32%.
The most common missing elements of new technology change management plans are communication and training. Without adequate communication and training, new technology increases stress, and employees feel a lower sense of success. This decreases readiness by 79% and confidence in the organisation by 29%.
But communication and training are just the beginning. Real change management isn’t simply disseminating information about a change. Like integration, it’s more than implementing new technology tools; it’s building technology into your organisation’s current ecosystem and actively addressing how it will complement employee experiences.
A crucial part of an effective change management plan is changing behaviors. This includes helping people understand and practice behavior change, developing the case for change through inclusion of key audiences, adjusting strategies to employees’ unique needs and perceptions, and creating nudges and behavioral cues to support the change.
In addition to communicating and educating why the change is needed and valuable, organisations should engage employees in the change itself and build advocate networks with people who employees trust and value. Furthermore, while organisations do a lot of work and communication before and during a technology rollout, they often cut back immediately after. The best change management plans include robust post-rollout activities as well.
Amazon has undoubtedly and completely revolutionised several industries. What started as an online bookstore quickly evolved to include devices (Kindle), overnight delivery and entertainment (Prime), cloud computing and storage (Amazon Web Services), and even groceries (Whole Foods).
What makes Amazon so successful in its innovation and industry disruption? The company’s willingness and ability to embrace and adopt new technology. The company is agile enough to integrate new technology and has very powerful and proven change management strategies. 11
Deloitte uses AI to personalise the employee experience. New employees receive information specific to their role that’s also relevant to their needs and interests. Michael Gretczko, a principal at Deloitte, calls this creating “moments that matter.” For example, what new employees need is different than what a tenured manager about to retire needs. Customised information can be sent when an employee starts their job, gets a promotion, changes roles, hits a specific milestone, or accomplishes something great.12
Technology enables organisations to help their employees work smarter, make their processes easier, and move forward together. It can give companies a competitive advantage, as well as the potential to make the world better. But it only works if it meets employees’ needs by truly integrating with the organisation’s ecosystem.
Employers must introduce new technology thoughtfully and intentionally. Without considering how new tools will affect employees and implementing a comprehensive change management plan, advanced technology may fail. And while the employee experience and culture are often forgotten when organisations implement new technology, they are the first things we should think about. When employees have a positive experience with technology, it changes their entire perception of their organisation.
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