Employee Experience Thinking to Evolve the Digital Workplace

Digital Workplace

Some seven years ago, I wrote about a growing trend in digital workplace technologies. Dubbed heterogeneous intranets (from the Greek to mean ‘diverse in content or character’), these were emergent digital workplaces that sought out and implemented a ‘best in class’ approach for their technology landscapes in contrast to simply switching a toolset from one supplier.

Best in class technologies are the best – right?

The heterogeneous digital workplace had some distinct advantages. It felt like a choice without compromise. The logic went that if employees needed to collaborate, they could then do so using the very best tools that budget could buy; HR online self-serve processes were similarly handled by dedicated specialists.

However, the option was not without painful business consequences. For IT, they gained the challenge of supporting multiple systems, procurement now dealt with countless suppliers and in many organisations, the concept of a singular intranet with cohesive governance fragmented as individual functions focused on their tools without the broader holistic vista being part of their consideration. If you were in one of these individual functions, with specialist employees who may spend 50% or more of their time in these tools, it likely felt like a great choice.

Employees didn’t always win either. Each tool they encountered had its own login, it’s own unique UI, own UX and own lexicon. They rarely used the tools — maybe once a week or even less frequent — and so they were forced almost to re-learn how to complete the process each time they needed to do it. It was frankly frustrating and a pretty awful employee experience.

Jonathan Phillips
Jonathan Phillips

In 2011, we were not talking about the employee experience (Ex): its inherent value to an organisation was not appreciated and as such, Ex was not part of the criteria set when making a decision about new enterprise technology. As Google trends shows clearly, we just weren’t talking about Employee Experience much in those days. Heterogeneous digital workplaces came about because decisions largely ignored the employee experience and focused mostly on ease of support (for IT), ease of use (for backend administrators and decision makers), needs versus tool capability and of course, budget.

Ex is now an valuable focus for businesses. Firstly, the benefits, including retention, productivity, improved collaboration and more, are significantly better understood and quantified. Secondly, employee experience is the sum of the physical, cultural and technological experiences that an employee is exposed to. Ex is not the sole preserve of HR either, it requires alignment, consistency and excellence from multiple angles including IT and digital workplace teams.

What might an Ex focus mean for the digital workplace

If Ex is part of the criteria for technology implementation, I believe we will see some divergence from the heterogeneous model I described in 2011. Businesses that care about Ex will likely already be building alignment, consensus and focus that should bring positive impact to an organisation, physically, culturally and technologically. Ex is the ideal shared agenda to bring together owners of the constituent DW technologies. Ex and DW governance go hand-in-hand and a strong governance with aligned ideals will develop better digital workplaces.

We would likely see applications that align, that integrate, that are pleasant to use, that are in harmony, that positively contribute to the employee experience, which may mean slightly different choices in application: they’re good sure, but no longer best in class. The drive for enhanced employee experience may come at the cost of efficacy but to the boon of productivity.


Many of my clients are wrestling with this innate challenge: do companies choose the best in class for their employees, or do they adopt Ex thinking, and make decisions in part based on the holistic employee experience the tools create. This is a fantastic opportunity for greater alignment across the DW functions and build a vision for DW that extends beyond what the tools do, but also how they feel.

Guest post by Jonathan Phillips, a simply communicate consultant. 

Jonathan Phillips and Sharon O’Dea will be presenting at smileexpo on May 21st with a workshop on: Employee Experience Thinking for the Digital Workplace

Get your smileexpo tickets here